Myths and Rumors persist in the tale of legendary inventor Nikola Tesla

By David Jerale

TWP20There has been a great increase in the popularity of inventor Nikola Tesla in recent years; well deserved, as Tesla’s work helped shape the modern world.  However, his return to the spotlight has brought with it fabricated or exaggerated claims about his achievements and intentions, some of the most persistent surrounding Tesla’s biggest failure: the Wardenclyffe tower.

The site has recently been purchased, thanks in part to a fundraising effort promoted by online comic author Matthew Inman, with intentions to convert it into a museum. 

One particular myth about the Wardenclyffe facility often repeated by conspiracy theorists is that Tesla would have been able to produce and distribute limitless, wireless power worldwide. Upon discovering this, the conspiracy theorists say, Tesla’s investors, led by J.P. Morgan, withdrew funding from the project. This explanation of Wardenclyffe’s failure is wrong.

Between 1861 and 1865, based on earlier experimental work by Michael Faraday and others, James Clerk Maxwell developed a theory of electromagnetism, predicting the existence of electromagnetic waves, of which radio waves are one variety. Maxwell’s work in electromagnetism became known as the “second great unification in physics,” after Isaac Newton‘s unification of terrestrial and celestial mechanics, as Maxwell’s equations demonstrated that electricity, magnetism, and light are all manifestations of the electromagnetic field.

In 1879, David Edward Hughes discovered that a telephone receiver connected to a microphone of his design would generate a signal wirelessly if a spark was generated. Using more rigorous scientific techniques than Hughes, Heinrich Hertz verified Maxwell’s theory  experimentally between 1886 and 1888. It was his experiments that would inspire later developments in radio by Nikola Tesla, Sir Oliver Lodge, Stepanovich Popov, and Guglielmo Marconi, among others.

At the turn of the 20th century, both Marconi and Tesla began investigating the possibility of sending a wireless signal across the Atlantic–Tesla began planning the Wardenclyffe Tower in 1898, and after a letter to J.P. Morgan in 1900, received agreement from Morgan to finance the project, though with the warning that he would not provide any funding beyond $150,000. Tesla had planned to transmit power wirelessly in addition to sending communication, but he did not advertise this to Morgan initially. 

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Tesla’s Wireless Transmitter Concept

On December 12th, 1901, just as construction on Tesla’s project was beginning, Marconi claimed to have successfully transmitted a signal– Morse code for the letter “s”– across the Atlantic. While Tesla’s facility was still under construction, Marconi was using his system to relay messages between President Theodore Roosevelt and King Edward VII.  It was at this point which Tesla sent a series of letters to J.P. Morgan soliciting additional funding for the project, despite the fact that Morgan had already warned Tesla with his initial investment that he would provide no further financing.  

In Tesla’s third letter to Morgan in 1903, he finally reveals his intent to use the facility to transmit wireless power, saying “. . . If I would have told you such as this before, you would have fired me out of your office. . . . Will you help me or let my great work—almost complete—go to pots? . . .” Morgan responded on July 14th “I have received your letter… and in reply would say that I should not feel disposed at present to make any further advances.”

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J.P. Morgan

Quotes from Morgan as stated by conspiracy theorists suggesting that wireless power would be impossible to meter, and therefore, would be a bad investment are taken out of the proper context; Tesla had tried to convince Morgan to further invest in his project by revealing the capability to transmit power, which Morgan simply did not find an attractive proposition, but in no way was wireless power the reason for Morgan not investing, as he had already told Tesla that he did not intend to invest more than the original agreed upon amount. The “Rich Man’s Panic” of 1903 made it difficult for Tesla to acquire investment from other sources. His lack of funding was exacerbated further by the expiration of his patents for AC motors and other methods of power transmission. 

Wireless power, due to the aforementioned facts, could only be said to have killed Wardenclyffe if it was the cause of the additional expense of the project compared to Marconi’s radio system.

