Tesla was a Bad Dude

Barry Max

journalism.jpgAbout five months ago my old editor asked me to write an article on Nikola Tesla.Nikola who?I wrote the article and it will go down in history as a minuscule part of popular culture. The issue my article was featured in was recently on The hit television show ‘The Office’. The paper was part of the set for the famous episode about the Utica Branch of Dundler Mifflin.

Prior to the request to write it I had heard of the fellatio metal band Tesla but I did not know they were named after a Scientist/Inventor.

I saw The Prestige, that is where my knowledge of the man began and ended.

I began to gather as much information as I could on the man.

I am still gathering.

What amazed me the most was his humility. During his time he enjoyed a little popularity but never got the proper recognition for his accomplishments and didn’t want it.

A thin, bespectacled man, six foot four inches tall, stood on a platform over a huge water tank. In his hand he held a little box. There were levers on the box , knobs, a dial or two.

The year was 1898.

The place was Madison Square Garden in New York City.

The man was Nikola Tesla.

As Tesla toyed with the levers and knobs a boat in the tank began to move. It must be witchcraft there were no wires, no strings. People could not believe their eyes; amid the open mouthed gasps there were many sceptics; most thought it was a hoax or some other form of trickery. He simply baffled the audience.

On that night Nikola Tesla successfully demonstrated the first remote control device. The demonstration was a groundbreaking achievement.

The events that prevented this technological present from being unwrapped have retarded the development of human kind for the last one hundred years. But maybe the early introduction of the couch potato would have retarded our development more. Who knows?

What is known points to a mentality of greed, an emerging corporate ‘credo’ that put the bottom line- profits, market share- in front of progress or wellbeing.

We have leveraged our lives and the health of the planet for a faulty concept.

For inefficient energy.

All the issues we are up in arms about mean nothing if we cannot breath well enough to fight each other.

Back to Tesla.

He was born in Croatia in 1856. By the time he died, in 1943, he held over two hundred patents. If I wasn’t such a nosy guy I wouldn’t know anything about this man. When it came to great inventors/scientists my history book at school was all about Edison hmmmmmmmmm.

Tesla was a romantic , a visionary. An imaginative genius who spent his entire life defending his creative brilliance with one invention after the other.

The remote control device attracted little corporate interest. At the time people could not dream up a practical application for such a device. People could not even wrap their minds around the idea of remote control. He was simply ahead of his time.

Tesla’s miraculous accomplishments and the astonishing results of his experiments challenged society to change, evolve before it was ready. Many of his earliest discoveries, which included the dynamo electric machine and the fuel-less engine were resisted by the status quo.

In many cases there were public campaigns financed by powerful, and in most cases competitive business interests. Their main goal was to minimize or, in some cases, demonize Tesla’s work, which would, if applied, impact their bottom line.

Industrial powerhouses such as General Electric, Westinghouse and J.P. Morgan Chase needed to maintain a share of the markets they each virtually controlled. The industrial revolution and the phenomenal financial growth it fostered was dependent on innovation; the rush to improve methods was a part of doing business.

How methods improved was largely a political decision. Clout and influence made the difference between a good discovery being used or shelved for the sake of immediate profits.

Who needs to build a better mousetrap when the one we have is selling like hotcakes?

Tesla would be used by the industrial powerhouses throughout his career to perfect or create alternatives to the current state of the art, always giving his client an edge where they needed it. The niche he filled would serve him well financially but he would sacrifice the credit for his discoveries. He would ultimately live a life of obscurity.

Obviously he shared a bit of the spotlight with his contemporaries but he was regarded as the Mad Scientist- the fanatic. His radical ideas on world peace and free energy immediately cast him in a negative light.


Tesla was an excellent student who breezed through school daydreaming. Those close to him would later attest to Tesla’s profound sensitivity to any stimuli and his ability to visualize objects in three dimensions. He could literally walk around his daydreams.

Many instructors confused his theoretical daydreaming with the typical- they were wrong. Many of his inventions that resulted in patents were based on his ‘motion picture daydreams’. He admitted that he could observe moving parts, potential problems and all variables without actually doing the experiment.

Often times when Tesla built something it worked the first time.

Tesla was always looking for patterns and order in a chaotic world. He counted things for no apparent reason. He could tell the number of ceiling tiles, chairs , tablecloths and napkins in his favorite restaurant. Those distractions were a by product of his genius.

Tall, nattily dressed under a flowing lab coat, his hair slicked back and speaking with a signature Slavic accent, he was the archetypical mad scientist.

Early in life Tesla earned a stellar reputation among the scientific community in Europe. His methods were well known. As soon as he left school he found work on a number of projects.

Armed with his vivid imagination and keen understanding of physical principles he made the first alternating current generator.

The discovery didn’t mean much at the time. Thomas Edison’s D.C. generators were already being put to use. For a short period in the 1880’s Tesla worked with his future nemesis Thomas Edison.Edison realized the talented Tesla could help him perfect some of his more frustrating projects.

The tumultuous relationship was doomed from the start. They may have had a common goal in the lab but their styles conflicted.

Tesla chose to sit and visualize the experiment while Edison toiled away, recording results that Tesla would predict. Simply put Tesla’s aptitude was the result of sheer genius, while Edison’s success depended upon his determination and reliance on trial and error.

Tesla redesigned a generator for Edison. It was a problem that Edison himself could not solve. Tesla was never paid properly. Was it jealousy? Maybe a language or cultural misunderstanding? Tesla was tossed out of Edison’s lab like used equipment.

Next Post: Bad Dude: The War of the Currents


~ by barrymax on December 21, 2007.

6 Responses to “Tesla was a Bad Dude”

  1. A student of mine did a paper on Tesla a couple of years ago, and it was really fascinating. I remember when he presented his paper to the class, the follow-up discussion went on a long time. People just didn’t know about him. Even those who thought we did learned that it was only the tip of the iceberg.

  2. I love hearing about Nikola Tesla and am glad you wrote about him.

    I heard about him several years ago re: his being the original inventor of the first electric car and how we have had that technology since the 30’s. His converted 1931 Pierce Arrow story looks as though it has fallen into the same category as that of UFOs and Kennedy assasination stories, a cover-up to protect the status quo of even a very young auto industry back then.

    Whatever the cases may be, dude, we have the technology to be using electric cars and we’ve had it for some time now and should be using it!

    I heard about him from my friend who invented a fridge that ran off compost. He died a few years back.

  3. If you happen to be around, fairlane, I left you a christmas gift on my blog!

  4. Nifty.

  5. Tesla was a bad dude; but my real point is on Economics and power, ‘Moore’s Law’ and what we consider State of The Art.

    Are we dusting off old toys to play with once again?

    Or is our evolution a singular occurence- predictable.

    It is time for a new religion.

  6. Dave, perhaps this off-topic or not, but when I was a teenager, I attended Aviation HS. One of the lessons that totally pissed me off (in a WTF sort of way) was the fact that the technology for anti-locking brakes had been around since WW2, but only available in vehicles (this is 1979)at a premium. My point, there are probably thousands of inventions (some of them life saving) that will never hit the market because the corporations that control them don’t own the patent to make a bundle $$$ out of it or suppress it to keep their product selling.

    But I can’t help but pose this question. If Telsa had achieved a great deal of success with his inventions, would he have engaged in the same “kill the little guy with a good idea” behavior that he had to suffer?

    Great post. Thank for the ej-a-kay-shun.

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