The War of Currents and The Mystery of Nikola Tesla’s Missing Files

This article explains the war of currents which have had a great impact over the entire human civilization. It expose the truth and the struggle of the man, Tesla who sacrificed his entire life for the technology and the benefit of humanity. Second part will discuss about The Mystery of Nikola Tesla’s Missing Files.

Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison are two giants of electrical engineering whose inventions changed history. But the electricity between the two is no secret to the world.

Nikola Tesla contributed to the development of the alternating-current (AC) electrical system which is widely used today and to the rotating magnetic field, which is the basis of most AC machinery.

Born on July 10, 1856, Nikola Tesla went to the United States in 1884 and briefly worked with Thomas Edison before the two parted ways.

Edison, the iconic inventor of the light bulb, the phonograph and the moving picture and Tesla, whose inventions have enabled modern-day power and mass communication systems, waged a ‘War of Currents’ in the 1880s over whose electrical system would power the world. Edison’s direct-current (DC) electric power or Tesla’s alternating-current (AC) system.

A brief history of Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison

In 1884 Tesla arrived in the United States with little other than the clothes on him and a letter of introduction to the famed inventor and business tycoon Thomas Edison. Edison’s DC-electrical works were fast becoming the country standard. Edison hired Tesla and the two were soon working vigorously alongside each other, making improvements in Edison’s inventions.

However, several months later, Tesla and Edison parted ways because of a conflicting business-scientific relationship, which historians attributed to their incredibly different personalities. While Edison was a power figure who focused on marketing and financial success, Tesla was not business minded and was somewhat vulnerable.

After parting ways with Edison in 1885, Tesla received funding for the Tesla Electric Light Company. His task, as given by his investors, was to develop improved arc lighting. After successful completion of the project, Tesla was forced out of venture and for a time had to work as a manual labourer in order to survive.
His luck changed in 1887 when he gained public interest in his AC electrical system and funding for his new Tesla Electric Company. By the end of the year Tesla had successfully filed several patents for his AC-based inventions.

Here’s how the two rivaling inventors stack up:

1. Brilliance
Tesla had an eidetic memory. He could very precisely recall images and objects, which enabled him to accurately visualize intricate 3D objects and therefore, he could build working prototypes using few preliminary drawings.

In contrast, Edison was more of a sketcher and a repairer.

In the end, Edison held 1,093 patents and Tesla held less than 300 worldwide. Of course, Edison had a bunch of assistants helping him devise inventions, and had also bought some of this patents.

2. Forward thinking

Edison had dispelled Tesla’s AC system of electric power transmission, calling it ‘impractical’, instead promoting his simpler yet less efficient DC system.

By contrast, Tesla’s ideas were often more disorderly technologies that didn’t have existing market demand. His alternating-current motor and hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls- a first of its kind plant- truly electrified the world.

Tesla spent years working on a system that could wirelessly transmit voices, images and moving pictures. His ideas made him futurist. He later invented and patented Tesla Coil, which is till date used in radio, telephones, cell phones and television.

3. Impact

Edison’s enduring legacy is a result of his invention factories where tasks and inventions were carried out by legions of workers. After getting an idea, Edison would leave most of the experimentation on his assistants. By having multiple patents and inventions developing in parallel, Edison ensured a consistent, hefty financial supply to his assistants to continue running experiments and fleshing out more designs.

Tesla’s inventions are the backbone of modern power and communication systems, but he faded into anonymity later in the 20th century. Despite his many inventions and patents, he died an eccentric, destitute man in 1943.

Later life

Tesla’s AC systems eventually caught the attention of American engineer and businessman George Westinghouse, who was looking for a solution to supply the nation with long-distance power. Convinced that Tesla’s inventions will help him achieve this, he purchased his patents for 60,000 USD in cash and stock in the Westinghouse Corporation in 1888.

As the public interest in alternating current system grew, Tesla and Westinghouse stood in direct competition with Thomas Edison, who was intent on selling his direct-current system to the nation.

Edison also launched a negative press-campaign in an attempt to undermine the interest in AC power. All this while, Tesla continued his work and patented several more inventions during this period, including the ‘Tesla Coil’, which laid the foundation for wireless technology that is still in use in radio technology today.

