Electrifying Public School Children -- A Nikola Tesla News Article from 1912 - An Engineer's Aspect


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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Electrifying Public School Children -- A Nikola Tesla News Article from 1912

Good idea: Sending children to school.

Bad idea: Electrifying children at school!

One word popped into my mind when I found this article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch archives, "Nope!"

Some of Tesla's ideas were very good and others...well, not so good. Still, this article is a part of the rhetoric of the early 20th Century, but I found it alarming on so many levels.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sunday Magazine, Sep 8, 1912, pg 2.


St. Louis Educators to Watch With Caution Surprising Experiment in a School This Fall 
* Defective Children Immersed Six Months in Electric Bath Produced by Coil Generating High-Frequency Currents Will Be "Improved Mentally and Physically" 
* Plan Tried in Sweden With Good Results

St. Louis Physician Approves Electrization.

Dr. Charles H. Hughes.
The procedure proposed in the New York schools would be practicable and beneficial to the children, the electricity generating ozone, which is an antiseptic and disinfectant state of the atmosphere. In chemistry it is considered not only as a mere allotropic state of the atmosphere, but as increasing the oxygen proportion to the nitrogen of the air.

It would prove a salutary procedure in the schools of the slum districts until public sentiment and law should advance to the demands of justice generally as to the right and need of a free supply of God's pure air in the close downtown tenement districts.

It might be possible to overdo the ozonization, and harm children by an all-day use of this proposed electrization of schoolrooms. As to that I could not say without more practical knowledge of the subject and the electric power to be used; but ozone is a good therapeutic agent, in favor with advanced medical men, but regulated in dosage to their cases. Its unregulated use probably can be overdone, like almost every good thing in this world.

A too prolonged overdosage might overstimulate and unfit the children for life in their ordinary home environment; but, as Tesla suggests, the homes may be treated in the same way, and we might all come to live, not simply of this earth, but on it, by reason of this innovation.

I think myself that mankind will yet take a living higher above the earth than at present. If we go on advancing the height of our skyscrapers and improving aviation. Certain altitudes are more healthful for mankind than the places close to earth where we now live. After a storm on a mountain top you are exhilarated by the lightning-generated ozone.


ST LOUIS educators express keen interest, coupled with caution, in an experiment about to be tried in the public schools of New York, which, in the belief of its originators, is destined to revolutionize educational ideas. Simply stated, it is the electrification of the schoolroom. The theory is that pupils subjected to an atmosphere charged with high-frequency currents of electricity will show marked improvement, both mentally and physically.

According to the expectations of these educational revolutionaries, the dull or defective child will be brightened or normalized through constant contact with the electric currents while at school. Stupidity will be overcome. Mental lethargy will vanish. Backward children will be able to "get their lessons" more readily. Their sluggish minds will be quickened, exhilarated, stimulated.

Normal children also, it is believed by the advocates of the electrification idea, will be stimulated as to their receptive faculties, and thereby enabled to make better grades than heretofore. All those who come under the influence of the electric currents will benefit in body and brain, declare the enthusiasts who propose to electrify schoolrooms.

This fall the first electrified schoolroom in America is to be fitted up in one of the public school buildings of New York. The teachers won't know it. The pupils won't know it.

Only the men higher up in the school system and the scientists who observe and record the test will be aware of the electrification. For six months the experiment is to be in process. Then, if the results justify, other schoolrooms in the metropolis and elsewhere may be electrified.

Such is the educational innovation which Supt. Ben Blewett and other St. Louis educators are going to follow with interest. This test, which sounds startling and sensational, is said to have the thorough approval of Supt. William H. Maxwell of the New York public schools.

Among the men of science who are expected to volunteer their services in careful examinations of the school children before, during and after their subjection to the electrified air, and in making minute records for study as to results, are Dr. S. H. Monnell of Chicago noted as an electrotherapist, and Dr. Louis Blan of Columbus University. Chief of the enthusiasts will be Nikola Tesla, the celebrated electrical expert and inventor, who has devised the apparatus by which the test is to be made.

Instrument for Electrification Used by Physicians.
"I am convinced that the high-frequency current has no deleterious effect," says Superintendent Maxwell, "but, on the contrary, is positively beneficial, and that the experimental tests should be, and in all probability will be carried out this fall."

The apparatus is called the Tesla coil. It consists of a primary made up of a few turns of coarse wire, differing from the coil of the X-ray machine largely in this coarseness of the primary. From the X-ray coil may be obtained from 50 to 150,000 volts, while from the Tesla coil it is claimed that millions of volts may be generated.

Tesla is authority for the statement that the pupils will be in no danger, even if the current passing through the cable should, for any reason, become too strong. The apparatus is so designed, he says, that this cannot happen, but even if the current were increased a thousandfold, no untoward effect would result, he declares. He bases this belief upon personal experiments in his laboratory.

Tests similar to those proposed in New York have been made in Sweden. Tesla says that the apparatus used there was practically identical with the one invented by him, and installed for experiments several years ago in his laboratory.
Coils for the Transmission of the High-Frequency Current.
The tests were made on normal children in Stockholm. Two schoolrooms exactly alike save for the fact that the electrification wires were concealed in the walls of one were selected. Fifty children, averaging the same as to age and physical condition, were placed in each room for instruction along the ordinary lines.

