Well … no, not really. He wasn’t a complete idiot, but he also wasn’t the super genius that he’s often made out to be either. There are a few things at play in the whole Nikola Tesla love movement, which has been underway for around 25 years now.
First, people (most notoriously, those on the far left) hate the idea of anybody being successful. Second, people just love an underdog. People hate Walmart, but they love the shitty little neighborhood store that Walmart ran out of business. The first Walmart store was opened by Sam Walton in 1962, and back then, Sam Walton was the hero — the underdog fighting for a little piece of the pie. But Sam Walton was successful and Walmart grew and people’s opinions turned. Once you demonstrate you don’t suck, for example by beating the odds and becoming a successful retail chain, you cease to be loved. Most people are losers and can relate to and empathize with other losers, like Nikola Tesla. People can’t relate to winners like Sam Walton or Thomas Edison.
Tesla has been in the news recently as Matthew Inman, head cheerleader of the Nikola Tesla Fandom, managed to get Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, to pledge support for a Nikola Tesla science museum. I first encountered cartoonist Matthew Inman a few years back when I read his piece, Why Nikola Tesla was the greatest geek who ever lived.
In Matthew Inman’s eyes (and this seems to be a common theme amongst the Tesla fandom), Thomas Edison invented nothing and never had an original idea. Edison was a ruthless robber baron who forced peasants to slave away under hazardous conditions in his sweat shop of a laboratory while he stole their ideas and paid them in crumbs. He patented stolen ideas, many from Nikola Tesla, because he was a greedy capitalist and a business man. Nikola Tesla, on the other hand, invented electricity, AC power, the transformer, all electric motors in use today, and the ability to transmit electricity wirelessly across the Atlantic. Tesla invented WiFi. He also invented radar and death rays, but of course he only invented death rays for defensive purposes because he was such an angelic humanitarian. He did all this glorious work while living on crackers in rat-infested hotel rooms because Thomas Edison, et. al., stole all his money. Here is Nikola Tesla again, in case you didn’t recognize him in that first photograph:
I’m only slightly exaggerating Inman’s fanaticism for Tesla here. Read Inman’s declaration of love for Tesla yourself. Alex Knapp, writing for Forbes, wrote a pretty succinct retort to Inman’s piece in 2012. Inman further wrote a rebuttal to Knapp which is also worth checking out.
As the title of Knapp’s piece states, Nikola Tesla Wasn’t God, And Thomas Edison Wasn’t The Devil. It is true that Thomas Edison did not single-handedly invent the light bulb. Like most all great inventions, the light bulb was invented over many years by many people, each providing some incremental improvement to the overall design. Edison’s contribution was an improved filament, made of carbon, that finally made the incandescent light bulb practical. It was the icing on the cake and thus Thomas Edison, rightly or wrongly, is credited with the overall discovery.
Inman says of Thomas Edison:
He believed the value of his inventions could be gauged by how much money they made. He was neither a mathematician nor a scientist — he believed he could just hire people to do that for him.
Inman contends that Thomas Edison was not a scientist because the carbon filament discovered in Edison’s lab to work best was not personally discovered by Edison but by some unnamed minion working for him. If we go by Inman’s definition of “scientist” though, virtually none of the Nobel Prizes ever awarded in the physical sciences have gone to the appropriate people. Barry Sharpless should not have received the Nobel Prize in 2001 for stereoselective oxidation reactions, for example. Rather, that coveted award should have gone to some dickhead weighing out osmium tetraoxide at the balance all day.
How do the accomplishments of Nikola Tesla compare with those of Thomas Edison? Consider the following passage from the Wikipedia page on Nikola Tesla:
Tesla’s work fell into relative obscurity after his death, but since the 1990s, his reputation has experienced a resurgence in popular culture. His work and reputed inventions are also at the center of many conspiracy theories and have also been used to support various pseudosciences, UFO theories and New Age occultism.
Much like the Roswell incident, Nikola Tesla was forgotten for decades only to be dug up in recent decades as an icon of the lunatic fringe. He was forgotten because his accomplishments were insignificant. Let’s look at some of them.
First, Tesla didn’t discover AC power. The first alternator was developed by Hippolyte Pixii more than two decades before Tesla was born. Nor did Tesla develop the AC generator or transformer. And although the conspiracy theorists who comprise the Tesla fandom often speak of Tesla being the father of the induction motor, he didn’t even invent that. A guy named Walter Baily demonstrated the first crude induction motor in 1879. Galileo Ferraris developed the first practical induction motor in 1885 and publicly demonstrated it in April of 1888. It was a month after that, in May of 1888, that Tesla unveiled his “me too” induction motor. Tesla claimed, however, to have “dreamed up” his induction motor before Ferraris, leading to a contentious battle between the two men in the courts.
