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article number 548
article date 04-21-2016
copyright 2016 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Nikola Tesla Gives Us Radio Waves, 1900
by Vojin Popovié, Professor, Belgrade University

From the 1976 book, Nikola Tesla, Life and Work of a Genius

* * *

No wonder, indeed, that Tesla was an extraordinary man, geniuses have always been somehow different. Some of the titles of many books on his life and work, as the monography “Prodigal Genius” by J. O’Neill and “Electrical Genius" by Beckhard, do substantiate it.

For instance, one of Tesla’s allegedly curious characteristics was his aspiration to live a life of 120 years (and his corresponding nutritional and hygienic habits). Why did he want that?

When one becomes acquainted with his thoughts and ideas of which he also wrote a lot, one becomes aware that even 100 of working years, provided that only 6 out of 24 hours a day would be taken up by sleep (as indeed Tesla did) would hardly suffice for materialization of so many ideas, even by such a tremendous constructive capacity as was Tesla’s.

Tesla’s vast insight into technical sciences, his apprehension of trends to their subsequent development, particularly in electro physics and electrical engineering, as well as his feeling about when and where to channel it so as to come to new discoveries and solutions, asked for more than customary physical strength of a man over the normal span of life.

With such a broad knowledge, he embodied multi-disciplinarianism, possibly explaining Tesla’s periods of complete isolation during his most intensive and feverish investigations. Once he said:

“It is a good act of faith that a young man or a man endowed with researchful mind isn’t “blessed” by a million of dollars. Mind is sharper and more brave in loneliness and isolation, unbothered by anything. Originality flowers in loneliness, far from external influences which might disable creative spirit.

"To be alone — that is the moment when ideas generate. To be alone that is the secret of discovery. Therefore many wonders of the world have found their roots in modest circumstances. A young man should never regret not having a million of dollars to formulate an idea. Thinking does not cost a million, and thinking generates ideas.”

It should be also stressed that Tesla never used to keep his ideas secret, but made demonstrations and explained his experiments in his laboratory, in front of his friends and very few associates. Lee de Forest, E. Armstrong, Nobel Prize Winner and other famous authorities were among them.

Because of his relatively short life (relative view of his desires and personal plans) some of his ideas, being left incomplete or non-materialized, were deemed to be pure phantasy, even among top experts. Some of his contemporaries shared the same view, but were later discarded, when alleged fantasy turned into reality.

Nobody before Tesla had any idea of the properties of high frequency currents, as their existence was practically unknown. These high frequency Tesla’s currents were created for the first time only by means of famous Tesla’s transformer without iron core and at electric resonance.

Today, the field of their application extends to electro-thermics, electro-medical therapy, electrical lighting and who knows what else, all thanks to ponderous studies and many engineering achievements or lectures and experiments, as well as numerous patent notes by Nikola Tesla.

Radio communications represent the most significant domain of application of Tesla’s contribution with respect to high frequencies, being possible only by means of high frequency currents and electromagnetic waves produced by them.

It is true that Nikola Tesla put the foundations to radio communication, this powerful medium for interchange of ideas among people and nations, for the development of cultural and educational level of human society, now and on.

Contrary to Hertz’s strongly damped oscillations produced by electric spark, by which he had been experimentally proving Maxwell’s Electromagnetic Theory and did not even believe that radio waves could be applied in communication at a distance, Tesla arrived at new solutions for wireless transmission of signals over unimaginable distances.

Transition from oscillations of Hertz’s type to oscillations produced by Tesla, can be compared only to the transition from electricity produced by so called electrostatic machines in old laboratories of electro-physists (with known short-term existence of current) to the production of constant current for long-term technical application, either from electro-chemical sources — batteries — or by dynamo and alternator in modern power plants.

Patent Sheet 1, Feb. 23, 1897. Apparatus for Producing Electric Currents of High Frequency.
Patent Sheet 2, Feb. 23, 1897. Apparatus for Producing Electric Currents of High Frequency.

