|Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) |
was born in the territory of today's Croatia, in the family of a Serbian Orthodox priest.
When it comes to appreciate Tesla's technical works from an engineer point of view, it is quite difficult to get through the covering mystic mesh loomed by contemporary and progeny generations of the past century. The biographies speaking about Tesla’s technical works are also highly distorted and contain only few of actual technical details.
Tesla's eternal merit is the solution for practical use of alternating current. That time the phenomenon of alternating current was already well known, though only in one-phase system in which the electric motors operated at very poor efficiency and reliability especially, when compared to conventional DC (direct current) engines.
In 1882, during his walk in Budapest, Tesla sketched a draft of the multi-phase system in the dust of the walkway leading through the City Park. According to his sketch, coils are placed in space-shifted positions along the stator cylinder and are connected each to alternating currents (AC) each shifted in time. This arrangement creates a rotating magnetic field „grabbing” the rotor for rotating it (in a simplified explanation). To date, this is the fundamental basis for the operation of large energy transmission systems (grids) and of diverse types of engines. Originally, he developed both 2-phase and 3-phase systems, of which the 3-phase system proved to be more appropriate in use.
If he could not have been able to reach more discoveries throughout his life, still we would also highly respect his professional achievements.
Prior to his significant inventions, Tesla worked a while for Tivadar Puskás in the elaboration of telephone networks. Then he worked much more for T.A. Edison where he accomplished basic improvements and corrections, mainly in DC generators. He surely had a perfect understanding on the high-tech systems of that time.
Tesla worked in an unusual way: first in the head, he elaborated everything to the finest details (so-called envisioning of the planned device), and it was only thenafter that he himself or his assistants/technicians constructed the device already envisioned. This is the reason why drawings or notes were rarely or not taken. As far as I know, his few assistants/technicians too, did not leave any notes or recollections behind. In fact, only patent applications remained as professional memory for posterity, however, these documents are difficult to understand in our days.
Tesla had lots of "minor" technical inventions, many of them have been patented and used in different ways.
Tesla worked with a special inventing approach. He usually designed so as to reach directly the "perfect", the "huge", the "final" solution, and this attitude led him to momentous failures.
For technical developers and inventors, the usual sequence of work steps in the implementation of ideas starts at 'small scale' level, i.e. at low power, at short distance etc, providing thus the opportunity for the idea to undergo consecutive tests. Thenafter, step-by-step improvements and aptitude experiments follow, leading ultimately to the practical utilization at 'large scale' level.
Excellent examples for the above are G. Marconi's (*) years of persistent and hard work into the establishment of radio communication in everyday life, and, the impressive and sustained work of Wright brothers (*) in aviation development.
For technical developers and inventors, the usual sequential approach in implementing ideas has undoubtful practical advantages because, if something stubbornly does not work at small scale level, there is no need for bringing it to large scale level (wasting time, expenses). Tesla had fallen into the trap of his special inventing approach which, finally prevented him from his most important vision to be realized.
For several decades of his life, Tesla has devoted himself to producing high-voltage currents and, has achieved nice results even if sometimes only for the sake of art. He invented a device called Tesla transformer (1891), which has been built in bigger and bigger sizes to generate higher and higher voltages. These devices operated among others on the principle of resonance. Not known whether resonant parts were dimensioned by computation or by experimentation. These large devices also delivered sparks of up to 10 meters, like a storm. They were excellent in helping presentations, spectacular lectures, and Tesla was great at these performances.
The frequencies used in the experiments and presentations cannot be defined today, but in any case they were of the high frequency range. Since high frequency currents due to skin effects are not dangerous to life, Tesla was able to deliver extraordinary scenical shows. The audience of that time appreciated much more the show than the underlying technical content they didn't understand at all.
Plasma spheres that were apparently tossed on the shows, and, which were incorrectly identified as spherical fireballs, were certainly glass-filled balloons filled with low-pressure gas, which, like the neon tube, glowed in high-frequency space and, without electrodes. Tesla used high-frequency currents to create (in our days terms) electromagnetic waves emitted from medium-sized antennas.