Unfortunately for Edison, the Westinghouse Corporation was chosen to supply the lighting at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and Tesla conducted demonstrations of his AC system there. Two years later, in 1895, Tesla designed one of the first AC hydroelectric power plants in the United States at Niagara Falls. The next year, it was used to power the city of Buffalo, New York. This feat was widely publicized throughout the world.

With its repeated success and favourable press, the alternating-current system became the leading power system of the 20th century and it has remained the worldwide standard since.

The disgraceful fall

Tesla became obsessed with the wireless transmission of energy. In around 1900, he started work on his boldest project, to build a global, wireless communication system to be transmitted through a large electrical tower for sharing information and providing free electricity throughout the world.

With funding from a group of investors that included financial giant J. P. Morgan, in 1901 Tesla began work on the project in earnest, designing and building a lab with a power plant and a massive transmission tower on a site on Long Island, New York, that became known as Wardenclyffe.

However, investors started doubting the plausibility of Tesla’s system his rival, Guglielmo Marconi-with the financial support of Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison-continued to make great advances with his own radio technologies, Tesla had no choice but to abandon the project.

The Wardenclyffe staff was laid off in 1906 and in 1915 the site fell into foreclosure. Two years later Tesla declared bankruptcy and the tower was dismantled and sold for scrap to recover the debts he had accrued.

Edison’s Campaign to Discredit the AC Current ; Electrocuting Topsy , A female elephant to death

On January 4, 1903, Thomas Edison, inventor of the incandescent lightbulb, helped electrocute an elephant to death.

Topsy, a cranky female elephant at the Luna Park Zoo, had squashed three of her trainers in the past three years. Desiring to just be rid of her, the Luna Park Zoo decided to kill her, initially choosing to try to hang the elephant.

Edison had established direct current (electricity flowing only one way) as the standard for distributing electricity and was very wealthy from the patent royalties, royalties he could lose when George Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla showed up with the idea of alternating current (electricity flowing in either direction).

Eager to prove his point and seek redemption as he had lost to Tesla almost a decade before in the War of Currents, he launched a campaign to discredit the new theory in which he would electrocute animals (usually cats and dogs, but sometimes horses and cattle). When zoo officials heard of Edison’s work they sought his help with Topsy. While he was not there, his company was more than willing to assist the zoo officials and prove the “dangers” of the AC. An Edison film crew even made a video of the procedure!

When the day arrived, Edison’s team attached copper electrodes to Topsy’s feet and ran a copper wire back to the group. To make sure that Topsy died and was not just made angry by the electricity, cyanide-laced carrots were fed to the elephant moments before she was electrocuted. Officials didn’t even need to worry. The 6,600 volts of AC killed Topsy immediately, and Edison’s point had been proven.

Death and legacy

Tesla suffered a nervous breakdown and eventually returned to work as a consultant primarily. But as time passed, his ideas progressively became more unusual and impractical. He also grew increasingly eccentric and devoted much of his time in caring for wold pigeons in New York City’s parks.

The Mystery of Nikola Tesla’s Missing Files

After Nikola Tesla was found dead in January 1943 in his hotel room in New York City, representatives of the U.S. government’s Office of Alien Property seized many documents relating to the brilliant and prolific 86-year-old inventor’s work.

It was the height of World War II, and Tesla had claimed to have invented a powerful particle-beam weapon, known as the “Death Ray,” that could have proved invaluable in the ongoing conflict. So rather than risk Tesla’s technology falling into the hands of America’s enemies, the government swooped in and took possession of all the property and documents from his room at the New Yorker Hotel.

What happened to Tesla’s files from there, as well as what exactly was in those files, remains shrouded in mystery—and ripe for conspiracy theories. After years of fielding questions about possible cover-ups, the FBI finally declassified some 250 pages of Tesla-related documents under the Freedom of Information Act in 2016. The bureau followed up with two additional releases, the latest in March 2018. But even with the publication of these documents, many questions still remain unanswered—and some of Tesla’s files are still missing.

Three weeks after the Serbian-American inventor’s death, an electrical engineer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was tasked with evaluating his papers to determine whether they contained “any ideas of significant value.” According to the declassified files, Dr. John G. Trump reported that his analysis showed Tesla’s efforts to be “primarily of a speculative, philosophical and promotional character” and said the papers did “not include new sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.”

