Wardenclyffe Spotlight: Nikola Tesla
Last week, in an effort to better inform my readers about the characters present in The Wardenclyffe Horror, I discussed the varied and intriguing facts that made Samuel Clemens such a perfect character for our book. Today we look at the other half of that equation, and shine our spot light on Nikola Tesla. Everyone knows Tesla was an electrical genius, and that with his contributions to electrical theory and AC power he basically invented the future. Most of you even know that he was a very eccentric man, but there is more to our hero than this.
He was chosen as a character for this story because of both his genius, and the eldritch aura that he has taken on since his passing. He was selected because his will was absolutely indomitable; he gained and lost more fortunes than a man had any right to. He arrived in New York from distant lands with only four cents in his pocket, and from such humble beginnings he cast his shadow across all of history.
Want to hear about how Edison cheated him out of $1,200,000 in todays money? Read on.
(Fund The Wardenclyffe Horror!)
Nikola Tesla was born on July 10th, 1856 in the Austrian Empire (Croatia) as the second youngest of five children. He was gifted as a child, nearly died of cholera, and discovered Mark Twain while hiding in mountainous areas, dodging the draft. Tesla started the University as one of the brightest students ever to study there, but was brought low by gambling and never graduated. The rest of Tesla’s time in the old country was equally mixed; the same bouts of great successes and miserable failures that would mark him the rest of his days were just as evident here. Remember when your teacher told you that you were wasting your potential? That’s Tesla in a nutshell.
So Tesla came to America, but on the voyage over his ship mutinied and almost all of his possessions were taken from him. He arrived in New York with only four pennies and a letter of introduction to Thomas Edison. Hired on, he quickly moved up the ranks, until one day he declared he could improve Edison’s generators; Edison offered him $50,000 if he succeeded, and Tesla then worked tirelessly for weeks. In the end, the generators were improved, but Edison reneged on the deal, offering him a $10/hour raise instead (a more than 30% increase). Tesla quit on the spot.
Tesla started his own company in 1885, went bankrupt and worked as a ditch digger in 1886, and started another company in 1887. In 1888 he hit the big time and secured a deal worth millions in Today’s dollars with Westinghouse. 1891 was a big year – he opened up his Manhattan workshop, from which he made all manner of discoveries, including: wireless power distribution, radio and x-rays. These experiments continued until 1899 when he went out west for a year to Colorado Springs for a year to do some truly radical experiments with high voltage.
Tesla’s western experiments were only the start of something much larger though. In 1900 ground was broken on the Wardenclyffe tower; this period of his life was also brief and fruitless. By 1902 JP Morgan, his primary backer, had already abandoned him, and the property was going in and out of foreclosure. This would continue for years, forcing Tesla to return to his 5th avenue workshop, where in 1908 our story takes place.
Why didn’t I talk about the death rays or aliens then? Well, i think those topics have been covered quite enough. Tesla is brilliant enough all on his own in my opinion. What do you think?