In an attempt to inspire Americans to be innovative and inventive, President Obama called out to inventors, and in particular, immigrant inventors in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
Some of the country’s greatest discoveries and inventions have come from immigrants. Often they move to the United States in order to pursue their craft or science in an open and free society with extensive resources. Although the President did not mention him by name, one of the country’s greatest immigrant inventors, and a man who has been on my mind a lot lately, is Nikola Tesla. And last week marked the 73rd anniversary of the great inventor’s death. But only recently did I learn the story of just how he died.
Tesla was born in 1856 into a Serbian family, in the village of Smiljan, in modern-day Croatia. He had a keen interest in science and worked so hard his teachers feared he’d die of exhaustion. Tesla worked at the Budapest Telephone Exchange and eventually moved to the United States for a job with Thomas Edison. Then he struck out on his own.
His work led to significant advances in wireless communications, lasers, x-rays, radar, lighting and robotics. His discovery of rotating magnetic fields gave rise to the AC power system still used today. He is the recognized inventor of the brushless AC induction motor, radio remote control, super-conductivity, fluorescent lighting, and the mechanical oscillator, among other nifty items.
Tesla also dreamed up a series of revolutionary free energy devices. His “self-acting engine,” or ambient air engine would be able to gather heat from the ambient air and run indefinitely. His World Power System would provide energy to everyone on earth by broadcasting electrical energy through the ground. And while recovering from a bout of malaria that nearly killed him, Tesla conceived of a ring around the equator. According to his excellent autobiographical book, My Inventions, the ring would, “float freely and could be arrested in its spinning motion by reactionary forces, thus enabling travel at a rate of about one thousand miles an hour, impracticable by rail.”
Tesla wanted to connect the people of the world. He wanted to break down the barriers, barriers of communication, of travel, of energy, and of human creativity. He wanted to free people from a reliance on energy that burdened and polluted the planet. Tesla saw energy as a salve, a way to foster growth but also work in harmony with the earth and its motions.
“Tesla did what he did for the betterment of humanity, to help people have a better quality of life,” Jane Alcorn, President of the Long Island, New York-based Tesla Science Center, recently told National Geographic. “He never seemed to be interested in monetary gain.”
And thus, why it is seemingly so sad that he died, according to a post on the site Teslauniverse.com, “quietly and alone in room #3327 on the 33rd floor of the Hotel New Yorker in New York City.” He was 86. Apparently, what happened is that on January 5th, 1943 Tesla placed a “do not disturb” sign on his door. The hotel’s maid ignored the sign and entered the room two days later to find Tesla dead in his bed.
One could say it was a lonely death, but who knows if Tesla wasn’t up to some sort of deathbed experiment. As a boy Tesla traveled vast distances in his mind, circling the earth and having powerful experiences in far-off lands he never visited in his waking life. Perhaps Tesla knew something about other realms that we do not.
A medical examiner named H.W. Wembly examined the body and gave his opinion that the cause of death was coronary thrombosis and that there had been no foul play. Tesla received a state funeral at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine at West 112th Street, in New York City. More than 2,000 mourners attended. Tesla was cremated and buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery, in Ardsley, New York.
After learning of Tesla’s death, the FBI ordered the U.S. Office of Alien Property to seize all of the inventor’s belongings. His entire estate from the Hotel New Yorker, and other New York City hotels, was transported to the Manhattan Storage and Warehouse Company, where it remained classified. Much of this classified material has since gone to the Nikola Tesla Museum, in Belgrade, Serbia. But some of Tesla’s papers remain classified by the U.S. government.
While Tesla may have been forgotten, or not mentioned, by Obama, he has inspired movies, musicals, clothing, food—I recently picked up a case of Nikola Tesla experi-mints at a local bookstore—and a line of automobiles by the renown modern-day innovator Elon Musk. A few years ago the Tesla Science Center unveiled a statue of him at Wardenclyffe, a former Tesla laboratory located on Long Island.
“It’s not right to say that Bowie was perfect for the role,” reads an Indiewire article about the film, “but he was singular as Tesla, inescapably imbuing the role with everything we know and don’t know and can’t comprehend about Bowie himself. An enigma portraying an enigma.”
It seems a fitting ending. Although there are many Tesla fans who still don’t believe there has been a true ending for the inventor. There is chatter on the internet that Tesla may have been reincarnated as at least two different people.
“The most prominent incarnation of Tesla,” explains a post with the Institute for the Integration of Science, Intuition and Spirit, “is Saul Perlmutter, an astrophysicist who won the 2011 Nobel Prize for providing evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.”
However, a more popular theory holds that Tesla was reincarnated as Patrick Flanagan, a new age author and inventor who was born just over a year after Tesla died.
And then of course, there is Bowie himself, who was born just four years after Tesla died. This to me seems much more likely, and exciting.
Nikola Tesla Resources
- pbs.org: 8 Things You Didn’t Know About Nikola Tesla
- Tesla Universe
- The Tesla Memorial Society
- History Channel: Nikola Tesla
- Smithsonian: The Rise and Fall of Nikola Tesla and his Tower
- The 10 Inventions Of Nikola Tesla That Changed The Worldvv
- Nikola Tesla FBI Files