Nikolai Tesla

Greetings good people,
can anyone understand and explain Tesla’s unusual theories concerning large scale/continental power distribution?
As I understand it the theory involved low frequency/very high power transmitters with power being picked by inductance coils, essentially a transformer with primary and secondary coils separated.
I can understand the potential of this, say a century ago when the EMF, Electro magnetic frequency, wasn’t quite as busy, but could it work now?
Peter and Billy the Cat

It couldn’t work then. Tesla really didn’t take into account conservation of energy or the fact that the ground isn’t a very good conductor of low frequency EMF waves. Tesla did not believe in the Hertzian theory of electromagnetic radiation, but instead believed that all radio transmission was actually working through inductive and capacitive coupling. His essay “THE TRUE WIRELESS” is very revealing and educational as to how he believed that radio transmission worked and how he expected his power transmission and wireless broadcast systems to work. Nearly a century of development of radio since then has pretty thouroughly proved him wrong on a lot of his assumptions.

Uncle Cecil briefly covered the topic in What’s up with “broadcast power”?. Some people say Tesla was a misunderstood genius. I side with those who consider him a misinformed crank.

Very minor nitpick - it’s Nikola, not Nikolai.

I wouldn’t bring it up except that we happen to share first names, so I use him as the only widely known example when people express curiosity about my name. Also we’re supposedly somewhat distantly related :wink: ( though I wasn’t named for him ).

That’s like dissing Einstein’s work on Relativity because he rejected Quantum Mechanics. Tesla was definitively a genius, but like Einstein his early years were his best.

Today when we build fairly large outdoor Tesla Coils, we don’t see any of the strange phenomena that Tesla reported at his lab in Colorado Springs. In particular, there are no ‘rifle shot’ discharges, only the usual fractal streamers. There are no long range effects, no crazed horses or sparks leaping out of our shoes even miles away. We can’t light up incandescent bulbs by sticking them in the dirt a few hundred feet from the coil. If the historical reenactment shown in “Secret of Nikola Tesla” is at all accurate, then something is seriously amiss. Those events don’t occur.

Most people insist that Tesla was an idiot following a wrong theory. But still there are those odd reports. It’s easiest to simply insist that, since it doesn’t happen with known devices, and since there is no known theoretical explanation, therefore it didn’t happen. Tesla must have been lying or crazy, and eyewitnesses were making stuff up.

Tesla worked for decades with “tesla coils,” yet he had a separate label for his Colorado Springs device: the Magnifying Transmitter. He claimed that it was some sort of breakthrough invention. Yet from what we know from public records, there was no fundamental difference in that device. Where’s the big discovery? Just another Tesla coil.

But what if we’re wrong? What if something is missing in the technology end, and therefore nobody has built a working Magnifying Transmitter? The Cheney book states that the documents released by the Belgrade museum do not match the copy maintained in a classified military library: the museum papers have chunks missing, and this was supposedly held back by the museum because they contain valuable, patentable inventions.

If true, it does us no good. It means that key information remains secret, and we don’t know how to build Tesla’s actual invention.
Here’s one small key to the mystery: old light bulbs employed high vacuum, not argon fill of modern bulbs. If exposed to a high RF field, they could light up via particle impact (in a similar way that Crookes-style x-ray tubes operate.) Suppose Tesla really did have some secret method for driving the Earth resonance. Suppose his lab was in the center of a miles-wide cavity antinode. In that case the surrounding landscape becomes like a microwave oven: incandescent light bulbs light up wirelessly, and painful sparks would indeed shoot from horses hooves even when many thousands of feet from the lab.

Wow! Bill Beaty posting about Tesla. I’ll take that as the Straight Dope on this subject.

I have always wondered why JP Morgan backed Tesla’s (unsuccessful) wireless communication project (the Wardenclyff Tower).
I suspect that Morgan wanted to control wireless communications, and could not get control of Marconi’c company. I suspect that Morgan only backed tesla in order to get some patent rights, that he could use to squeeze marconi…of course, Morgan died before wireless took off.
Many years after the deathy of George Westinghouse, Tesla claimed that he gave away his patent rights (to AC power) to Westinghouse (in order to prevent Morgan from gaining control of Westinghouse)-is there any truth to this?

Well, there are two parts to his post. One is a knowledgeable summary of standard science: test claims by trying to reproduce the experiment and report the results, those results being negative.

The other part is more problematic. It is certainly acceptable science to state that while the replication was as close as possible to the original, some factors differed and therefore the results may have varied.