As for the claims that this power was “free energy” not just in its inability to be metered but also its generation, it seems that they stem from ignorance of how Tesla had designed the facility; the transmitter was to be powered by a 200 kilowatt Westinghouse alternating current generator driven by a Westinghouse auto compound engine. Some conspiracy theorists claim instead that it was to be powered by Tesla’s apparatus for the utilization of radiant energy,” but again, the conspiracy theorists fail to understand that “radiant energy” isn’t “energy all around us,” but rather, is defined as energy in the form of electromagnetic waves– in essence, what Tesla patented is no more a “free energy” device than a solar panel is.

In fact, in the patent, Tesla specifically mentioned that “The apparatus being arranged as shown, it will be found that when the radiations of the sun or of any other source capable of producing the effects before describe fall upon the plate P an accumulation of electrical energy in the condenser C will result.”  This isn’t nearly as mind-blowing as somehow tapping into the æther for an unlimited power source would be, but then again, isn’t it par for the course for conspiracy theorists to pretend reality isn’t interesting enough?

Nikola Tesla was one of the greatest inventors of the 20th century– one of the greatest of all time, even.  Because of this, I would like to echo the sentiment of Brian Dunning, producer of the Skeptoid podcast, in saying that spreading falsehoods about Tesla is “an insult to the man and his accomplishments.”  

What is implied by inventing stories about the man?  Are his accomplishments somehow insufficient?  Are they somehow uninteresting enough that History Channel needs to insert the claims about free power, death rays, and an earthquake machine into their programming to make it worth watching?  It almost seems as if, in coming out of obscurity from popular culture, Tesla is more forgotten than he was buried within physics textbooks, and that is a real shame.

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About The Author

Austin Petersen

Austin Petersen is the founder of The Libertarian Republic, as well as the CEO of Stonegait LLC. Formerly an Associate Producer for Judge Andrew Napolitano's show "Freedom Watch", on the Fox Business Network. Austin was referred to by the Judge as "The right side of my brain". He built Judge Napolitano's social networks with over 700,000 fans and millions of clicks a month. Austin graduated from Missouri State University. He has written and produced award winning plays and videos, and previously worked for the Libertarian National Committee and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.

44 Responses

  1. sandyabrams

    So you are saying that there really is no power supply that he invented that needs no electricity or gasoline or other standard fuel to power it? Is the story of the car that he drove up and down the East Coast without needing to gas up or power up untrue? Thank you,

    Sandy

    • Gridley Wu

      Yes, there really is no power supply which Tesla, or anyone else, invented which needs no electricity or gasoline or other standard fuel to power it. The laws of physics prevent such things. Energy is always required to do work, and that energy must have a source. “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”, especially in physics.

      • Dem274

        Oh yeah… He used the earth as a capacitor, also the coil was built over a aquifer, the movements of negative ions over the conductor rod, built a charge on the coil top. Your brain uses the flow of ions to create flow of charge between synapses. Also we are building nano carbon machines powered by the flow of negative ions over the face. You let them go in canals of flowing water. Also today, we have cold fusion, 17k replications of it.. All this what I mentioned does not violate the laws of physics, Tesla just found a big well of energy, that is unlimited…

      • Vitaliy Shtym

        the definition of free is misunderstood here. Tesla was using the energy that is around us, he was not creating it. He basically made a receiver of energy. Think like solar panels…

      • James White

        Exactly! Thank you for using your brain. The term “free” was actually used in regards to money. Tesla insisted he had created a form of energy distribution which would not cost anything. The energy was to be extracted from the natural world and sent across the globe by means of electrical resonance.

      • Guest

        people like you are the biggest idiots out there. The “laws” of physics aren’t laws, they’re just man made ideas that theorize and represent the best of certain dynamics that we’ve come across as of yet. They do not encompass anything that is next, or discoveries to be made, I’m absolutely positive that if ever exposed to any of the wreckage or reverse engineered tech from roswell and bits brought to Cheyenne mountain you’d say it “violated” (how dare they) the “laws” of physics, which is hilarious because it’s just what closed minded people like you know about, not what actually is. There is always more to learn and to find, you won’t seek to learn and find if you think that the tiny piss pot of what we’ve discerned so far represents the total reality of what there is to know.

