Nikola Tesla - Master of Lightning Videos for
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?
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.
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
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.
Nikola Tesla - Master of Lightning
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