Beaty then goes on to give a whole series of supposes and ifs. Most things can indeed be explained if one is allowed to make up one’s own set of supposes and ifs and then declare them all to be true. Especially if they reply on secret or missing information and unduplicable conditions.

That Beaty reports negative results puts him miles ahead of some other claimants of, um, alternative technologies we’ve had post here. I appreciate his taking the time. Even adding in his post, however, the answer to the OP remains that Tesla was wrong in his science and claims.

Ralph, perhaps Beaty could give more precise details, but the timing seems wrong on this. Tesla licensed his patents to Westinghouse in 1888 for money and an increasing future royalty. It was 1892 that Westinghouse, Edison and Elihu Thompson got into the three-way battle that saw Morgan backing Edison in the creation of what became General Electric. In 1896 Tesla sold his patent rights for a lump sum of $216,600. Hardly what he would have earned over the years, but not a giveaway and not directly connected to Morgan, except that Westinghouse, as the smaller company to GE, was always in financially bad shape.

This is essentially what I was referring to. He has actually built the coils, and done the tests. I haven’t heard him claim, um, alternative technologies work. He just keeps an open mind, and doesn’t dimiss things out of hand just because they are claimed by crackpots.

Thanks for the info. I understand that Marconi infringed several of Tesla’s patents-so why didn’t Tesla sue him?
The financing of the mysterious Wardenclyff Tower was 100% JP Morgan-I find it hard to believe that the cagey Morgan would ever have advanced so much money, unless:
-he had a strong belief that Teslas’s wireless system would work
-he (Morgan) thought he could gain control of the Marconi Co. (by getting control of the Tesla patents
Is there any more info regarding this?
After JP’s death, his son/executor requested that Tesla repay the estate-I am sure that Tesla never did this.

Sorry Exapno, but I’m very much afraid you should stick to Physics.

I was a general manager for the Westinghouse Electric Corp. for many years, and, please believe me, we were in very good financial shape. It wasn’t till I left that they went gershtunk.

Wow. I hadn’t realized how old you were. I can only read and research about the 1890s, but if you have personal reminiscences you can share, I’m sure we’d all be happy to hear about them. :slight_smile:

My dear Exapno, no reminiscences, but if you’re ever in the market for some medium voltage (5kv-38kv) Metal Clad Switchgear, network protectors, or any other electrical distribution gear, you just let me know, and I’ll have the product line manager cut you a great deal.

My memories are being stirred up…hope somebody has some info about this:
-in the late 1970’s, OMNI Magazine (now deceased) carried a story about a Brockton, MA inventor (can’t recall his name), who replicated Tesla’s high tension coils , while doing contract work for the US Airforce (in a leased old Airforce base in the Nevada desert). I gather that the man was simulating lightning strikes on aircraft. Anyway, this guy duplicated a lot of Tesla’s work,excpt that he remarked that Tesla had ways of switching that primary current, that he could not duplicate.
Anybody know about this guy?
Second, Maragaret Cheney’s biography of Tesla relates that, in his later years, Tesla did a lot of work with metallurgy-he was employed for a while as a consultant to the ASARCO company. He also held several patents on ionizing air systems and control systems.
I wonder if any of Tesla’s later patents have found commercial application today? The Tesla Turbine has been duplicated today…but it seems there is little commercial interest in it today.

Well thank you all, this is proving illuminating, excuse the pun.
This rather reminds me of an article in Practical Wireless, (UK electronics magazine), that suggested the WW2 German Army had a VLF, very low frequency, network in Europe. according the mag the RF output was sufficient to let individuals use it as a power source by simply rectifying the input from a suitably sized wire, curious.
As a radio Ham I appreciate the principles but am not convinced of the practicalities!

No, instead I’m saying that the answer is this: “Unknown”

If Tesla claimed that he was successful, well, where’s the evidence?

If someone claims that Tesla failed, well, where’s the evidence? Without evidence we can’t decide one way or the other. Life goes on as if Tesla had neither failed nor succeeded.