      • Stefan Cuevas

        Those aliens would be constrained by the same laws of physics that we are. The total energy of the universe is conserved, for humans or for aliens. Upon further analysis any paradox found in an alien device would be resolved with the conservation laws. Laws are not theories. Laws are empirical descriptions, very much like “natural law” is an empirical description of human interaction. Theories are substantiated by laws or other empirical descriptions. Ohm’s law for example, is an empirical description only suitable for certain circuitry. Until we observe a violation of conservation laws, we must assume that they are true axiomatically. Why? Well that is how inductive logic (science) works. You can only assume what you measure. If the alien device does not adhere to conservation laws, that might require a better understanding of the circumstance, but we can’t speculate and assume such a device exists for epistemological reasons.

      • Cornhusker jones

        people like you are the biggest idiots out there. The “laws” of physics aren’t laws, they’re just man made ideas that theorize and represent the best of certain dynamics that we’ve come across as of yet. They do not encompass anything that is next, or discoveries to be made, I’m absolutely positive that if ever exposed to any of the wreckage or reverse engineered tech from roswell and bits brought to Cheyenne mountain you’d say it “violated” (how dare they) the “laws” of physics, which is hilarious because it’s just what closed minded people like you know about, not what actually is. There is always more to learn and to find, you won’t seek to learn and find if you think that the tiny piss pot of what we’ve discerned so far represents the total reality of what there is to know.

      • dinkster

        K, I’ll just go ahead and lean on this massive pile of empirical data and say thermodynamics is pretty accurate. It is better than making hand wavey arguments about Roswell wreckage.

      • turibe

        I’m disappointed in the number of ridiculous comments. Thank you, Dinkster for being at least one other person who sees reason.

  2. GONGKIET JASUWAN

    What could he have invented if JP Morgan actually funded him further….. That is the question. Einstein was funded by the US Government and he created the Nuke.

    • Stefan Cuevas

      Einstein didn’t create the nuclear bomb, and the ideas of his that contributed to Quantum Theory (which led to the understand of nuclear interactions) were made when he lived in Germany/Switzerland.

  3. Guest

    Yes, there really is no power supply which Tesla, or anyone else, invented that needs no electricity or gasoline or other standard fuel to power it. The laws of physics prevent such things. Energy is always required to do work, and that energy must have a source. “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”, especially in physics.

    • Danny F. Quest

      Solar comes to mind .. ? You have to work for a tan ?

      • Austin Petersen

        The energy isn’t free though. It’s coming from somewhere. Also, you can’t harness that energy to be put to good use without expending energy somewhere. Do you even science brah?

      • Danny F. Quest

        the sun uses thermonuclear Fission of hydrogen atoms to create energy (not free, will not last forever).. Not Hydro-carbon fossil fuel that have a finite limit used to control and extort humanity .. You have any idea how many people have been killed trying to expose this scam Austin ?? — Yea I science !! I Investigate too !!

      • Danny F. Quest

        you ever seen the movie chain reaction .. ? that was 96 .. I’ve met honest hard working people who have worked on Hydrogen fusion .. there is more energy in a glass of water then all the Shale Stone In Nebraska ,, But Less profit for the big 6 .. so which one you think were going with ?

      • Danny F. Quest

        Ohh and the original Diesel engine was designed to run off of Peanut oil .. “Yes, there really is no power supply which Tesla, or anyone else, invented that needs no electricity or gasoline or other standard fuel to power it.” <– 🙁 You should have one of your shills write an article about that then !! Ohh and yea Mr. Diesel was Killed and patent was stolen .. sheese

      • Danny F. Quest

        Did a little research and I was kinda wrong ,, but here’s a clip from wiki . ” It is often reported that Diesel designed his engine to run on peanut oil, but this is false. Patent number 608845 describes his engine as being designed to run on pulverulent solid fuel (coal dust). at the request of the French Government ran on Arachide (earth-nut or peanut) oil and worked so smoothly that only a few people were aware of it. The engine was constructed for using mineral oil, and was then worked on vegetable oil without any alterations being made.” Something to talk about ..

