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Tesla tower at Wardenclyffe and the free energy myth

GeekHistory -

As we dig deeper in researching topics here at GeekHistory the one topic that people keep asking questions about is Nikola Tesla's tower at Wardenclyffe and his free energy theories. We have addressed many of the commonly asked questions in this article.

Wardenclyffe New York 1901

Nikola Tesla sold his Wardenclyffe tower idea to J.P. Morgan based on a plan to send wireless messages to Europe and compete with Marconi. The contract was agreed upon in February of 1901 and signed in March for Morgan to give Tesla $150,000 to build a tower to transmit radio. Tesla began to build his Wardenclyffe laboratory on Long Island, New York in 1901.

Soon after construction began it became apparent that Tesla was going to run out of money before it was finished. Tesla underestimated the cost of building the tower, and economic conditions were causing prices to rise for the materials Tesla needed.

Tesla's personal goal was to use the tower for the transmission of power as well as information. Morgan was expecting to make money on radio. The wireless power angle was Tesla’s idea, it was never part of Morgan’s plans. It was never finished because Tesla ran out of money.

Various sources place the abandonment of the project at around 1904. Tesla took out a mortgage on Wardenclyffe with George C. Boldt of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to cover his living expenses. Boldt eventually foreclosed on the Wardenclyffe property and the tower was torn down and sold for scrap in 1917. Adding to the Tesla mythology and conspiracy theories was the timing of the demolition of the tower, during WWI. Various stories were told that the tower was demolished on orders of the United States Government because German spies were using it as a radio transmitter or observation post.

Did J.P. Morgan withdraw backing?

There are many conspiracy theories that blame J.P. Morgan for Tesla's failure at Wardenclyffe, stating that J.P. Morgan withdrew support because he saw no way to make money on wireless power.

Tesla's dream tower cost him a lot more than he had planned. Tesla signed a contract with J.P. Morgan in 1901 to receive a total of $150,000. Equivalent to millions in modern dollars, that was a pretty generous offer. That was actually $50,000 more than his initial request.

J. P. Morgan was a ruthless banker, part of the business culture of the late 1800s known as Robber Barons. The Robber Barons were the venture capitalists of their day, the 19th century version of Shark Tank. Tesla sold his tower idea to Morgan with a plan to send wireless messages to Europe and compete with Marconi. Tesla failed to mention the lab included his ideas of wireless power transmission.

Tesla came back to Morgan to ask him for more money at a time J.P. Morgan was having his own financial issues with a panic on Wall Street. When you go back to the bank to ask for more money, after they have already given you a substantial amount, and now you need more money, what do you think your odds of success are?

Tesla pleaded to Morgan for more funds, Morgan said no. It's not that Morgan withdrew his backing, it was he refused to provide additional funding. Morgan had already fulfilled his part of the initial contract. When Tesla came back to Morgan asking for additional funds, what incentive did Morgan have to give Tesla more money?

Why wasn't Nikola Tesla able to raise more funds from investors?

When Tesla walked away from his partnership with Westinghouse he was a rich man. Contrary to many stories that Tesla walked away from his royalty contract with Westinghouse, he did receive a lump sum settlement when he severed ties with Westinghouse in the neighborhood of $200,000. Keep in mind we are talking 1890s dollars, which would be the equivalent of millions of dollars today.

With the War of Currents and his work for Westinghouse behind him, Tesla moved on to begin a new series of experiments. With a $30,000 investment from John Jacob Astor IV, thought to be among the richest people in the world at that time, Tesla begin building a new experimental station near Pikes Peak, Colorado.

The wealthy John Jacob Astor IV gave Tesla the money he used to build the Colorado Springs lab under the assumption that Tesla was going to develop and produce a new lighting system. Tesla instead used the money to fund his lab to experiment with high voltage, high frequency electricity, and the wireless transmission of power. Tesla misrepresented his intentions.