…and the same can happen with claims that something didn’t happen. This gets into a classic fallacy that crops up in fights between believers vs. debunkers. If you say that your garage is full of unicorns, but you don’t give any evidence, then the contents of your garage remain unknown. I could claim that there certainly aren’t any unicorns in there. But if I did, I’d be making up facts out of thin air …since I never looked in your garage. Having a garage full of unicorns is unlikely, but my statement that they aren’t in there is just speculation, even though based on very high probability. Until we go and look inside the garage, we’re not allowed to make claims about it. There might be a car in there, or a one-ton block of gold, or it might be totally empty. Without evidence, without just going and looking in the garage, it’s dishonest to state that there are no unicorns in there …dishonest in the same way as stating that there’s a car parked in the garage. Without looking, how can you know? Instead, just say that the probability of unicorns is so low that we shouldn’t even bother looking. Perfectly acceptable. Even better is to tell the honest truth: without evidence, the contents of the garage remain …unknown.

Was Tesla successful with world wireless power? Unknown.

In practice, when the answer is “unknown,” then we just ignore the whole issue as if nobody had ever asked the question. Is there a vast oil deposit a couple miles below your home? There are millions of similar questions with unknown answers, and therefore they have no effect on us.

Maybe the question remains important to Tesla historians. And to crazed inventors who waste their lives in a huge longshot bet, because they think Tesla was sitting on a billion-dollar physics discovery.

No, he was right in most of what he said. His “true wireless” description only applies to RF behavior in the realm down at 10KHz and below, and only while using electrically short antennas. His big mistake is in assuming that the behavior applies to all EM wavelengths. As in the other post: because Einstein was wrong about QM doesn’t disprove SR and GR. Saying otherwise is the fallacy of black/white thinking. We’re not allowed to find one flaw and then declare all assertions equally flawed. Tesla was clearly wrong about Hertz’ experiments with UHF wavelengths, but Tesla’s descriptions of what are now called Zenneck EM surface waves remain correct.

And yes, the Earth is a good conductor for ELF. Schumann spectra show that EM waves travel many times around the Earth before decreasing to half power. This effect stops working up above a few tens of KHz. Our local U. of W lightning-triangulation project uses 100KHz for all their longwave detection because, to go any lower in freq., the lightning em pulses would circle the whole Earth, be recorded twice, and mess up the algorithm.

If you knew how little is actually known, you’d be less trusting! :slight_smile: Just stay a student, and beware of experts.

That was Robert Golka and “Project Tesla.” “project tesla”

His stated goal was to reproduce ball-lightning, hoping that it was a plasma that lacks instabilities (and so supplies the key to plasma-pinch fusion.) Didn’t work. The BLs he produced were something like aerogel or welding spatter. See the recent videos on silicon vapor ball lightning. He also tried broadcasting 7Hz pulses, but didn’t find any Earth resonance effects. (Today we know that the resonance freq. wanders around, so a transmitter can’t drive it in phase.) Golka’s bread and butter was in having the USAF use the equipment for aircraft lightning tests.

You raise a point that gets argued often around here. We have people who are hard-core scientists and who only believe replicated peer-reviewed studies and people who are convinced that science doesn’t have all the answers and that many things could be true if only science would them a chance. And a few who believe in things umimagined by mortal man.

The problem with Tesla is that almost everybody who posts about him (except in response) falls into the second or third categories. And their “proof” is that he claimed things.

Technically, you cannot be corrected when you say the status of many of Tesla’s claims is currently unknown.

In practice, however, it is has been 100 years. It’s not like Tesla has been ignored. People have tried to replicate his projects for a century. We have better equipment and more importantly, far better understanding of the physics. It may be impossible to prove that his claims were impossible, but it is highly likely that’s the case.

The counterargument to your argument about unicorns, BTW, is the one I just alluded to. I cannot prove that your garage doesn’t have unicorns, because I didn’t look and if I did my visit today doesn’t replicate the conditions of your sighting. But people all the world have not merely failed to spot unicorns at all times and places, even when they went looking for them, but also have failed to provide any accepted evidence that unicorns ever existed. That is not epistemological proof that unicorns don’t exist but it is the definition of proof for all other usages.

I’m not technically expert enough to know which claims of Tesla’s are wrong even in theory according to modern physics, although I know some are. I am pretty sure that if he were right about the big things, others would have come up with similar results, because they would be useful to know and to do. To reverse your analogy, just because Tesla was right about some things doesn’t mean he was right about anything else. We’re not allowed to find one correct answer and then declare all assertions equally correct.

In short, your use of “unknown” is technically unimpeachable, but misleading in its narrowness and the connotations it has in ordinary discourse. That’s why I continue to dissent. I don’t feel you have made your case for an outsider.

Both have of you have been blinded by your definitional contention and based your arguments on a fallacy. Simple visual observation will not determine whether or not a garage contains invisible pink unicorns.