      • Danny F. Quest

        See Fellow libertarians we can grow and produce our own Fuel … !! Liberty .. Liberation .. Freedom

    • James White

      No one EVER claimed it was free energy. It was free as in NOT COSTING MONEY. The energy was to come from nature, the term “free energy” was used to mean that it could be produced and distributed without cost to the end user.

  4. Transpower

    There is “free energy” in cosmic rays–and the flux is constant day and night.

    • dinkster

      well it isn’t free because you still have to create a collector and energy harvester.

  5. Wesley Bruce

    Well put I’ve researched this field and think you nailed it. A wireless energy transmitter can work but uses the power fed into it in such a way that the output can’t exceed the input. It still can be useful because it can power hard to reach things and could be crowd funded. IE the billing problem is gone even if it were real.

    The eCoupled system is the most commercial equivalent today its from research company Fulton Innovation (part of the Amway R &D arm Alticor ). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECoupled

  6. Danny F. Quest

    Your article sucked and was completely under researched… Telsa was talking about resonant frequencies in the ionosphere as a source of “Unlimited Energy” Your just trying to make the word “free” energy sound bad.. and although you are correct in saying no energy can be free you come off sounding like another pro-capitalist libertarian shill .. @austin Where u find these people ?

    • Austin Petersen

      We are all libertarian pro-capitalists. The article was heavily researched and well-cited. You sound like an anti-capitalist conspiracy theory socialist shill.

      • Death

        So because this guy comments on your article with a differ of opinion (or even difference of understanding Teslas ideas) you cry conspiracy theorist? It doesn’t appear that Danny Quest was stretching his imagination in any sense. Surely you’re not saying “agree with me or you’re a conspiracy theorist”, right?

        Furthermore, isn’t it oxymoronic to call this “conspiracy theorist” an anti capitalist shill? A shill is basically a swindler. The only way to call him an anti-capitalist is if it’s because he does not want electricity to be controlled and monetized by a private owner for profit. So if he’s a swindler who doesn’t want someone profiting from electricity because he feels we should all have it for free, who’s he swindling? I even read some of his other comments and whether he’s right or wrong is besides the point. I could point out a couple of things that he was wrong about, but his heart seems to be in the right place. What if some how a company took control of all of the trees and grass on earth, and all of the oxygen was controlled and monetized for profit from a private owner. And you had to buy your oxygen to breathe. It’s impossible, but what if? And then when you went to say “Hey this isn’t right man!” people told you, “It sounds like you’re an anti-capitalist shill.”?

        My point is there comes a point where you can be against for profit private owners, and still be pro capitalist. Everything isn’t black or white. There’s nothing wrong with electricity being free for every one if it’s possible. And who ever is profiting from it now (Buffett and the like) can kick rocks and focus on their other for profit ventures.

        To be honest though, the main thing that made me comment is that you’re held to a different standard than he is. I won’t scrutinize his comments so much. Comments like his are a dime a dozen. But yours….you’re the writer here. You made the article. If someone calls you a name, and then you throw one right back, then you’re no better. You’re supposed to have a little more class, that’s all….and maybe you don’t. I wouldn’t know because the only thing I know about you is what you wrote in your article and then how you responded in the comment. But I do know this….if you want to succeed, than be above the bickering…because people will pick you apart for one tiny sentence you wrote.

      • Danny F. Quest

        Hey I just seen this ,, thank you Joe ! @auggyp:disqus is my friend And I respect the work he does ! I just like giving the people a different perspective ,, and in all fairness I called the Writer a capitalist shill first so it was kinda a rebuttal 🙂 God Bless and Happy Holidays !!

    • James White

      I thank you sir for using your brain. The word “free” here was used with regards to money. Tesla said he found a way to use electrical resonance between the ground and the ionosphere to transmit energy around the world. This article is an attack on open minded people and frankly, almost a joke.

