The Galveston Daily News, Galveston, Texas, page 10. Sunday, October 21, 1894.
A Genius Who Loves America and
Has Added to Its Present
HOW HE LOOKS AT WORK.
Once a Newspaper Man, Now the Greatest of
Electrical Seers--When We Can Tele-
graph Messages Without Wires.
It is a most difficult thing to interview Nikola Tesla, but to sit down and talk with him, man to man, ah, that is a different matter, and if one has had that privilege he will be glad to remember it in years to come, and to tell his grandchildren about it, for it is quite likely that they will know very well who Nikola Tesla was.
This brilliant young electrician, who undoubtedly is the foremost thinker of the world in his chosen field, is honestly and sincerely modest. No writer who has tried to get him to talk for publication has any doubts on that score. "It is an embarrassment to me," he says, "that my work has attracted much public attention, not only because I believe that an earnest man who loves science more than all else should let his work speak for him, if it will, but because I am afraid that some of the scientists, whose friendship I value very much, suspect me of encouraging newspaper notoriety." Mr. Tesla reverted to this matter several times in the course of two conversations, and is evidently sensitive about it. Therefore the portions of this article that come from him should be regarded as a special concession, particularly as he has never talked so freely before. Bogus interviews with him have been published of late, but this is genuine.
The laboratory itself looks commonplace to the uninitiated. It is filled with machinery and electrical appliances, and a stranger prowling about the building at will would surely mistake its fourth floor for a part of the machine shops below. One who is not an electrician would find in the Tesla workshop none of the marvels that make Edison's laboratory better than a circus for the sightseer. An electrician, however, would find secrets there with which he could make and break colossal fortunes on the stock market, for reasons that will appear further on.
But Mr. Tesla's half dozen employes are tried and trusted men, and the would-be visitor would find it an extremely difficult matter to get into this laboratory. If he did get in he would be more than likely to find the inventor there working over some bit of machinery with a handkerchief tied about his throat in lieu of a collar, yet dressed in clothes of fashionable cut, and generally looking very neat and clean. Unlike Mr. Edison, the younger inventor has some regard for his personal appearance.
Any one who has met Paderewski and has been able to speak German or French with sufficient fluency to enjoy a conversation with him, and who has also had the pleasure of a talk with Tesla across one of Delmonico's tables, will feel instinctively that the Polish pianist and the Servian electrician have much in common, and that it is a great pity they have never met. Some philanthropist could do both of them a service by bringing them together when Paderewski comes to this country again next December. They could at least find a common ground of interest in Slavic literature, with which both have a wide acquaintance.
Speaking of love for science, Mr. Tesla said the other day in one of the rare moments when he could be induced to talk of himself: "Wherever I am I can not help working at problems that present themselves to me and seem so important that I can not help but try to solve them. I spend so many hours at my laboratory at times that my friends become alarmed and threaten to lock the place up and hide the key. Seriously," he continued, with earnest face and eyes fairly ablaze, "if they tried to do that I should shoot them. I would, indeed. It makes no difference to a man's health how long he works, so long as he loves his work, for his affection is like the oil in the lamp which keeps the wick burning without consuming the wick itself. When the oil is gone, then it is that the wick goes fast. If at any moment I lost my eagerness and enthusiasm, then very likely I would go to pieces.
"I have noticed a queer thing about my mental operation, and that is that my mind seems to work in two halves, each independently of the other, so that when I talk, or even when I sleep, only half of my mind appears to be thus engaged, the other half goes on steadily with whatever I have on my mind, or may be I ought to say with whatever it has on its mind. My friends say, 'You will kill yourself.' I say, 'Nonsense.' I used to be an athlete once and I recuperate very quickly. See me now." He held up his hands as if they were trustworthy indicators of his physical condition. They were long and thin and nervous. They trembled a little and the conclusion naturally to be drawn from them was that their possessor was a man whose tremendous energy, although under good control, was likely to use him up if run at such high pressure much longer.
The day he arrived here he went to work for Mr. Edison, for whom he had and has yet the strongest admiration. He left the wizard of Menlo park in order to join a company organized to sell some of his inventions in arc lighting.