Nikola Tesla appears to have invented the very first remote control device. He demonstrated a radio-controlled boat and attempted to sell the invention to the U.S. military as a means of guiding torpedoes (so much for Inman’s view of Tesla as a humanitarian). The military viewed it as a gimmick though and wasn’t interested.
Nikola Tesla played a role in the overall development of radio transmission and was granted a number of patents for his developments in radio in 1900. When the first transatlantic radio transmission was sent by Gugliemo Marconi in 1901, Tesla observed that the accomplishment was made possible in part by 17 of his patents. He also observed on another occasion that he was receiving radio transmissions from Mars, so there’s that.
Those are, for the most part, the primary scientific accomplishments of Nikola Tesla: A “me too” induction motor and improvements in radio transmission. Those are his real accomplishments, anyway. If you do a Google search for “Nikola Tesla’s greatest inventions,” you’ll discover a vast list of fantastical things that are attributed to Nikola Tesla.
No, Tesla didn’t discover X-rays. He performed some uninspiring experiments with them.
No, Tesla didn’t invent radar. The closest he came was an idea he pushed for using radio underwater to detect the metallic hauls of submarines. It was a dumb idea, and the military told him to fuck off when he tried to sell the idea to them.
No, Tesla didn’t invent the laser or “death beam.” He claimed to have, as did many others of the time, but never demonstrated such a device. It’s easy to “invent” something that you never have to show anybody. He tried to sell the invention to investors, but they all told him to fuck off.
Wireless Communications and Limitless Free Energy
From Activist Post:
These two are inextricably linked, as they were the last straw for the power elite — what good is energy if it can’t be metered and controlled? Free? Never. J.P. Morgan backed Tesla with $150,000 to build a tower that would use the natural frequencies of our universe to transmit data, including a wide range of information communicated through images, voice messages, and text. This represented the world’s first wireless communications, but it also meant that aside from the cost of the tower itself, the universe was filled with free energy that could be utilized to form a world wide web connecting all people in all places, as well as allow people to harness the free energy around them. Essentially, the 0’s and 1’s of the universe are embedded in the fabric of existence for each of us to access as needed. Nikola Tesla was dedicated to empowering the individual to receive and transmit this data virtually free of charge. But we know the ending to that story . . . until now?
Bah hah hah! Fucking dumbass!
HAARP & Weather Control
No, HAARP doesn’t control weather and it isn’t an extension of secret work done by Nikola Tesla.
The Tunguska Event (Siberia, 1908)
The real Nikola Tesla was a crank. He claimed to have received radio messages from Mars, and that he had conceived of a device “to transmit energy in large amounts, thousands of horsepower, from one planet to another, absolutely regardless of distance.” There are reasons why he faded into obscurity after his death. We don’t remember the idiots.
As I stated at the beginning of this post, Nikola Tesla wasn’t a complete idiot. In fact, he accomplished quite a lot for a relatively dumb guy. Think of all the work he did in the fields of electricity and electromagnetism, and then consider the fact that all of that work was done by a guy who refused to believe in the electron or that atoms are divisible. He also rejected the theory of relativity.
The dichotomy between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, as painted by the scientifically illiterate acolytes of the Tesla fandom, is astounding: Edison, the unimaginative and greedy robber baron in bed with industrial tycoons and big banks; Tesla, the diminutive super genius and member of the proletariat class, who’s only goal was to make the world a better place. In reality, Tesla was no less in bed with “big banks” and received plenty of funding for his ideas early in his career from the likes of J. P. Morgan. Funding for his ideas dried up as his career progressed, however, since his ideas were generally idiotic and since he had a tendency to spend investor’s money on unrelated projects, or lose it in the stock market. At his death, Tesla held over 300 patents. But that hardly means he had over 300 functional or even remotely practical inventions. His last US patent, for example, was for a vertical takeoff tilt-wing biplane. Would it have flown? No.
Idiot or not, sane or not, the mythical icon that Nikola Tesla has been transformed into in recent decades pushes all the right buttons to get the fandom worked up. Nikola Tesla was the little guy. The ignored guy. The guy who’s wondrous inventions could have saved the world if only he had been taken seriously. Tesla was treated with disrespect and bullied by the big banks and the seemingly omnipotent powers of industry. The Nikola Tesla of myth, in other words, is a mirror image of the minions who comprise his fandom. He is somebody they can relate to, because he is just like them. He is their hero.