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Author Topic: Tesla's Tower of Power  (Read 2158 times)

Jay Sadie

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Tesla's Tower of Power
« on: January 12, 2010, 11:58:50 AM »

[float=left][smg id=19 caption="Nikola Tesla"][/float]Nikola Tesla was an eccentric-yet-ingenious inventor (10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943).

Tesla's inventions had already changed the world on several occasions, most notably when he developed modern alternating current technology. He had also won fame for his victory over Thomas Edison in the well-publicized “battle of currents,” where he proved that his alternating current was far more practical and safe than Edison-brand direct current. Soon his technology dominated the world’s developing electrical infrastructure, and by 1900 he was widely regarded as America’s greatest electrical engineer. This reputation was reinforced by his other major innovations, including the Tesla coil, the radio transmitter, and fluorescent lamps.

In 1891 Tesla gave a lecture for the members of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in New York City, where he made a striking demonstration. In each hand he held a gas discharge tube, an early version of the modern fluorescent bulb. The tubes were not connected to any wires, but nonetheless they glowed brightly during his demonstration. Tesla explained to the awestruck attendees that the electricity was being transmitted through the air by the pair of metal sheets which sandwiched the stage. He went on to speculate how one might increase the scale of this effect to transmit wireless power and information over a broad area, perhaps even the entire Earth. As was often the case, Tesla’s audience was engrossed but bewildered.

Back at his makeshift laboratory at Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs, the eccentric scientist continued to wring the secrets out of electromagnetism to further explore this possibility. He rigged his equipment with the intent to produce the first lightning-scale electrical discharges ever accomplished by mankind, a feat which would allow him to test many of his theories about the conductivity of the Earth and the sky. For this purpose he erected a 142-foot mast on his laboratory roof, with a copper sphere on the tip. The tower’s substantial wiring was then routed through an exceptionally large high-voltage Tesla coil in the laboratory below. On the night of his experiment, following a one-second test charge which momentarily set the night alight with an eerie blue hum, Tesla ordered his assistant to fully electrify the tower.

Though his notes do not specifically say so, one can only surmise that Tesla stood at Pike’s Peak and cackled diabolically as the night sky over Colorado was cracked by the man-made lightning machine. Colossal bolts of electricity arced hundreds of feet from the tower’s top to lick the landscape. A curious blue corona soon enveloped the crackling equipment. Millions of volts charged the atmosphere for several moments, but the awesome display ended abruptly when the power suddenly failed. All of the windows throughout Colorado Springs went dark as the local power station’s industrial-sized generator collapsed under the strain. But amidst such dramatic discharges, Tesla confirmed that the Earth itself could be used as an electrical conductor, and verified some of his suspicions regarding the conductivity of the ionosphere. In later tests, he recorded success in an attempt to illuminate light bulbs from afar, though the exact conditions of these experiments have been lost to obscurity. In any case, Tesla became convinced that his dream of world-wide wireless electricity was feasible.

[float=left][smg id=18 caption="Wardenclyffe Tower"][/float]When Tesla returned from Colorado Springs to New York in 1900, he wrote a sensational article for Century Magazine. In this detailed, futuristic vision he described a means of tapping the sun's energy with an antenna. He suggested that it would be possible to control the weather with electrical energy. He predicted machines that would make war an impossibility. And he proposed a global system of wireless communications. To most people the ideas were almost incomprehensible, but Tesla was a man who could not be underestimated.

The article caught the attention of one of the world's most powerful men, J. P. Morgan. A frequent guest in Morgan's home, Tesla proposed a scheme that must have sounded like science fiction: a "world system" of wireless communications to relay telephone messages across the ocean; to broadcast news, music, stock market reports, private messages, secure military communications, and even pictures to any part of the world. "When wireless is fully applied the earth will be converted into a huge brain, capable of response in every one of its parts," Tesla told Morgan.

Morgan offered Tesla $150,000 to build a transmission tower and power plant. A more realistic sum would have been $1,000,000, but Tesla took what was available and went to work immediately. In spite of what he told his investor, Tesla's actual plan was to make a large-scale demonstration of electrical power transmission without wires. This turned out to be a fatal mistake.

[float=right][smg id=21][/float]For his new construction project, Tesla acquired land on the cliffs of Long Island Sound. The site was called Wardenclyffe. By 1901 the Wardenclyffe project was under construction, the most challenging task being the erection of an enormous tower, rising 187 feet in the air and supporting on its top a fifty-five-ton sphere made of steel. Beneath the tower, a well-like shaft plunged 120 feet into the ground. Sixteen iron pipes were driven three hundred feet deeper so that currents could pass through them and seize hold of the earth. "In this system that I have invented," Tesla explained, "it is necessary for the machine to get a grip of the earth, otherwise it cannot shake the earth. It has to have a grip... so that the whole of this globe can quiver."

As the tower construction slowly increased, it became evident that more funds were sorely needed. But Morgan was not quick to respond. Then on December 12, 1901, the world awoke to the news that Marconi had signaled the letter "S" across the Atlantic from Cornwall, England to Newfoundland. Tesla, unruffled by the accomplishment, explained that the Italian used 17 Tesla patents to accomplish the transmission. But Morgan began to doubt Tesla. Marconi's system not only worked, it was also inexpensive.

[float=right][smg id=20][/float]Tesla pleaded with Morgan for more financial support, but the investor soundly refused. To make matters worse, the stock market crashed and prices for the tower's materials doubled. High prices combined with Tesla's inability to find enough willing investors eventually led to the demise of the project.

In 1905, after some amazing electrical displays, Tesla and his team had to abandon the project forever. The newspapers called it, "Tesla's million dollar folly."

Humiliated and defeated, Tesla experienced a complete nervous breakdown. "It is not a dream," he protested. "It is a simple feat of scientific electrical engineering, only expensive... blind, faint-hearted, doubting world."
« Last Edit: January 15, 2010, 11:50:22 AM by Jay Sadie »
"I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success." - Nikola Tesla
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