Starting from a series of his advanced multipolar frequency generators, which produced completely undamped oscillations with the frequency of even up to 30,000 alternastions per second, owing to great number of poles and high rotary speeds, to various complex line and rotary switches and spark gaps (where electric sparks played a role of fast switches in primary circuits of his transformers, which made up the respective oscillatory circuits), Tesla by his original and if I may stress, the ever first concept of inductively coupled resonant electric circuits, as well as by his original application of so called 1/4 wave length antenna and earthening in those circuits, undoubtedly put the steady foundations to modern radio communications.

It is witnessed by Tesla’s lectures in 1892 and 1893 in London, Paris and Philadelphia, as well as by about ten of his patents, registered in the period from 1891 to 1898, for which he had applied earlier, in spite of the fact that one of his two laboratories went on fire.

It should be said that Tesla had already long ago given up his high frequency oscillators, as he became aware that they could not yield higher frequencies he aimed at — their complexity involving over 400 pairs of poles and high rotary speed would have made them mechanically unjustified — when other constructors, mainly in Europe, as Fessenden, Goldsmith, Latour and Alexanderson, kept on elaborating those machines and utilizing them in old pre-war radio stations with very long waves.

It should be mentioned that radio communication in its present scope and form as a whole, represents of course, the result of many scientific and expert minds engaged in this field, but Tesla’s primacy in putting the foundation to radio communication, by four adjusted or resonant electric circuits (two in transmission and reception, each) can no longer be disputed, as it very often used to be.

Alexandar Popov, generally considered to be among the pioneers of the radio, at the Congress of overall Russian electro-engineers in 1900 said:

“Utilization of a high mast in transmission and reception station of Marconi, with an insulated wire, in the aim of transmitting signals by means of electric oscillations is nothing new. In America, well known electro-technician Nikola Tesla performed the same experiments in 1893.”

A known decision passed by Supreme Patent Court of USA in October 1943, can be stated in favour of Tesla’s primacy in putting the foundations to radio communications. That happened 9 months after Tesla’s death. He did not participate in the dispute and took no interest at all in such sort of things; he even declared once that he had not regretted such “borrowings” — he regretted that those people did not dispose of their own patents.

Namely, the litigation started in 1916 by British Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company against USA firms, allegedly applying Marconi’s patents with no authorization. After extensive debates and hearings of radio experts and specialized legal people, Marconi firm lost, as the judges and experts of the above mentioned court established that in the relevant Marconi’s patent (No. 764772 of 1904) there was nothing which had not been made public and protected in Tesla’s patents, earlier.

I believe that the dispute would never had arisen if the researchers involved had followed that wise advice of the eminent American scientist B. A. Behrend, who kept repeating to his associates, whenever they thought to have discovered something, first to look into Nikola Tesla’s patents, before going ahead with the publication of their possible discoveries.

In order to implement results of his laboratory investigations, the majority of which were formulated in his patent documentation from the last decade of 19th century, Tesla initiated at the beginning of 20th the construction of, at that time, a huge radio station in Colorado Springs, to achieve radio range of about 1000 km in the field.

That radio station at the cost of about 200,000 dollars, a considerable amount at that time, was a gigantic radio laboratory in fact, where Tesla vigorously experimented, calculated, constructed and performed extensive measurements almost day and night from June 1, 1899 to January 7, 1900.

At that time Tesla made notes of his scientific and research work, now his well known Diary, the manuscript of which is kept in the Museum in Belgrade.

Tesla’s efforts in Colorado were directed, among others, to the achievement of highest possible performance of his radio transmitter, and he therefore thought of and concentrated to the optimum adjustment of the height of his antenna, to the reduction of electric losses in resonant, namely oscillatory circuits, to the development of hyper-sensitive detectors for radio reception of reflected radio or electromagnetic waves created by distant natural lightnings, to highly precise determination and measurement of electric resonance phenomena, which should have brought him closer in examining the possibility of creation of so called stationary electric waves, the earth playing the most direct role.