Tesla's biggest obstacle was often himself. Just like he was with John Jacob Astor IV, Tesla was less than honest with J.P. Morgan, as his plan was to concentrate on a system of wireless transmission of power, not a system of radio transmission that he sold to Morgan. Once you burn your bridges with two of the richest men in the world, it's hard to get funding for future projects.

Looking for the lost files of "Tesla`s Latest Wonder"

Some conspiracy theories say that the secrets to the success of Tesla's wireless power ideas are lost. The original ideas of Tesla are not exactly lost. Tesla's ideas were published and patented in the late 1890s. At the end of this article you will find the links to Tesla's patents and the San Francisco call newspaper article from 1898.

The article published in 1898 titled "Tesla`s Latest Wonder" describes, "What Tesla proposes to do now is to transmit almost any amount of power almost any distance without wires, and without loss." Tesla's filed two patents on wireless electricity. Patent US 645576: System of transmission of electrical energy, was filed by Nikola Tesla in 1897, and Patent US 649621: Apparatus for transmission of electrical energy, was filed by Nikola Tesla in 1900. In addition to his patents, Tesla's notes from his experiments in Colorado from around 1899 have also been found, and nothing has been made from them either.

There are numerous unanswered questions regarding Tesla's "free power" ideas. The fact that there are so many questions that need to be answered about the details of Tesla's "free power" shows that Tesla's theories were far from a finished product. Even though wireless electricity is being developed on a small scale, it is still very far from a working system at the level that Tesla proposed.

Tesla's wireless transmission ideas that were attached to the Wardencliffe project were never anything more than just a dream. We could second guess all the "what if" scenarios of how Tesla could have done it better, done it differently, but the bottom-line is, it never became a working system.

There are a lot of great scientists in the world of physics that have access to all these great ideas of Tesla's, you would think that if it were practical they would have been able to create Tesla's dream machine.

The free energy myth

The phrases "free energy" and "make power free" as they are used in Tesla mythology assume that everything about the process is free. Even if Tesla's idea was a reality, he could somehow extract electricity from the earth to be reused, it would be free in the sense that we did not have to burn coal, or burn oil, to fire up a generator to produce the electricity. In that sense there are many forms of "free energy" such as wind power, solar power, and water power. Study the field of alternative energy and you will find many ways to generate "free energy" by avoiding the use of fossil fuels and nuclear power.

But even with "free energy" there is the cost of a system to distribute the electricity. Even if Tesla's idea was a reality, the way to initially create the energy was "free," there would the cost of building transmitters and receivers to make it usable in your home.

Go to your local convenience store, and ask them for a free bottle of natural spring water. What, it's not free? That water came from the ground, and it has no cost associated with producing it! That's right, but there is a cost associated with getting that free substance from the ground to you in a usable form. That's the cost of distribution.

You are free to eat your lunch anywhere you chose, but the lunch isn't free, that you will have to pay for.

Was Nikola Tesla crazy for thinking free energy was possible?

An often used expression is that there a fine line between genius and insanity. Over the course of history there have been many highly intelligent people who have done some very crazy things.

Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison are often portrayed as bitter rivals because they were on different sides of the War of Currents. But when they crossed paths later in life there are indications that there was some degree of mutual respect between them. Perhaps this bit of mutual respect was because they were both very passionate about their beliefs.

Even when it was becoming obvious that DC (direct current) would lose out to AC (alternating current) as the primary form of delivering electricity to our homes, Edison refused to back off of his belief in his ideas. Edison lost control of Edison Electric because of his stubbornness, and he did some very crazy things during the War of Currents. But Edison was also successful with many inventions, in spite of his stubbornness and compulsive behavior.

After defeating Edison in the War of Currents, Tesla became so obsessed with proving many of his "free power" theories that he lost credibility in the eyes of his contemporaries. Did Tesla's obsessions cross over the line between genius and insanity? Some would say yes. The phrase that would better describe Tesla's obsession with free power is that he was blinded by his ambition.