  7. Leon Maliniak

    You Guys just don’t get it. NO wonder no engineer has been able to resurrect and complete the unfinished work of this man’s genius in over 100 years…OR THEY HAVE AND ARE NOT TELLING US ABOUT IT. .

    TESLA never said he was creating energy out of nothing. What he said is that he was going to TAP INTO the energy which is already existing all around us both from the energetic particles coming from the Sun and the electrical potential between the IONOSPHERE and the ground, here on earth, and out in space, from the limitless energy permeating the cosmos from all the obvious sources.

    Thus, no laws of physics are been broken and the first law of thermodynamics is safe. He is NOT creating energy out of nothing.

    Whereas it is a weak analogy, the comparison to a SOLAR PANEL is at least conceptually correct. Solar panels collect certain wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation and turn them into electricity, but very inefficiently, whereas TESLA’s plan was to collect particles of more energetic wavelengths and his device to transform them into electricity was much more efficient and as I understand it, it could always be “BUMPED UP” to millions of volts using his step up transformer…the Tesla coil.

    He already registered a PATENT for this device to collect radiant energy and when a man who has 178 of the world’s most important patents to his credit, and another 700 improvement patents, tells me he CAN collect radiant energy and convert it to electricity AND transmit it wirelessly…I WOULD TEND TO BELIEVE HIM and not his critics.

    He already had a working prototype for transmitting energy WIRELESSLY in Colorado Springs before he built Wardenclyffe and from what I understand, being just a dumb retired LAWYER and not an electrical engineer, is that in this initial configuration he DID draw power from an existing power plant but then STEPPED UP THE POWER with a form of his TESLA COIL.

    After that he transmitted this energy wirelessly through the EARTH through some sort of standing wave which would then have to be “picked” up by a receiver “tuned” to the correct wavelength, like a RADIO, and this would be converted to electricity at the receiver.

    THAT PART I DON’T UNDERSTAND AND APPARENTLY NEITHER DOES ANY ELECTRICAL ENGINEER…but if he said HE could do it…it most probably was true.

    The next phase of his design, as I understand it, was that the tower in Wardenclyffe acted as a COLLECTOR of radiant energy which secoondary and tertiary coils stepped up in voltage which was then to be RE-TRANSMITTED through the ground to remote locations and that a tower of this size could have transmitted over great distances.

    I refuse to believe that this man, who was such a great genius, was so far ahead of his time that even after more then 100 years, no other engineer has been able to decipher or replicate his work. I prefer to believe that by now they HAVE in fact finally done so but that for some mysterious reason they are not making it available to the public.

    What convinces me of this conclusion is the existence of devices like H.A.A.R.P. and the flying discs of the Germans in WWII who already had flying saucers based on TESLA science…this is no “conspiracy” theory…it made it to a two hour special on the HISTORY channel and is a scientific fact.

    WE NEED THIS MORE THEN EVER…WE HAVE NEVER BEEN THIS VULNERABLE

    Given the fragility of the existing electrical grid and its vulnerability to many nefarious actions which can easily knock it all out, and other more innocuous dangers like a simple SOLAR FLARE, which would leave us all in the dark and bring our whole modern world to a standstill, it is incumbent upon us to DEMAND that the authorities and scientific communities put their urgent efforts into perfecting TESLA’S system for wireless transmission of energy AND his designs for tapping into the free energy all around us.

    NO WONDER ALIENS HAVE EVER MADE “FORMAL CONTACT” WITH US…they see we are still using STRINGS attached to ENDLESS wooden poles to transmit power…we are so primitive to them that it would be like us talking to ants.

    • Terry Maccarrone

      We will see the truth of your words very soon…..the planet is alive.
      Alien..other thinking…mentours are here to unfold the mystery in our technology

  8. carrie

    If it didn’t work then why were they so threatened that they seized his work and had to make a smear campaign against him? I am not drinking your Kool-Aid. No way!

  9. stephancom

    A year or so ago, I came up with my own cockamamie idea for doing nuclear fusion cheaply. It doesn’t matter whether or not my idea would have worked. Let’s assume it does. Let’s assume any of the hippie crystal tesla free energy ideas work. Mr. Fusion is possible, in principle. In any case, what they all boil down to ultimately is a magic box with a power outlet on it, right? A little box you plug stuff into and it runs forever.

