Tesla On Electricity

Wednesday, January 27, 1897
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46 TESLA ON ELECTRICITY. ,mnness xx FULL on THIE occasion on Tim couuauonuron or rua mrno- nucrxou 'on NIAGARA mms Pownn ur BUFFALO ,rr 'rms ELLICOTT cms, JANUARY 12. 1897. HIS I have scarcely had courage enough to address an audience on a few unavoidable occasions, and the experience of this even- ing, even as disconnected from the cause of our meeting, is quite novel to me. Although in those few instances, of which I have retained agreeable memory, my words have met with a generous reception, I never de- ceived myself, and knew quite well that my success wus not due to any excellency in che rhetorical or demonstrative art. N ever» theless, my sense of duty to respond to the request with which I was honored a few days ago was strong enough to overcome my very grave apprehensions in regard to my ability of doing justice to the topic as- signed to me. It is true, at times-even now, as I speak-my mind feels full of the subject, but I know that, as soon as l shall attempt expression, the fugitive conceptions will vanish, and I shall experience certain well known sensations of abandonment, chill and silence. 1 can sec already your disappointed eountenances and can read in them the painful regret of the mistake in your choice. These remarksdgentlemen, are not made with the seltish esire of winning your kindness and indulgence on my short.- comings, but with the honest intention of offering you an apology for your disap- pointment. Nor are they made-as you might: be disposed to think-in that playful spirit which, to the enjoyment of the listeners, is often displayed by belated speakers. On the contrary, I am deeply earnest in rny wish that I were capable of having the tire of eloquence kindled in me, that 1 might dwell in adequate terms on this fascinating science of electricity, on the marvelous development which electrical annals have recorded and which, as one of the speakers justly remarked, stamp this age as the ElcctricalAge, and particularly on the great event we are commemorating this day. Unfortunately, this my desire must remain unfulfilled, but I am hopeful that in my forrnless and incomplete state» ments, among the few ideas and facts I shall mention there may be something of interest and usefulness, something betitting this unique occasion. Gentlemen, there are a number of features clearly discernible in, and characteristic of, human intellectual progress in more recent, times-features which aiford great comfort to the minds of all those who have really at hehc the advancement and welfare of man- kind. First of all, the inquiry, by the aid of the microscope and electrical instruments of precision, into Lhe nature of our organs and senses, and particularly of those through which we commune directly.with the ont- side world and through which knowledge is conveyed to our minds, has revealed their exact construction and mode of actionl which is in conformity with simple and well estab- lished physical principles and laws. Hence the observations We make and the facts we ascertain by their help are real facts and observations, and our knowledge is true knowledge. Tnillustratze: Our knowledge of form, for instance, is dependent upon the positive fact that light propagates in straight lines, and, owing to this, the image formed by a lens is exactly similar to the`object seen. Indeed, my thoughts in such lields and directions have led me to the conclusion that most all human knowledge is bused on this simple truth, since practically every idea or conception-and therefore all knowl» edge-presupposes visual im pre-ssions. But if _light would noi; propagate in accordance with the law mentioned, but in conformity with any otherlaw which We might presently conceive, whereby not only the image might not bear any likeness to the object seen, hut oven the images of the same object at dif- ferent times or distances might not resemble each other, then our knowledge of form would he very defective, for then we might see, for example, a tlzreecornered figure as a six or twelve-cornered onc. With the clear understanding of the mechanism and mode of action of our organs, we remove all doubts as to the reality and lrutll of the impressions received from the outside, and thus we bar nut-forever_ we may hope-that unhealthy speculation and skepticism into which formerly even strong minds were apt no fall. Let me tell you of another comforting feature. The progress in a measured time is nowadays more rapid and greater than it ever was hefnrc. This is quite in nccordf ELECTRICAL REVIEW January 27, 1897 Vol- S0~N<>- 4 ance with the fundamental law of motion, which commands acceleration and increase uf momentum or accumulation of energy under the action of a continuously acting force and tendency. and is the more true as every advance weakens the elements tend< ing to produce friction and retardation. For, after all. what is progress, or-more cor- rectly-development, or evolution, if not a movement, infinitely complex and often un- scrntinizable, it is true, but nevertheless ex- actly determined in quantiny as well as in quality of motion by the physical conditions and laws governing? This feature of more recentdevelppment isbesn shown in the rapid merging together of the various arts and sciences by the oblireration of the hard and fast lines of separation. of borders, sime of which only a few years ago seemed unsur passable, and