The scientist’s name undoubtedly rings a bell, as John G. Trump was the uncle of the 45th U.S. president, Donald J. Trump. The younger brother of Trump’s father, Fred, he helped design X-ray machines that greatly helped cancer patients and worked on radar research for the Allies during World War II. Donald Trump himself cited his uncle’s credentials often during his presidential campaign. “My uncle used to tell me about nuclear before nuclear was nuclear,” he once told an interviewer.

At the time, the FBI pointed to Dr. Trump’s report as evidence that Tesla’s vaunted “Death Ray” particle beam weapon didn’t exist, outside of rumors and speculation. But in fact, the U.S. government itself was split in its response to Tesla’s technology. Marc Seifer, author of the biography Wizard: The Life & Times of Nikola Tesla, says a group of military personnel at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, including Brigadier General L.C. Craigee, had a very different opinion of Tesla’s ideas.

“Craigee was the first person to ever fly a jet plane for the military, so he was like the John Glenn of the day,” Seifer says. “He said, ‘there’s something to this—the particle beam weapon is real.’ So you have two different groups, one group dismissing Tesla’s invention, and another group saying there’s really something to it.”
Then there’s the nagging question of the missing files. When Tesla died, his estate was to go to his nephew, Sava Kosanovic, who at the time was the Yugoslav ambassador to the U.S. (thanks to his familial connection with Serbia’s most celebrated inventor). According to the recently declassified documents, some in the FBI feared Kosanovic was trying to wrest control of Tesla’s technology in order to “make such information available to the enemy,” and even considered arresting him to prevent this.
In 1952, after a U.S. court declared Kosanovic the rightful heir to his uncle’s estate, Tesla’s files and other materials were sent to Belgrade, Serbia, where they now reside in the Nikola Tesla Museum there. But while the FBI originally recorded some 80 trunks among Tesla’s effects, only 60 arrived in Belgrade, Seifer says. “Maybe they packed the 80 into 60, but there is the possibility that…the government did keep the missing trunks.”

For the five-part HISTORY series The Tesla Files, Seifer joined forces with Dr. Travis Taylor, an astrophysicist, and Jason Stapleton, an investigative reporter, to search for these missing files and seek out the truth of the government’s views on the “Death Ray” particle-beam weapon and Tesla’s other ideas.

Despite John G. Trump’s dismissive assessment of Tesla’s ideas immediately after his death, the military did try and incorporate particle-beam weaponry in the decades following World War II, Seifer says. Notably, the inspiration of the “Death Ray” fueled Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars” program, in the 1980s. If the government is still using Tesla’s ideas to power its technology, Seifer explains, that could explain why some files related to the inventor still remain classified.

There is evidence that Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president, Henry Wallace, discussed “the effects of TESLA, particularly those dealing with the wireless transmission of electrical energy and the ‘death ray’” with his advisors, according to FBI documents released in 2016. Along the same lines, Seifer and his colleagues in The Tesla Files uncovered the role played by Vannevar Bush, whom FDR appointed as head of the Manhattan Project, in the evaluation of Tesla’s papers. They also looked at the possibility that FDR himself may have sought a meeting with the inventor just before he died.

By visiting some of the key places in Tesla’s life—from his laboratory in Colorado Springs to his last living quarters at the Hotel New Yorker to the mysterious wireless tower he built at Wardenclyffe, Long Island—Seifer, Taylor and Stapleton sought to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the celebrated, enigmatic inventor. They also traveled to California, where some of Tesla’s other groundbreaking ideas —many of which were seen as unrealistic or even crackpot during his own lifetime—now fuel some of the most dominant industries in Silicon Valley.

Although some of his more sensitive innovations may still be hidden, Tesla’s legacy is alive and well, both in the devices we use every day, and the technologies that will undoubtedly play a role in our future. “Tesla is the inventor of wireless technology. He’s the inventor of the ability to create an unlimited number of wireless channels,” Seifer says of the inventor’s lasting impact. “So radio guidance systems, encryption, remote control robots—it’s all based on Tesla’s technology.”

Credits to History Channel for the information on Tesla’s Missing papers.

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