    So we start making these magic boxes. Everyone in Finland starts running their space heaters 24/7 for free. Everyone in Saudi Arabia starts running their air conditioner 24/7 for free.

    Do you see the problem?

    Waste heat. It doesn’t go away. The problem is not finding an inexhaustible energy source… the problem is finding an inexhaustible energy SINK. Before you can give everyone in the world magic power outlets, you need to give them black holes, as well, to dump the waste heat into.

    So… Perhaps “they” are suppressing these inventions, and for a very good reason, to prevent an ecological nightmare beyond imagining. Melt the icecaps, then boil the seas.

    Thermodynamics is a harsh mistress.

    • Micah

      Air conditioners expel excess heat into the outside atmosphere, that’s how they cool off your house. Space heaters do basically the same thing in reverse, they take heat energy which is created at the power plant, turned into electrical energy, and then turn it back into heat energy.

      One forest fire in Colorado (where I’m from) releases more heat into the atmosphere than all the space heaters combined, I guarantee you. If what you are saying is true then we should ban all hobo campfires, too. The equilibrium of our fine planet isn’t so easily manipulated as everyone would like to pretend.

      • stephancom

        leaving out nuclear energy, all the other sources you name release energy that was originally put into the system by the sun. I’m using space heaters and air conditioners as a convenient catch-all for all potential uses of energy that people might conceive of for all potential uses of free energy. You do make an interesting point inasmuch as the earth must radiate energy in balance with what we receive from the sun, so we’ve reached the limit of my knowledge on that detail. Perhaps you’re right – but remember that the campfire releases energy – and carbon – the was taken in from natural sources. We would be adding to that a boundless amount of other energy. You could be right, but my gut says you’re not.

  10. James White

    You have completely misunderstood the term “free energy”… This is not meant to suggest some kind of violation of the conservation of energy. “Free” in this sense means FREE, that is, not costing money. You attempt to make yourself out to be a sensible man but in your desperation to dispel other’s ideas you show your true colours. Tesla himself used the term “free energy” so why do you take such issue with it? He proposed a device which could provide the world with a form of energy distribution which would cost them nothing, by using resonance to send the electrical power through the cavity between the ground and the ionosphere. Is it not possible, that by JP Morgan abandoning him, the world has lost one of the most valuable pieces of technology it has ever known? You are in no more position than I am to dispute that. Good day to you.

  11. Micah

    You guys, every bit of energy we’ve ever used has been free. How many of us made the sun? What about the stars? Well hydrocarbons and petrochemicals are just stored solar energy. The water cycle that allows hydro power-plants to work is powered by the sun, non-stop evaporation and condensation charges the water molecules with the energy to escape gravity long enough to fall back into a river and repeat the process.

    Every bit of energy is FREE! Tesla just had an idea, and ideas, for better, more efficient, more profitable ways to harness it for humankind. This is the spirit of all inventors, and of Tesla’s fans. We will go on to test the borders, push the boundaries, and try new things, while we let the crotchety pen-pushers sit in a lab and catch up mathematically to what we know intuitively.

    I’m not saying we abandon the established laws of science in favor of hokey pseudo-science. The laws of science are useful in predicting outcomes, doing tests, and engineering products to work. But if we never think outside of the current laws, never have the courage to question them, we are only limiting ourselves.

    Copernicus was laughed at in his time, and so will all people who try to change the status-quo, especially by people who put Capitalism so far above everything else that they don’t understand that certain acts of humanitarian good are not excluded in a Capitalist system, especially if the private property owner, like Tesla, is willing to give it away for free.

  12. Terry Maccarrone

    Energy is never destroyed, created, free, or confined…entropy…allows its expansion and contraction. This process allows us to transfer it to any use.
    quantum view points out the observation is part of measurement.
    nothing is created or destroyed only observed.
    What we don’t see does still exisit but we cannot measure it.