Much of Mr. Tesla's spare time during his first five years in this country was devoted to experiments with what is known as the rotating field for use with the alternating current. In 1837 Prof. Anthony proved that the young electrician had produced an alternating current motor of an efficiency equal to that of direct current motors, yet dispensing with the brushes and commutator which had added materially to the cost and inconvenience of manufacturing electricity.
It is easy to see that any device by which the cost of electric power is brought below the cost of steam power will bring a revolution in the processes of manufacturing more sudden and startling than was brought about by the introduction of steam. The economical transmission of electricity generated by water power, as at Niagara Falls, has already brought a promise of this revolution, and if Mr. Tesla's machine will bring a corresponding reduction in the cost of electricity to cities too far away to derive benefit from water power like that at Niagara, then, indeed, the revolution will be complete. Electric motors will everywhere take the place of costly and wasteful shafting in mills and factories, and the day when private houses will be lighted and heated, and to some extent run by electricity, will be brought almost as near to other cities as it now is to Buffalo, which will receive its first installment of power from Niagara Falls in a few weeks at a price promised to be somewhere near a fourth cheaper than that now paid for the work done by steam.
This much may be said positively, and the statement is here made public for the first time: If the wonderful machine on which Mr. Tesla is now putting the finishing touches, works as well elsewhere as it has worked already in the Tesla laboratory, it will bring the extraordinary advantages suggested above. The inventor himself refuses to make any definite statement as to what his engine will do. "I know," he says, "that it will accomplish in my laboratory results that can not but be considered important, and that certainly open up a new field for high-pressure boilers. It is now in operation and has succeeded absolutely, but of course I must not predict from laboratory results what a machine will accomplish when applied to public uses. It may take two or three years to prepare for placing it on the market. I have, of course, a pretty definite idea as to the reduction it will make in the cost of electricity, but there are many reasons why it would not be well to give the figures."
One technical value of this new discovery for utilizing steam at high pressure is in the saving that it makes in the cost of heat for producing the steam, because it is a queer freak of nature that requires proportionately much less heat to produce steam at high pressure than to produce it at low pressure. For instance, it takes an increase of only 56 deg. Fahrenheit to raise steam pressure from 12 pounds up to 250 pounds.
"It is reasonable to suppose that the earth's electricity is generated by the atoms of which all things are composed. We and our world are not only whirling through space with a terrific speed, but every little atom in the world is whirling, too. Now there is good reason to believe that the molecules and their atoms are really little worlds that revolve and move in their orbits like stars, causing the ether about them to spin with them, thus generating electricity, or affording the conditions suitable to its generation.
A fellow electrician who is in a position to judge of Mr. Tesla with friendly impartiality gives this opinion of him--and it is an opinion that probably will be found to have the approval of most of the scientists who have come in contact with this wonderful young man: "He is a scientist who is in advance of his time, a seer, a genuine poet of electricity, a man whose eye is focused to the great things of science, and whose mind is fitted by nature to deal with them better than the commonplace things that the most of us are obliged to busy ourselves with. He has been charged with being a visionary, but it seems to me that the charge is misleading, for though Tesla undoubtedly saw visions that other scientists had not seen, some of them were based on reasoning rather than on imagination unaided by facts, as was proved by the circumstance that the other scientists saw the same visions after Tesla had pointed out the way to look for them. They were visions that opened rich new fields for scientific exploration and that will bring practical benefits to every household. Tesla is young and strong and his head is not turned. He is as eager as ever and there is no reason to suppose that the most brilliant and useful part of his life is not yet before him."
Mr. Tesla is going to Europe very soon, but not to stay--not by any manner of means--he is too thorough going an American for that. He believes the United States is the most progressive, enlightened and liberal land on earth, and of all the reasons he has for satisfaction with life he holds one of the greatest to be the decision that brought him to this country ten years ago.
I said to him a week ago on bidding him goodby: "You're sure you are thoroughly Americanized now; that you'll never hunger after any other titles than that of a citizen of this United States?" And this was the memorable saying with which he made an enthusiastic answer: