Prodigal Genius: Biography of Nikola Tesla

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  • Prodigal Genius: Biography of Nikola Tesla

    Prodigal Genius


    1994 Brotherhood of Life, Inc.,

    110 Dartmouth, SE, Albuquerque,

    New Mexico 87106 USA

    "SPECTACULAR" is a mild word for describing the strange

    experiment with life that comprises the story of Nikola

    Tesla, and "amazing" fails to do adequate justice to the

    results that burst from his experiences like an exploding

    rocket. It is the story of the dazzling scintillations of a

    superman who created a new world; it is a story that

    condemns woman as an anchor of the flesh which retards the

    development of man and limits his accomplishment--and,

    paradoxically, proves that even the most successful life,

    if it does not include a woman, is a dismal failure.

    Even the gods of old, in the wildest imaginings of their

    worshipers, never undertook such gigantic tasks of world-

    wide dimension as those which Tesla attempted and

    accomplished. On the basis of his hopes, his dreams, and

    his achievements he rated the status of the Olympian gods,

    and the Greeks would have so enshrined him. Little is the

    wonder that so-called practical men, with their noses stuck

    in profit-and-loss statements, did not understand him and

    thought him strange.

    The light of human progress is not a dim glow that

    gradually becomes more luminous with time. The panorama of

    human evolution is illumined by sudden bursts of dazzling

    brilliance in intellectual accomplishments that throw their

    beams far ahead to give us a glimpse of the distant future,

    that we may more correctly guide our wavering steps today.

    Tesla, by virtue of the amazing discoveries and inventions

    which he showered on the world, becomes one of the most

    resplendent flashes that has ever brightened the scroll of

    human advancement.

    Tesla created the modern era; he was unquestionably one of

    the world's greatest geniuses, but he leaves no offspring,

    no legatees of his brilliant mind, who might aid in

    administering that world; he created fortunes for

    multitudes of others but himself died penniless, spurning

    wealth that might be gained from his discoveries. Even as

    he walked among the teeming millions of New York he became

    a fabled individual who seemed to belong to the far-distant future or to have come to us from the mystical realm of the

    gods, for he seemed to be an admixture of a Jupiter or a

    Thor who hurled the shafts of lightning; an Ajax who defied

    the Jovian bolts; a Prometheus who transmuted energy into

    electricity to spread over the earth; an Aurora who would

    light the skies as a terrestrial electric lamp; a Mazda who

    created a sun in a tube; a Hercules who shook the earth

    with his mechanical vibrators; a Mercury who bridged the

    ambient realms of space with his wireless waves--and a

    Hermes who gave birth to an electrical soul in the earth

    that set it pulsating from pole to pole.

    This spark of intellectual incandescence, in the form of a

    rare creative genius, shot like a meteor into the midst of

    human society in the latter decades of the past century;

    and he lived almost until today. His name became synonymous

    with magic in the intellectual, scientific, engineering and

    social worlds, and he was recognized as an inventor and

    discoverer of unrivaled greatness. He made the electric

    current his slave. At a time when electricity was

    considered almost an occult force, and was looked upon with

    terror-stricken awe and respect, Tesla penetrated deeply

    into its mysteries and performed so many marvelous feats

    with it that, to the world, he became a master magician

    with an unlimited repertoire of scientific legerdemain so

    spectacular that it made the accomplishments of most of the

    inventors of his day seem like the work of toy-tinkers.

    Tesla was an inventor, but he was much more than a producer

    of new devices: he was a discoverer of new principles,

    opening many new empires of knowledge which even today have

    been only partly explored. In a single mighty burst of

    invention he created the world of power of today; he

    brought into being our electrical power era, the rock-

    bottom foundation on which the industrial system of the

    entire world is builded; he gave us our mass-production

    system, for without his motors and currents it could not

    exist; he created the race of robots, the electrical

    mechanical men that are replacing human labor; he gave us

    every essential of modern radio; he invented the radar

    forty years before its use in World War II; he gave us our

    modern neon and other forms of gaseous-tube lighting; he

    gave us our fluorescent lighting; he gave us the high-

    frequency currents which are performing their electronic

    wonders throughout the industrial and medical worlds; he

    gave us remote control by wireless; he helped give us World

    War II, much against his will--for the misuse of his

    2 superpower system and his robot controls in industry made

    it possible for politicians to have available a tremendous

    surplus of power, production facilities, labor and

    materials, with which to indulge in the most frightful

    devastating war that the maniacal mind could conceive. And

    these discoveries are merely the inventions made by the

    master mind of Tesla which have thus far been utilized--

    scores of others remain still unused.

    Yet Tesla lived and labored to bring peace to the world. He

    dedicated his life to lifting the burdens from the

    shoulders of mankind; to bringing a new era of peace,

    plenty and happiness to the human race. Seeing the coming

    of World War II, implemented and powered by his

    discoveries, he sought to prevent it; offered the world a

    device which he maintained would make any country, no

    matter how small, safe within its borders--and his offer

    was rejected.

    More important by far, however, than all his stupendously

    significant electrical discoveries is that supreme

    invention--Nikola Tesla the Superman--the human instrument

    which shoved the world forward with an accelerating lunge

    like an airplane cast into the sky from a catapult. Tesla,

    the scientist and inventor, was himself an invention, just

    as much as was his alternating-current system that put the

    world on a superpower basis.

    Tesla was a superman, a self-made superman, invented and

    designed specifically to perform wonders; and he achieved

    them in a volume far beyond the capacity of the world to

    absorb. His life he designed on engineering principles to

    enable him to serve as an automaton, with utmost

    efficiency, for the discovery and application of the forces

    of Nature to human welfare. To this end he sacrificed love

    and pleasure, seeking satisfaction only in his

    accomplishments, and limiting his body solely to serving as

    a tool of his technically creative mind.

    With our modern craze for division of labor and

    specialization of effort to gain efficiency of production

    in our industrial machine, one hesitates to think of a

    future in which Tesla's invention of the superman might be

    applied to the entire human race, with specialization

    designed for every individual from birth.

    3 The superman that Tesla designed was a scientific saint.

    The inventions that this scientific martyr produced were

    designed for the peace, happiness and security of the human

    race, but they have been applied to create scarcity,

    depressions and devastating war. Suppose the superman

    invention were also developed and prostituted to the

    purposes of war-mongering politicians? Tesla glimpsed the

    possibilities and suggested the community life of the bee

    as a threat to our social structure unless the elements of

    individual and community lives are properly directed and

    personal freedom protected.

    Tesla's superman was a marvelously successful invention--

    for Tesla--which seemed, as far as the world could observe,

    to function satisfactorily. He eliminated love from his

    life; eliminated women even from his thoughts. He went

    beyond Plato, who conceived of a spiritual companionship

    between man and woman free from sexual desires; he

    eliminated even the spiritual companionship. He designed

    the isolated life into which no woman and no man could

    enter; the self-suficient individuality from which all sex

    considerations were completely eliminated; the genius who

    would live entirely as a thinking and a working machine.

    Tesla's superman invention was a producer of marvels, and

    he thought that he had, by scientific methods, succeeded in

    eliminating love from his life. That abnormal life makes a

    fascinating experiment for the consideration of the

    philosopher and psychologist, for he did not succeed in

    eliminating love. It manifested itself despite his

    conscientious efforts at suppression; and when it did so it

    came in the most fantastic form, providing a romance the

    like of which is not recorded in the annals of human


    Tesla's whole life seems unreal, as if he were a fabled

    creature of some Olympian world. A reporter, after writing

    a story of his discoveries and inventions, concluded, "His

    accomplishments seem like the dream of an intoxicated god."

    It was Tesla's invention of the polyphase alternating-

    current system that was directly responsible for harnessing

    Niagara Falls and opened the modern electrical superpower

    era in which electricity is transported for hundred of

    miles, to operate the tens of thousands of mass-production

    factories of industrial systems. Every one of the tall

    Martian-like towers of the electrical transmission lines

    that stalk across the earth, and whose wires carry

    4 electricity to distant cities, is a monument to Tesla;

    every powerhouse, every dynamo and every motor that drives

    every machine in the country is a monument to him.