Initially, his goal was to emit high energy waves that travel in two directions around the Globe to meet somewhere and be transformed back into electrical energy so that remotely be able to power an aircraft, or destroy a military target.
Today we know that this is impossible for the physical criteria of waves propagation. Certainly, this was not obvious at the time when they knew nothing about the spread of the waves.
Nevertheless, Tesla stubbornly insisted on this goal. After not working out his goal at small scale, but working on the production of higher and higher power instead, he didn't realize the trap he had fallen into. Moreover, the transmitter tower (antenna) produced terrible sparks which, according to our present knowledge, equals to the killing of energy on the spot.
It is not quite clear how Tesla’s costly experiments and extravagant way of life were financed. Even if he received royalties from several sources, and later patent fees, this was far from enough for further experiments. He did not own capital and he spoiled his great chance for self-financing. Regarding the AC system, Westinghouse (*) signed a favorable contract in 1888 and Tesla would have earned a remarkably high royalty (about US $ 1.5 then) for each rated kilowatt of the machines manufactured. However, after run-up of the production it turned out that the calculated enormous sum would make The Westinghouse and the AC system ineffective. Tesla, who would have liked to have his system spread, generously shredded the contract into pieces and -by mischance- completely abandoned royalties. If he had not completely abandoned the royalties for just a few cents, he easily could have financed his experiments and lifestyle until the end of his life. He had been living in the States for a few years (and already had been through some slaps) still, his business thinking got jammed. As known, J. P. Morgan (*) (Morgan Bank House) has been financing his experiments for a long time.
A rarity of Tesla's famous and spectacular shows was the event when, he wirelessly controlled a remotely controllable ship model from the shore of a small lake. It may have been a game, but no continuation followed. As suspected, no technical details are available.
Since electronic amplifiers were not known in Tesla's time, I dare not guess how he could have managed it. That time and even later (according to my other readings), short distance wireless transmissions could have been managed by induction or by electromagnetic waves. Probably, Tesla used induction transmission. Unfortunately, no photos of the device providing a point of reference are left behind. By all means, remote control worked so Tesla proved to be the first in world in this field.
Later on, for an altered purpose he tried to build a huge radio station (in today's words). At that point, he was aiming to radio communications. For broadcasting he thought he would cover the whole Earth with only a single giant transmitter. While the term “broadcasting” was not exactly defined, the purpose may have differed from today’s radio service. In addition, there would have been many other communication goals from the same tower so, separation of them would have been possible. The mode of separation was left obscure. Besides frequency-based separation, he may have thought of coding, but no details of it are known.
This huge project was financed by Morgan who recognized the importance of wireless communications. Tesla started a wasteful and time-sliding investment with a tightly and erroneously calculated budget, resulting in a permanent financial turmoil. Finally, the transmitter has never been completed. Meanwhile, as Marconi has achieved significant results in radio, Morgan ceased financing Tesla.
From then on, it is unclear how Tesla covered his lifestyle, but he did not die of hunger and lived long. Also, since then, he has not made a lot of contributions to technical life. He was, however, an esteemed expert and, based on his previous achievements (I think more on the spectacular shows than on his 3-phase system), he often held scientific lectures. On these lectures he often reported on his practical achievements that, in reality, he has not achieved. Was it just advertising or did he really believe the experiments in his head were also working in reality, who knows?
Important to mention that the Tesla experiments on the bases described above were not in vain at all with their waves! Not exactly known, but in the early periods of radio use many of his results and patents were applied in practice, primarily for resonance, and the initial spark transmitters surely were modified versions of the Tesla transformer. Many people consider Tesla the inventor of the radio. I firmly believe that the basics of the radio (communication) was laid down by the Hertz-Marconi-Popov trio, also involving Tesla’s and the almost forgotten Pupin’s (*) preceding results. Although Tesla's achievements are remarkable, still, the consistent, meticulous and purposeful development of radio communication is definitely related to Marconi.