Tesla’s building with antenna for radio wave transmission in Colorado Springs. The writing reads “ Experimental Station in another phase of development, Discovery of “Stationary Waves” made July 3, 1899.

Therefore, Tesla by means of his biggest transformer of primary coil, 14 meters in diameter and approximately the same height of secondary coil, created in his experimental radio station, artificial lightning which indicated the induction of high frequency voltage over 12 MV, by the way, never surpassed till present.

The results of imaginative experiments, calculations and most sophisticated engineering designs and constructions performed by Tesla in Colorado Springs, had to serve as a basis for an even more powerful radio broadcasting station.

Its construction started, with the support of then well known American financiers some 100 km from New York at the site called Wardenclyffe on Long Island.

The direct purpose of such a huge radio station was its incorporation, along with many other similar stations anticipated by Tesla, in his world system of radio communications. That system, according to his written and published documents, should have served for transmission of telegraphic signals, facsimiles and photographies, telephone conversations, as well as dissemination (all over the globe) of signals of exact time, necessary in navigation and others.

When, at the beginning of 1901 construction of the radio station started, with already purchased expensive Westinghouse big generators and transformers as sources of power, Tesla had already assigned teams to find suitable places on the opposite British coast of the Ocean for distant receiving radio stations.

The radio station on Long Island consisted of a large building (designed by well known USA architect Stanford White) and of a special antenna tower suspended on a wooden pyramid of several meters in diameter) with a changeable height position by means of metal tube which was telescopically vertically movable, emerging from a cylindrical 30 m deep hole in the ground beneath the pyramid.

The whole system should have served to the changing and better adjustment of effective height of this very special antenna to the frequency, namely wave length, at which the radio station should have operated.

Let us mention here that Tesla often worked on wave lengths over 10,000 m which, due to their properties to advance without major losses in intensity, can reach far distances, particularly above the ground and sea-surface and even through these media. Although they were almost given up later (because of the high size of elements of inductance and capacitance) when short waves appeared, (thanks to newly discovered radio tubes), earlier kilometric radio waves revived particularly in ocean navigation and transmission of signals of exact time, as Tesla designated it, 75 years ago.

One specific domain of radio communications in which Tesla, I dare say, was only partly engaged, was the control over crewless ships by means of radio waves from a distant radio station ashore. By the end of the last century (1898), namely almost 80 years ago, Tesla constructed a model ship and applied for registration of corresponding patent no. 613809. The moment of demonstration of this patent in New York, in front of surprised experts of USA Patent Office, marked in fact the beginning of a cibernetic era and of tele-controlled missiles and automatons (Tesla called his little ship-robot an ‘automaton”).

Today, satellites are controlled from the ground on the same principle, applied of course in its modern version. Unfortunately, similar control is applied also to tele-controlled missiles used as weapons, but Tesla, anticipating such possible development of his device and idea, nevertheless thought that just these weapons and their destructive action without direct participation of a man would probably, at long last, result in the rise of mankind against the war.

Well, let us read what Tesla, in connection with that discovery wrote in an extensive article published in 1900:

“The automatons so far constructed had “borrowed minds”, so to speak, as each merely formed part of the distant operator who conveyed to his intelligent orders; but this art is only in the beginning. I propose to show that, however impossible it may now seem, an automaton may be contrived which will have its “own mind”, and by this I mean that it will be able, independent of any operator, left entirely to itself, to perform, in response to external influences affecting its sensitive organs, a great variety of arts and operations as if it had intelligence.”

Patent Sheet, Nov. 5, 1901. Apparatus for Utilizing Effects Transmitted Through Natural Media.

At another place in the same article, Tesla said:

“Certainly, by the use of this principle, an arm for attack as well as defense may be provided, of a distributiveness all the greater as the principle is applicable to submarine and aerial vessels. There is, virtually no restriction as to the amount of explosive it can carry, or as to the distance at which it can strike, and failure is almost impossible.