which, like writable Chinese walls, surrounded every department of in- quiry and barred progress. A sense of con- nectedness of the various apparently widely different forces and phenomena we observe is taking possession of our minds, a sense of deeper understanding of nature as a wh~le, which, though not yet quite clear and de- fined, is keen enough to inspire us with the confidence of vast realizations in the near future. But these features chiedy interest the scientific man, the thinker and reasuner. There is another feature which affords us still more satisfaction and enjoyment., and which is of still more universal interest, chiefly because of its hearing upon the wel- fare oi’ mankind. Gentlemen. there is an influence which is getting strong and stronger day by day.wLich shows itself more and more in all departments of human activity, an intluence most fruitful and beneficial-the influence of the artist. It was a happy day for the mass of humanity when the artist felt the desire of becoming a physician, an electrician, an engineer or mechanician or-whatnob-a mathemati- cian or a tlnancier; for it was he who wrought all these wonders and grandeur we are witnessing. It was he who abol- ished that small. pedantic, narrow-grooved school teaching which made of an aspiring student a galley-slave, and he who allowed freedom i.n the choice of subject of study according to one’s pleasure and inclination, and an facilitated development. Some, who delight in the exercise of the powers of criticism, call this an assymelri- cal development, a degeneration or depart- ure from the normal, or even a degrada- tion of the race, But they are mistaken, This is n welcomestate of things, a blessing, a wise subdivision of labors, the establish- ment of conditions most favorable to prog- ress. Let one concentrate all his energies in one single great effort, let him perceive a single truth, even though he be consumed by the sacred fire, then millions of less gifted men can easily follow. Therefore it is not as much quantity as quality of work which determines the magnitude of the progress. It was the artist, too, who awakened that broad philanthropic spirit: which, even in old ages, shone in the teachings of noble reformers and philosophers, that spirit which mais es men in a‘l departments and positions work not as much for any material benefit or compensation-though reason may com- mand this also-but chiefiy for the sake of suecem. forthe pleasure there is in achieving it and for the good they might he ahle to do thereby to their fellow-men. Through his induence types of men are now pressing for- ward, impelled by a deep love for their study, men who are doing wonders in their respective branches, whose chief aim and enjoyment is the acquisilion and spread nf knowledge, men who look far above earthly things, Whose banner is Excelsior! Gentle- men, let us honor the artist., let us thank him, let us drink his health ! Now, in all these enjoyable and elevating features which characterize modern intel- lectual development, electricity, the expon- sion nf the science of electricity, has been a most potent factor. Electrical science has revealed to us the true nature of light, has provided us with innumerable appliances and instruments of precision, and has there- by vastly added t/0 the exactness of our knowledge. Electrical science has disclosed to us the more intimate relation existing be- tween widely different forces and phenomena nnd has thus led us to a more complete com> prehensiun of Nature and its many mani- festations to our senses Electrical science. too, by its fascination, by its promises of immense realizations, of Wonderful possibil- ities chiefly in humanitarian respects. has attracted the attention and enlisted the en- ergies of the artist; for where is there a field in which his God-given powers would be of greater benefit to his fellow»men than this unexplored, almost virgin, region, where, like in a silent forest, a thousand voices re- spond tu every call? With these comforting features, with these cheering prospects, we need not look with any feeling of inccrtitude or apprehension into the future. There are pessimistic men, who, with anxious faces, continuously Whisper in your ear that the nations are secretly arming-arming to the teeth; that they are going to pounce upon each other at a given signal and destroy themselves; that they are all trying to outdo that vic- torious, great, wonderful German army, against which there is no resistance, for every German has the discipline in his very blood-every German is a soldier. But these men are in error. Look only at our recent experience with the British in that Venezuela difficulty. Two other nations might have crashed together, but notthe Anglo-Saxons: they are too far ahead. The men who tell you this are ignoring forces which are continually at work, silently but resistlessly -forces which say Peace! There is the genuine artist, who inspires us with higher and noblersentrimentsgand makes ua abhor strife and carnage. There is the en~ gineer, who bridges gulfs and chasrns. and facilitates contact and equalization of the heterogeneous masses of humanity. There is the mechanic, who comes with his beauti- ful time and energy-saving appliances. who perfects his flying machine, not to drop n bag of dynamite on n city or vessel, but to facilitate transport and travel. There, again. is the chemist, who opens new resources and makes existence more pleasant and secure; and