    Superseding himself, he discovered the secret of

    transmitting electrical power to the utmost ends of the

    earth without wires, and demonstrated his system by which

    useful amounts of power could be drawn from the earth

    anywhere merely by making a connection to the ground; he

    set the entire earth in electrical vibration with a

    generator which spouted lightning that rivaled the fiery

    artillery of the heavens. It was as a minor portion of this

    discovery that he created the modern radio system; he

    planned our broadcasting methods of today, forty years ago

    when others saw in wireless only the dot-dash messages that

    might save ships in distress.

    He produced lamps of greater brilliance and economy than

    those in common use today; he invented the tube,

    fluorescent and wireless lamps which we now consider such

    up-to-the-minute developments; and he essayed to set the

    entire atmosphere of the earth aglow with his electric

    currents, to change our world into a single terrestrial

    lamp and to make the skies at night shine as does the sun

    by day.

    If other first-magnitude inventors and discoverers may be

    considered torches of progress, Tesla was a conflagration.

    He was the vehicle through which the blazing suns of a

    brighter tomorrow focused their incandescent beams on a

    world that was not prepared to receive their light. Nor is

    it remarkable that this radiant personality should have led

    a strange and isolated life. The value of his contributions

    to society cannot be overrated. we can now analyze, to some

    extent, the personality that produced them. He stands as a

    synthetic genius, a self-made superman, the greatest

    invention of the greatest inventor of all times. But when

    we consider Tesla as a human being, apart from his charming

    and captivating social manners, it is hard to imagine a

    worse nightmare than a world inhabited entirely by


    When Nature makes an experiment and achieves an improvement

    it is necessary that it be accomplished in such a way that

    the progress will not be lost with the individual but will

    be passed on to future generations. In man, this requires a

    utilization of the social values of the race, cooperation

    5 of the individual with his kind, that the improved status

    may be propagated and become a legacy of all. Tesla

    intentionally engineered love and women out of his life,

    and while he achieved gigantic intellectual stature, he

    failed to achieve its perpetuation either through his own

    progeny or through disciples. The superman he constructed

    was not great enough to embrace a wife and continue to

    exist as such. The love he sought to suppress in his life,

    and which he thought was associated only with women, is a

    force which, in its various aspects, links together all

    members of the human race.

    In seeking to suppress this force entirely Tesla severed

    the bonds which might have brought to him the disciples who

    would, through other channels, have perpetuated the force

    of his prodigal genius. As a result, he succeeded in

    imparting to the world only the smallest fraction of the

    creative products of his synthetic superman.

    The creation of a superman as demonstrated by Tesla was a

    grand experiment in human evolution, well worthy of the

    giant intellect that grew out of it, but it did not come up

    to Nature's standards; and the experiment will have to be

    made many times more before we learn how to create a super

    race with the minds of Teslas that can tap the hidden

    treasury of Nature's store of knowledge, yet endowed too

    with the vital power of love that will unlock forces, more

    powerful than any which we now glimpse, for advancing the

    status of the human race.

    There was no evidence whatever that a superman was being


    when the stroke of midnight between July 9 and 10, in the

    year 1856, brought a son, Nikola, to the home of the Rev.

    Milutin Tesla and Djouka, his wife, in the hamlet of

    Smiljan, in the Austro-Hungarian border province of Lika,

    now a part of Yugoslavia. The father of the new arrival,

    pastor of the village church, was a former student in an

    oficers' training school who had rebelled against the

    restrictions of Army life and turned to the ministry as the

    field in which he could more satisfactorily express

    himself. The mother, although totally unable to read or

    write, was nevertheless an intellectually brilliant woman,

    who without the help of literal aids became really well


    6 Both father and mother contributed to the child a valuable

    heritage of culture developed and passed on by ancestral

    families that had been community leaders for many

    generations. The father came from a family that contributed

    sons in equal numbers to the Church and to the Army. The

    mother was a member of the Mandich family whose sons, for

    generations without number, had, with very few exceptions,

    become ministers of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and whose

    daughters were chosen as wives by ministers.