Throughout his life, Tesla believed in the existence and theory of ether as a substance. Of course, this belief did not affect his experiments at all.
Tesla is often mystified in various pseudo-scientific books. In these, the authors try to attribute to him all kinds of technical discoveries. It is certain that Tesla has dealt with a wide variety of technical issues and, preferred pointing to vague targets as potential future technical results, but these should not be linked to his name.
The darkest pseudo-scientific patchworks show up in the topic of "free energy". The Hungarian translation for "free energy" is not correct, rather be denoted FREE OF CHARGE energy, if existed. The term is used as a substitute for the discredited "perpetual-motion". According to these pseudo-scientific patchworks, the equipment for producing "free energy" has, of course, already been invented, however, it has been stolen, burnt down in the laboratory with all the records, etc ... These writings often refer to Tesla as the professional having succeeded in constructing the equipment for producing "free energy". These references easily recall Tesla's mystical formulas but in turn, these pseudo-scientific stories and descriptions (e.g. space-powered cars) all, are fiction in effect. Well, Tesla never dreamed of this "free energy", in his experiments he always used abundant amounts of conventionally produced energy, overwhelmingly overloading sometimes the power plant itself.
Heinrich Rudolf Hertz
German Physicist (1857-1894)
Italian Physicist, Engineer (1874-1934)
Alekszandr Sztyepanovics Popov
Russian Physicist (1859-1906)
Mihajlo Idvorski Pupin
Serbian Physicist (1858-1935)
Engineer-Inventor, Founder of Company (1846-1914)
John Pierpont Morgan Sr.(*)
Financial Investor, Banker (1837-1913)
Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) and Orville Wright (1871-1948)
American inventors: bycicle repair-manufacturing and sales, aviation pioneers
Beckley T.G. & Swartz T.R.: Men of Mystery: Nikola Tesla and Otis Carr: Weird Inventions Of The Strangest Men Who Ever Lived!
Inner Light-Global Communications Publisher 2012
Kocsis G. István: Nikola Tesla és az univerzum titkai
Kiskapu Kiadó 2018
(Kocsis G. István (Author): Nikola Tesla and the Secrets of
the Universe, Kiskapu Publisher 2018, in Hungarian)
US381968 (A) US511559 (A) 
Detail of Claim 2:
"... the combination of a motor provided with two or more independent magnetizing-coils and an alternating current generator containing induced coils corresponding to the motor coils, and circuits connecting directly the motor and generator coils in such order that the currents developed by the generator will be passed through the corresponding motor-coils and thereby produce a progressive shifting of the poles of the motor ..."
ELECTRICAL TRANSMISSION OF POWERDetail of Description:
"... In either event I make due provision for maintaining a difference of phase between the currents in the two circuits or branches ..."
Selection of other patent documents (in titles):
CA30172 (A)  METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR CONVERTING AND DISTRIBUTING ELECTRIC CURRENTS
CA33317 (A)  METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR CONVERTING ALTERNATING INTO DIRECT CURRENTS
GB190014550 (A)  IMPROVEMENTS RELATING TO THE INSULATION OF ELECTRIC CONDUCTORS
US685958 (A)  METHOD OF UTILIZING RADIANT ENERGY
US685955 (A)  APPARATUS FOR UTILIZING EFFECTS TRANSMITTED FROM A DISTANCE TO A RECEIVING DEVICE THROUGH NATURAL MEDIA
US685012 (A)  MEANS FOR INCREASING THE INTENSITY OF ELECTRICAL OSCILLATIONS
US725605 (A)  SYSTEM OF SIGNALING
US787412 (A)  ART OF TRANSMITTING ELECTRICAL ENERGY THROUGH THE NATURAL MEDIUMS
CA142352 (A)  ELECTRICAL ENERGY TRANSMISSION
US1119732 (A)  APPARATUS FOR TRANSMITTING ELECTRICAL ENERGY
US1113716 (A)  FOUNTAIN
US1266175 (A)  LIGHTNING-PROTECTOR
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