Nikola Tesla - Master of Lightning Videos for Engineers
I ran across this full-length video of the documentary titled,
"Nikola Tesla - Master of Lightning," which was aired by PBS in 2000. It is the most extensive visual
resource of information on Tesla that I have seen. Most people, if they have ever even heard of Nikola
Tesla, associate him with gigantic high voltage generators making his hair stand on end, but his contributions
to the world of electricity go far beyond that. Aside from the lightning machines, he also developed
almost single-handedly the basic concept of alternating current (AC) power generation, distribution,
and motors. The battle, both personally and corporately, with Thomas Edison and his proposed direct
current (DC) system is epic and tragic. Documentaries like this one tend to flourish the tale a bit
with exaggerations that build sympathy for the featured good guy du jour, so keep that in mind when
viewing. A similar documentary on Edison likely conflicts a bit when relating who tried to hose whom
in the AC-DC battle.
One of the most interesting aspects of the long-running contest (aka "The War of the Currents") Tesla
had with Edison was how down and dirty the fight got. If you think mud slinging in business and politics
is something new, wait until you see how public demonstrations were conducted to "prove" how dangerous
one form of voltage was compared to the other. Actual footage is presented where Edison's camp electrocuted
an elephant and told the grim tale of a convicted prisoner being put to death via AC electrocution.
That, per the purveyor of DC, was inhumanely cruel when compared to a direct current application of
deadly voltage. Maybe Tesla's people did not respond in kind to the slanderous campaign since the video
does not show anything, but my guess is if you want to see the dirty deeds committed by Tesla's people
(if they existed), you will have to watch the commensurate pro Edison documentary.
Nikola Tesla's "wireless power transmission" experiments, codenamed "Wardenclyffe," were financed by
J. Pierpont Morgan (another notable who was originally scheduled to travel aboard the Titanic). Does
the structure to the right, located in Russia, look familiar?
In today's world of ubiquitous cellphone, security camera, and camcorder videos capturing every (seemingly)
event happening on Earth (and even in the universe via telescopic recordings), the uniqueness of witnessing
the actual footage of the moment of lighting of the 1893 World's Fair held in Chicago, IL, and the internal
operations of the Niagara Falls power generation plant is awe-inspiring. Still photographs (even more
proliferous than videos today) were a rarity at the time, so PBS' collection of and access to such rare
movies and stills are an asset advantage they make good use of.
Tesla was the master of public demonstrations with "wow" factor of displays of electric arcs shooting
off his coat to metal spheres spinning wildly on a table with no apparent means of force to action-at-a-distance
that represented a form of communications that would later be exploited and commercialized by Marconi's
spark gap transmitters. He successfully hobnobbed with leading politicians and wealth investors in order
to gain financial and regulatory backing for his research and development. Transportation magnate George
Westinghouse became one of his greatest promoters. As a result of Edison's company losing the bid to
electrify the 1893 World's Fair, their lawyers managed to get a judge to prohibit the use of any commercially
available single-component incandescent bulb, so Westinghouse, who won the bid, frantically developed
and produced a two-component bulb for use at the fair. Score: Westinghouse 2, Edison 0. Enjoy the video
- all 92 minutes of it.
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