    Djouka, the mother of Nikola Tesla (her given name in

    English translation would be Georgina), was the eldest

    daughter in a family of seven children. Her father, like

    her husband, was a minister of the Serbian Orthodox Church,

    Her mother, after a period of failing eyesight, had become

    blind shortly after the seventh child was born; so Djouka,

    the eldest daughter, at a tender age was compelled to take

    over the major share of her mother's duties. This not alone

    prevented her from attending school: her work at home so

    completely consumed her time that she was unable to acquire

    even the rudiments of reading and writing through home

    study. This was a strange situation in the cultured family

    of which she was a member. Tesla, however, always credited

    his unlettered mother rather than his erudite father with

    being the source from which he inherited his inventive

    ability. She devised many household labor-saving

    instruments. She was, in addition, a very practical

    individual, and her well-educated husband wisely left in

    her hands all business matters involving both the church

    and his household.

    An unusually retentive memory served this remarkable woman

    as a good substitute for literacy. As the family moved in

    cultured circles she absorbed by ear much of the cultural

    riches of the community. She could repeat, without error or

    omission, thousands of verses of the national poetry of her

    country--the sagas of the Serbs--and could recite long

    passages from the Bible. She could narrate from memory the

    entire poetical- philosophical work Gorski ffenac (Mountain

    fireath), written by Bishop Petrovich Njegosh. She also

    possessed artistic talent and a versatile dexterity in her

    fingers for expressing it. She earned wide fame throughout

    the countryside for her beautiful needlework. According to

    Tesla, so great were her dexterity and her patience that

    she could, when over sixty, using only her fingers, tie

    three knots in an eyelash.

    7 The remarkable abilities of this clever woman who had no

    formal education were transmitted to her five children. The

    elder son, Dane Tesla, born seven years before Nikola, was

    the family favorite because of the promise of an

    outstanding career which his youthful cleverness indicated

    was in store for him. He foreshadowed in his early years

    the strange manifestations which in his surviving brother

    were a prelude to greatness.

    Tesla's father started his career in the military service,

    a likely choice for the son of an oficer; but he apparently

    did not inherit his father's liking for Army life. So

    slight an incident as criticism for failure to keep his

    brass buttons brightly polished caused him to leave

    military school. He was probably more of a poet and

    philosopher than a soldier. He wrote poetry which was

    published in contemporary papers. He also wrote articles on

    current problems which he signed with a pseudonym, "Srbin

    Pravicich." This, in Serb, means "Man of Justice." He

    spoke, read and wrote Serbo-Croat, German and Italian. It

    was probably his interest in poetry and philosophy that

    caused him to be attracted to Djouka Mandich. She was

    twenty-five and Milutin was two years older. He married her

    in 1847. His attraction to the daughter of a pastor

    probably influenced his next choice of a career, for he

    then entered the ministry and was soon ordained a priest.

    He was made pastor of the church at Senj, an important

    seaport with facilities for a cultural life. He gave

    satisfaction, but apparently he achieved success among his

    parishioners on the basis of a pleasing personality and an

    understanding of problems rather than by using any great

    erudition in theological and ecclesiastical matters.

    A few years after he was placed in charge of this parish, a

    new archbishop, elevated to head of the diocese, wished to

    survey the capabilities of the priests in his charge and

    offered a prize for the best sermon preached on his oficial

    visit. The Rev. Milutin Tesla was bubbling over, at the

    time, with interest in labor as a major factor in social

    and economic problems. To preach a sermon on this topic

    was, from the viewpoint of expediency, a totally

    impractical thing to do. Nobody, however, had ever accused

    the Rev. Mr. Tesla of being practical, so doing the

    impractical thing was quite in harmony with his nature. He

    chose the subject which held his greatest interest; and

    8 when the archbishop arrived, he listened to a sermon on


    Months later Senj was surprised by an unanticipated visit

    from the archbishop, who announced that the Rev. Mr. Tesla

    had preached the best sermon, and awarded him a red sash

    which he was privileged to wear on all occasions. Shortly

    afterward he was made pastor at Smiljan, where his parish

    then embraced forty homes. He was later placed in charge of

    the much larger parish in the nearby city of Gospic. His

    first three children, Milka, Dane and Angelina, were born

    at Senj. Nikola and his younger sister, Marica, were born

    at Smiljan.