He who blinded by ambition, raises himself to a position whence he cannot mount higher, must fall with the greatest loss. – Niccolò Machiavelli

Below you will find the links to Tesla's patents and the San Francisco call newspaper article from 1898.

The San Francisco call. (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, November 13, 1898
The San Francisco call. (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, November 13, 1898, Page 25, Image 25

Below you will find the links to Tesla's patents on wireless electricity.Patent US 645576  System of transmission of electrical energy filed by Nikola Tesla in 1897
Patent US645576 - System of transmission of electrical energy

Patent US 649621 Apparatus for transmission of electrical energy filed by Nikola Tesla in 1900
Patent US645576 - System of transmission of electrical energy.

Graphic made from a 1904 photo of Wardenclyffe in the public domain in the United States

Celebrate System Administrator Appreciation Day

Guru 42 Blog -

The 18th Annual System Administrator Appreciation Day is Friday, July 28, 2017.

As we pay tribute to the heroic men and women who keep your computer workstation working and your network running, take a few minutes to understand the role of a system administrator

The many tasks of the sysadmin

A system administrator, or sysadmin, manages a computer network.  At Guru42 universe we reflect upon the System Administrator and the Power User to illustate how a  sysadmin thinks in terms of managing systems rather than individual computers

The sysadmin maintains various generations of desktop computer hardware and workstation operating systems. They support various desktop installed software, as well as internet based computer applications. They're expected to know what applications work well with which web browser, and what plugins are needed for every website.

They may also be responsible for the local servers and network operating systems as well. Their many network duties could include monitoring internet security, and making sure the wireless network is functioning.

Depending on the size of the network the sysadmin may setup and maintain various user names and logins. They make sure end users are using proper procedures of accessing the network, and they are not wasting network resources watching silly videos not related to work.

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Fighting the stereotypes

System administrators are often under management pressure to contain costs and are limited in terms of time and resources.

In their effort  to manage the computer network efficiently, the sysadmin is often stereotyped as a bitter control freak with the goal of standing in the way of end users.

Sysadmins oversee the installation of services and and software on the network purchased by non technical end users and managers, and take the blame for everything that goes wrong

When the sysadmin complaints  of network misuse or abuse, unrealistic end user expectations, and self inflicted problems, they are perceived as angry.

Why choose to be a sysadmin

You might wonder why someone would want a thankless job that is often associated with negative stereotypes.

Like many professionals who see their career as more than showing up to receive a paycheck, a good sysadmin  spends much of his spare time learning and sharing ideas and information with his colleagues because he enjoys the daily challenges of problem solving.

A good sysadmin thrives on the fact that the world of technology is always changing and never boring. 

Happy SysAdmin Day!

There is a holiday for everything else, so why not Sysadmin day?

Send out an email to the person who keeps your technology running smoothly, without having a computer problem to report, and simply say, Happy SysAdmin Day!

Read all about it: Celebrate System Administrator Appreciation Day

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Debunking the Nikola Tesla myths by way of defending Thomas Edison

Guru 42 Blog -

When I created the GeekHistory website my main goal was to draw attention to the many scientists and inventors that I call the forgotten geeks. It was not my plan to spend a lot of time defending Thomas Edison, after all he does get mentioned often.

As I revved up my writing for the GeekHistory over the last few years I have become active in social media looking for common questions about famous inventors and inventions. In search of information on all the "who invented it" myths of technology history I found a great deal of misinformation giving credit to Nikola Tesla for a variety of inventions. I find myself often defending Thomas Edison because of often over the top claims of everything that Nikola Tesla allegedly invented.

Nikola Tesla has a cult following that gives him credit for inventing just about everything. There are people who object to the phrase "the Cult of Tesla," but the Tesla fanatics are a prime example of a cult. Tesla fanatics have an "us against them" mentality with stories full of conspiracy theories of how the government took all of Tesla's files when he died. When it comes to any attempts to have a rational conversation, they deny any facts that might contradict the group's beliefs. Having a meaningful conversation with Tesla fanatics can be frustrating because there is a complete avoidance of critical thinking.