“But the force of this new principle does not wholy reside in its destructiveness. Its advent introduces into warfare an element which never existed before — a fighting machine without men and without loss of life — a condition which would have been impossible without this new departure, and which in my opinion, must be reached as preliminary to permanent peace.”

Let us mention on this occasion that nuclear heads in such modern tele-controlled weapons seem to impose to super powers to look for other, peaceful means of settlement of conflicts. So, Tesla ranks as the founder of radio tele-machines applied, let us hope, only in space ships and satellites on our planet and for the benefit and prosperity of the whole mankind.

Another specific domain of radio communications, occupying for some time, extremely rich and inexhaustible imagination of Nikola Tesla, not being adequately realized only due to material and technological limitations, was the location of a distant fixed or mobile metal object.

The idea of what we are calling a radar today, as well as practical principles of is functioning, were explained by Tesla in 1917 in American journal “Electrical Experimenter” with all essential elements of modern radar system, namely transmission of short and intensive impulse in the direction of, for instance an imagined submarine, with the reflection of appropriate radio wave against it, and reception, namely observation, of reciprocal impulse or radio- echo on fluorescent screen, and finally calculation of the distance of an object on the basis of time interval between the moment of transmission and reception of returning signal.

Let us recall that this idea of Nikola Tesla, astonishing by its vision of what was going to be realized (with the application of modern magnetron and circulatory directed parabolic antenna), was taken up again a quarter of a century later by Tesla from purely humanitarian reasons. Namely, it was necessary to find means to protect, or at least to considerably reduce, increasingly frequent wrecks on merchant marine and liners by submarines of the enemy during World War I. Let us hope that this device shall in future serve only to peaceful purposes.

To complete this picture of Tesla’s imagination based on common sense, which has been just outlined here, I shall mention some of his articles or statements about possibilities of interplanetary radio communication. In his articles, written in 1907, 1909 and 1921, he anticipated the utilization of ultra short waves advancing similarly to light rays.

Tesla, of course, could not produce them, at this time, as sustained oscillations of very high frequencies, since at that time the technological solution of radio tube for such frequencies was not yet in existence.

However, it reveals that the vision also gave way to subsequent realization, being conceived by a mind penetrating deeply into the roots of natural phenomena.

One of Tesla’s few assistants was the first to construct an electronic triode (1906) which only in its improved form made the above mentioned realization possible. Lee de Forest, showed me in 1960 in his home, in the neighbourhood of Los Angeles, that first triode and a corresponding patent, evoking dear memories of Tesla, full of high respects and gratitude for his teacher.

Lee de Forest wrote the following lines to Tesla:

“No one so excited my youthful imagination, stimulated my inventive ambitions, or served as an outstanding example of brilliant achievement in the field I was eager to enter, as did yourself.

Not only for the physical achievement of your researches on high frequencies which laid the basic foundation of the great industry of radio transmission in which I have laboured, but for the incessant inspiration of your early writings and your example, do I owe you an especial debt of gratitude.”

An American author (Gordon Friendlander) in his capacity of editor-in-chief of the magazine, ‘IEEE Spectrum’, expressed opinion that the present laser rays can be associated with “death rays” mentioned in one of Tesla’s articles in 1930.

It should be pointed out that Tesla, an amazing and prodigal genius, did never want to make a very clear distinction in his investigations in Colorado Springs, between wireless transmission of signals of information namely transmission of small intensity, and radio transmission of higher intensity, namely of stationary electromagnetic waves, but, for instance, according to his working diary from Colorado Springs, received clear radio waves which travelled around the globe, and considered therefore, that by selection of appropriate frequency and sufficiently intensive oscillations, stationary waves could be produced by mediation of that very globe, and so called sporadic lower layers of ionosphere.

Patent Sheet, Mar. 20, 1900. System of Transmission of Electrical Energy.