    Tesla's early environment, then, was that of an

    agricultural community in a high plateau region near the

    eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea in the Velebit Mountains,

    a part of the Alps, a mountain chain stretching from

    Switzerland to Greece. He did not see his first steam

    locomotive until he was in his `teens, so his aptitude for

    mechanical matters did not grow out of his environment.

    Tesla's homeland is today called Yugoslavia, a country

    whose name means "Land of the Southern Slavs." It embraces

    several former separate countries, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia,

    Montenegro, Dalmatia and also Slovenia. The Tesla and

    Mandich families originally came from the western part of

    Serbia near Montenegro. Smiljan, the village where Tesla

    was born, is in the province of Lika, and at the time of

    his birth this was a dependent province held by the Austro-

    Hungarian Empire as part of Croatia and Slovenia.

    Tesla's surname dates back more than two and a half

    centuries. Before that time the family name was Draganic

    (pronounced as if spelled Drag'-a-nitch). The name Tesla

    (pronounced as spelled, with equal emphasis on both

    syllables), in a purely literal sense, is a trade name like

    Smith, firight or Carpenter. As a common noun it describes

    a woodworking tool which, in English, is called an adz.

    This is an axe with a broad cutting blade at right angles

    to the handle, instead of parallel as in the more familiar

    form. It is used in cutting large tree trunks into squared

    timbers. In the Serbo-Croat language, the name of the tool

    is tesla. There is a tradition in the Draganic family that

    the members of one branch were given the nickname "Tesla"

    because of an inherited trait which caused practically all

    of them to have very large, broad and protruding front

    9 teeth which greatly resembled the triangular blade of the


    The name Draganic and derivatives of it appear frequently

    in other branches of the Tesla family as a given name. When

    used as a given name it is frequently translated

    "Charlotte," but as a generic term it holds the meaning

    "dear" and as a surname is translated "Darling."

    The majority of Tesla's ancestors for whom age records are

    available lived well beyond the average span of life for

    their times, but no definite record has been found of the

    ancestor who, Tesla claimed, lived to be one hundred and

    forty years of age. (His father died at the age of fifty-

    nine, and his mother at seventy-one.)

    Although many of Tesla's ancestors were dark eyed, his eyes

    were a gray-blue. He claimed his eyes were originally

    darker, but that as a result of the excessive use of his

    brain their color changed. His mother's eyes, however, were

    gray and so are those of some of his nephews. It is

    probable, therefore, that his gray eyes were inherited,

    rather than faded by excessive use of the brain.

    Tesla grew to be very tall and very slender--tallness was a

    family and a national trait. When he attained full growth

    he was exactly two meters, or six feet two and one-quarter

    inches tall. while his body was slender, it was built

    within normal proportions. His hands, however, and

    particularly his thumbs, seemed unusually long.

    Nikola's older brother Dane was a brilliant boy and his

    parents gloried in their good fortune in being blessed with

    such a fine son. There was, however, a difference of seven

    years in the two boys' ages, and since the elder brother

    died as the result of an accident at the age of twelve,

    when Nikola was but five years old, a fair comparison of

    the two seems hardly possible. The loss of their first-born

    son was a great blow to his mother and father; the grief

    and regrets of the family were manifest in idealizing his

    talents and predicting possibilities of greatness he might

    have realized, and this situation was a challenge to Nikola

    in his youth.

    The superman Tesla developed out of the superboy Nikola.

    Forced to rise above the normal level by an urge to carry

    on for his dearly beloved departed brother, and also on his


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