Studying the claims of Tesla fans, searching for the truth, has made me even more passionate about my original goals of drawing attention to the forgotten geeks who deserve to be remembered. One of the many claims of Tesla fans is that Tesla invented radio. In the process of digging deeper to learn more I came to appreciate the work of Fessenden. Who is the inventor who started his career working for Thomas Edison, later worked with George Westinghouse, and has a legitimate claim to be called the father of radio? The answer to that question is not Nikola Tesla, it is Reginald Fessenden.

From his work for George Westinghouse and the University of Pittsburgh, to the story of Fessenden's 1905 Christmas broadcast to ships at sea, he is indeed a forgotten geek that deserves to be remembered. Check out the complete story of Reginald Fessenden Canadian inventor of radio and wireless telephone

For all his quirks, I do appreciate the contributions of Thomas Edison. Including the mountains of material I have read, I have made two visits to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village near Dearborn, Michigan in recent years to study the accomplishments of Edison and other geeks. Just as I note the exaggerations of the Tesla fans, you can say that the claim that science becomes religion goes both ways. Henry Ford idolized Thomas Edison, you can clearly see that in the Henry Ford museum complex. The complete Menlo Park lab from New Jersey was transported to Michigan and rebuilt there. Henry Ford had a dedication ceremony for the reconstructed lab that Edison attended when it opened.

There are many forgotten geeks who made incredibly important contributions in bringing electricity to our homes. Nikola Tesla did not invent AC power generation. Tesla's sole contribution was his version of the polyphase AC motor. Significant, but it was theoretically described by other others before him, as were many of the other inventions and discoveries often credited to Tesla.

As we created the section on the history of electricity we broke it down into four sections starting with a list of scientists and inventors that contributed to our modern understanding of electricity.

Our next page looks at the European inventors before Edison and Tesla who contributed to the development of electricity and AC power distribution

It bothers me that so many internet sites talk about the War of Currents as the great battle between Edison and Tesla. Edison eventually lost control of Edison Electric as it merged with another company to become General Electric. Nikola Tesla was not a member of team Westinghouse when the War of Currents started between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison. Follow this link to learn about the many Westinghouse Electric engineers responsible for electricity and AC power in our homes

Edison does deserve credit for many inventions in a wide variety of areas, and in defending Edison, I have come up with a fair amount of material for the GeekHistory websites. Edison might have been too stubborn to back down on DC power generation as the way to produce electricity, but he does deserve to be respected for launching the modern electric utility industry with the creation of the Pearl Street station in lower Manhattan in 1882 When the War of Currents ended around 1893, Thomas Edison was no longer in control of Edison Electric. But the Edison team (which became part of the General Electric Company) lived on in many ways.

Reginald Fessenden worked several years for Edison, before joining forces with Westinghouse. In the biography "Fessenden – Builder of Tomorrow" - by Helen Fessenden (his wife), you will find remarks by Reginald Fessenden defending the legacy Thomas Edison.

"The question has often been put to me 'Is Edison really a good inventor? Are not his inventions really due to his assistants?' Having worked with him for a number of years and having made a rather special study of the science of invention and of inventors, my own conclusion is that all of the inventions which go by his name were made by him personally, and that there is only one figure in history which stands in the same rank with him as an inventor, i.e. Archimedes."

Edison had the reputation of a hard driving businessman, but he was also passionate about creating an invention factory. Edison paid workers to conduct numerous tedious experiments so he did not have to do the boring manual tasks himself. I think that is pretty genius.

Some of the Tesla fans point to crazy things that Edison did to discredit him as an inventor. Don't get me wrong, Thomas Edison was no saint, he was a lunatic at times, but to discredit Edison as a means to glorify Tesla is more than a little humorous. Nikola Tesla cornered the market on craziness during his lifetime.


A few more links to learn more:

Nikola Tesla versus Thomas Edison and the search for the truth

George Westinghouse used Tesla power to defeat Edison in Currents War

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