Tesla’s Greatest Folly – the Man Not the Car

wtowerThe futuristic Wardenclyffe Tower, built by the eccentric inventor Nikola Tesla, was intended to be a wireless power transmission station, on Long Island, NY. Tesla envisioned transmitting messages across the Atlantic using the earth itself to conduct the signals. To better compete with Marconi’s new radio, he added the claim of worldwide wireless power transmission via the earth’s charged ionosphere.

Using the Earth itself as the medium for conducting the current, thus dispensing with wires … a machine, working like a pump, drawing electricity from the Earth and driving it back into the same, thus creating a ripple which, spreading through the Earth like a wire, could be tapped at great distances.” – Nikola Tesla.  Tesla also believed such a current would make the sky glow like the aurora borealis, thus providing night time lighting as well!

He demonstrated his wireless power at Colorado Springs, sending lightning bolts 135 feet into the sky from his famous Tesla coil.

With this achievement, the Serbian-American inventor made the rounds to investors, wining and dining millionaires at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in NY. The financier J. P. Morgan agreed to invest $150,000 to build a wireless station capable of sending messages across the Atlantic Ocean to London.

In 1901, Tesla informed Morgan of his plans to increase the power beyond Marconi’s feeble radio but needed much more money. This was met with skepticism by the shrewd Morgan, who refused to fund a single dollar more without proof. Despite this, Tesla purchased 200 acres on Long Island Sound in the Wardenclyffe resort community.

He started construction on a 187 feet tall octagonal tower with a mushroom shaped metal cupola 68 feet wide, weighing a staggering 55 tons, plus an iron core extending 120 feet into the earth. What Tesla was up to at Wardenclyffe he kept secret from the public and the press. He would respond to questioning reporters stating only that “We have been sending wireless power for long distances for some time.”

Then for a single summer night in 1903, newspapers reported the mysterious Wardenclyffe Tower came alive!

Shooting off bright crackling flashes of blue lighting out into the starry night sky visible for a hundred miles. No explanation of the display was forthcoming from the enigmatic Tesla and Wardenclyffe Tower never operated at full power again.

Tesla’s finances began to unravel as investor money flowed instead to Marconi’s radio. The press claimed Tesla’s tower was nothing but a hoax. In 1904, he took out a mortgage on Wardenclyffe, and four years later a second mortgage. In 1905, his patents on alternating current expired, halting his royalty payments. His mounting financial problems, stifling his neurotic inventor’s creativity, led to deep depression and ultimately a nervous breakdown.

People living around the odd Wardenclyffe tower noticed the Tesla plant seemed to have been abandoned. In 1915, when his backers demanded to know when they were going to recapture their investments, the inventor was unable to give a straight answer. With Tesla unable to make any further payments, the banks foreclosed on the Wardenclyffe property. Sadly, the tower was demolished and sold for scrap in 1917.

Despite his many inventions and patents, Tesla lived alone in a New Year hotel room and died in 1943 at the age of died 86.  A century later, billionaire Elon Musk would choose the famous inventor’s name for his new electric car company, and adopt his entrepreneurial inventive flair for SpaceX.  I leave you with this parting thought in Tesla’s own words:

Perhaps it is better in this immature world of ours that a revolutionary idea instead of being helped and patted, be hampered and ill-treated by selfish interest, pedantry, stupidity and ignorance; that it be attacked and stifled; that it pass through bitter trials and tribulations, only to emerge all the more powerfully, all the more triumphantly from the struggle.” – Nikola Tesla.

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One response to “Tesla’s Greatest Folly – the Man Not the Car

  1. Pingback: Billionaire Howard Hughes & the Spruce Goose Flying Boat | PAUL ANDREWS

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