The test lasted six months. Careful observations were recorded from time to time to ascertain the effect of the high-frequency currents upon the pupils.

The official report says that at the end of the period the children in the electrified room showed an increase in stature of two and a half inches, while in the unmagnetized room the average increase was but one and a fourth inches. The children in the electrified room showed increase in weight and proportionate physical development in excess of that of the pupils in the other room, says the report.

Continuing, the report says that the children in the electrified room averaged 92 per cent in their grades, those in the other room averaging only 75 per cent. Fifteen of the pupils exposed to the electric waves made 100 per cent. Nine were marked "perfect" in the other room.

The electrified children were reported by their teachers as appearing generally more active, less subject to fatigue, and of quickened mental faculties, while the teachers in the other room observed no such change.

As to the after-effects of this heroic electrical treatment, what? Assistant Superintendent George P. Knox of the St. Louis public schools and other educators have expressed deep concern upon this point.

When the matter was under consideration in New York there was evinced a tendency to advise the experimenters to make headway slowly and cautiously. The well-known injurious effects of the X-Ray prompted this caution. Psychological experts and electrotherapists were consulted, and it is stated that they gave assurance that absolutely no danger would attend the proposed experimentation with high-frequency currents.

New York is familiar with parental opposition to new ideas introduced for the benefit of school children. From time to time raids have been made upon certain public schools by parents who objected to medical treatment deemed necessary, not only for the children subjected thereto, but for the good of those associated with them in the schools. Usually these demonstrations have been made by immigrants unable to comprehend the conditions involved.

It is partly for this reason, but chiefly because it is desired to make the experiment coldly scientific, that New York's electrified schoolroom will be unidentified except to those in charge of the test. If little Jacob, who has been a dunce, goes home and astounds his father by doing sums in mental arithmetic right off the reel, or if little Margarita, who has been physically sluggish, amazes her mother by doing a sidewalk dance with two encores to the tune of the organ-grinder, the parents will be unaware that electrification is the cause of such improvement. Mr. Tesla promises to transform the duncecap champion into a star pupil without the subject's knowledge of the process.

In passing, it may be stated that Nikola Tesla's enthusiasm for his invention is such that he predicts to a few years the electrified house or flat, in which one room or more will be magnetized with the Tesla coil, so that the whole family may enjoy the benefit of the electric stimulant. They can sleep through a year-round electric bath, so to speak.

Nikola Tesla
The 50 defective children who are to be the "goats" of this New York experiment will undergo, in reality, a six months' electric bath. Carefully insulated wires will be inserted in the walls of the experimenting classroom. The air of the room will be completely saturated with incalculable millions of infinitesimal electric waves vibrating at a frequency so great as to be unimaginable and capable of measurement only by a most delicate volt meter.

The experts find that the higher the voltage and the lower the amperage the less harmful is the electric wave. High-frequency currents never kill. The low-frequency currents with high amperage are the kind used in executions. The X-rays, produced by high-frequency currents, but through specially devised tubes, are, as is well known, injurious. They are of lower frequency than the currents generated by the Tesla coil. The X-ray passes through the body like a bullet, and actually makes microscopic holes. The high-frequency currents from the Tesla apparatus do not pass through the body, but bathe it and permeate it very much as does alcohol when rubbed on the skin.

Prof. J. P. Sutherland, dean of the Boston University School of Medicine, agrees with Tesla that the high-frequency current will become a commonplace in the household. It is now possible, he says, to imbue persons with this electric tonic without their coming in contact with any apparatus whatever, and without their being aware of the bath. In a recent statement Dr. Sutherland said:

"I have been interested for some time in the subject of high-frequency electricity, particularly in the effect of high-frequency currents on metabolism (that is, tissue-change.) My work has been confined almost wholly to adults. High-frequency currents produce ozone, the properties of which a tonic and a stimulant are well known. Although the effect of the current on the human body is not thoroughly understood as yet, it has a decided effect on its chemical processes."


St. Louis Educators Are Non-Committal.

SUPT. BEN BLEWETT of the St. Louis public schools maintains a rather dubious attitude regarding the proposed electrification of schoolrooms. He had just returned from his summer vacation when asked to tell what he thought of the idea, and he said that he had heard nothing about it. when told that Superintendent Maxwell of the New York schools has approved the forthcoming test, Superintendent Blewett expressed surprise, and suggested that Dr. Maxwell might have been misquoted. The results of the Swedish test, as officially reported, were outlined to him, and he replied with a smile, "Well, you'll have to show me."

George P. Knox, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, knew of the test in Sweden, and the proposed experiment in New York.

"I am for anything in experimentation which promises good results," he said, "but there are some things about that proposition that would make me hesitate. For instance, what would be the after effects of this prolonged electric bath--say 25 years from now? We do not know.

"I was in college when the X-ray was new, and when I recall the terrible effects it had upon some of the experimenters, I am inclined to advise going slowly in the use of electricity upon children. I should not care to trust one of my children to such an experiment. There are so many factors entering into the proposition that the problem is a big one, but if New York tries the experiment, I shall watch it with interest."

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sunday Magazine, Sep 8, 1912, pg 2.