They should have served to the transmission of electric power to certain distant points on the earth. In fact, the huge radio station and big adjacent antenna on Long Island should have been utilized for experimentation and research of this type and purpose.

However, the funds were unfortunately insufficient and the storm of the World War I approaching and finally involving USA, had out (rather brutally) the realisation of gigantic radio station, which antenna was even demolished in 1917, allegedly from fear of hostile activities.

According to the words of already quoted American author, that radio station was probably designated to mark “the undertaking of a century.”

In fact, John Pierpont Morgan, an American tycoon cancelled further financing of the construction, as soon as he became aware that cheaper short-wave trans-ocean radio transmissions were accomplished by means of electronic tubes, and of lower intensity.

He was interested in business only, and transmission of telegraphic signs seemed to him a source of high profits. He had no interest whatsoever in expensive attempts in wireless power transmission.

When on the occasion of these events and troublesome situations, the journalists quoted some opinion that it was all only a missed dream, asked for his comments, Tesla, said:

“It is not a dream, it is a simple defeat of scientific electrical engineering only by an expensive-blind, faint-hearted, doubting world! . . . Humanity is not yet sufficiently advanced to be willingly led by the discoverer’s keen searching sense.

“But who knows? Perhaps it is better in this present world of ours that a revolutionary idea or invention, instead of being helped and patted, be hampered and ill-treated in its adolescence by want of means, by selfish interest, pedantry, stupidity and ignorance; that it be attacked and stifled; that it pass through bitter trials and tribulations through the strife of commercial existence.

“So do we get our light. So all that was great in the past was rediculed, condemned, combatted, supressed — only to emerge all the more powerfully, all the more triumphantly from the struggle.”

Further to this, however, we should remember that nowadays in the United States, extensive studies have been undertaken about the phenomena of very little attenuation of extremely long radio waves (just as applied by Tesla) when they advance through sea water and earth’s crust. These investigations have been undertaken to establish contact between coastal radio stations and distant submarines under the sea level, but this is the matter of the amount of intensity and efficiency of transmission, so that even more powerful receiving power devices can be woved.

The frequences of about 10 Hz are in question, to which Tesla arrived in his calculations when in Colorado he thought of the globe as an element of resonance. The project leader James Wait, in the editorial of the special issue of the famous journal “Transaction on Communications” wrote:

“From an historical standpoint, it is significant that the genius Nikola Tesla envisaged a world wide communication system using a huge spark gap transmitter located in Colorado Springs in 1899. A few years later he built a large facility on Long Island that he hoped would transmit signals to the Cornish coast of England. In addition, he proposed to use a modified version of the system to distribute power to all points of the globe. Unfortunately, his sponsor, J. Pierpont Morgan terminated his support at about this time.

Wardenclyffe Tower and research building, Long Island, New York.

“Nevertheless, many of Tesla’s early experiments have an intriguing similarity with later developments in extra low frequencies communications.”

Tesla’s unusual and special position in respect to his contemporaries and his time, as well as the stage of development of science which occupied him, are clearly illustrated by final paragraph of the above mentioned article of Gordon Friedlander:

“Perhaps, one might say, that like Leonardo da Vinci, Tesla’s creative and inventive mind outpaced the technology of his time.”

Because of what has been explained and quoted here, and with no fear of going astray to mistification or to fetiscising Tesla’s scope and his ideas, it can be frankly said that future would prove how science fiction of a real genius should turn to reality.

But, there are the words of Tesla’s ex-associate and later Nobel Prize Winner and main discoverer in the field of radio communications, professor Edwin Armstrong:

“The world I think, will wait a long time for Nikola Tesla’s equal in achievement and imagination.”

And indeed, as time goes on and we get more closely acquainted with his work and ideas, which have significant repercussions on previous and future developments of technics in general, Tesla’s gigantic figure grows in our mind and in the eyes of the world.

Nikola Tesla in 1933.
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