there is the electrician, who sends his messages of peace to all parts of the globe. The time will not he long in coming when those men who are turning their in- genuity to inventing quick-firing guns, torpedoes and other implements of destruc- tion-all the while assuring you that it is for the love and good of humanity-will Gnd no takers for their odious tools, and will realize that, had they used their inventive talent in other directions. they might have reaped a far better reward than the sestertia received. And then, and none too snon, the cry will be echoed everywhere. Brethren, stop these highhanded methods ofthe strong, these remnants of harbarism so inimical to progress! Give that. valiant warrior opportunities for displaying a more com- mendable coumge than that he shows when, intoxicated with victory, he rushes to the destruction of his fellow-men. Let him toil day and night witha small chance of achiev- ing and yet be unflinching: let him chal- lenge the dangers of exploring the heights ofthe air and the depths of the sea; let: him brave the dread of the plague. the heat of the tronic desert and the ice of the polar region. Turn your energies to warding oil the common enemiesand dangers, the perils that are all around you, that threaten you in the air you breathe, in the water you drink, in the food you consume. Is it not strange, is it not shame, that we, beings in the highest state of development in this our World. beings with such immense powers of thought and action, we, the masters of the globe. should be absolutely at the mercy of our unseen foes, that we should not know Whether n swallow of food or drink brings joy and life or pain and destruction to us l In this most modern and sensible warfare, in which the bactzeriolugist leads, the services electricity will render will prove invalua- ble. The economical production of high- frequency currents, which is now nn ac- complished fact_ enables us to generate easily and in large quantities ozone forihe disinfection of the water and the air, while certain novel radiations recently discovered give hope of finding eifeetive remedies against ills of microbic origin, which have .heretofore withstood all efforts of the phy- sician. But; let me turn to a more pleasant theme. I have referred to the merging together of the various sciences or departments of research, and to a certain perception of inti- mate connection between the manifold and apparently different forces and phenomena. Already we know, chiefly through the efforts of a bold pioneer, that light. radiant heat, electrical and magnetic actions are closely related, not to say identical. The chemist professes that the etfects of com- bination and separation of bodies he ob- serves are due to electrical forces, and the physician and physiologist will tell you that even life’s progress is electrical. Thus electrical science has gained a universal meaning, and with right. this age can claim the name “Age of Electricity.” I wish much to tell you on this occasion-I may say 1 actually burn for desire of telling you-what. electricity really ia, but I have very strong reasons which my eo-workers will best appreciate, to follow a precedent established bv a ‘great and venerable phil- osopher. and I shall not dwell on this purely scientific aspect. of electricity. , There is anotherreasnn forthe claim whicl.\ I have before stated which is even more potent than the former, and that is the im- mense development in all electrical branches in more recent years and its iniiuence upon other departments of science and industry. To illustrate this iniiuence I only need to refer to the steam or gas engine, For more than half fi century the steam engine has served the innumerable wantsof man. The work it was called to perform was of such vm-ietv and the conditions in each case were so different that. of necessity, a grent many types of engines have resulted. In thc vast majority of cases the problem nut before the engineer was not, as it should have been, the broad one of converting the greatest possible amountofheut energyintn mechanical power. but. it was rather the spvciiic problem of obtaining the mechanical power in such form as to be best suitable for general use. As the reciprocating motion of the piston was not convenient for practical purposes, except in very few instances, the piston was connected to a crank, and thus rotating motion was obtained, which was more suit- able and preferable, though it involved nu- merous disadvantages incident to the crude and wasteful means employed. But until quite recently there were at the disposal of the engineer, for the transformation and transmission of the motion of the piston, no better means than rigid mechanical conneca tions, The past few years have brought forcibly to the attention of che builder the electric motor, with its ideal features. Here was a mode of transmitting mechanical motion simpler by far, and also much more economical Had this mode been perfected earlier, there can be no doubt that. of :he many diiferent types of engine. the majority would not exist, for just as soon as an engine was coupled with an electric generator a type was produced capable of almost uni- versal use. From this moment on there was no necessity to endeavor to perfect engines of special designs capable of doing special kinds of work. The engineers task became now to concentrate all his efforts upon one type. to perfect one kind of engine-the best, the universal, the engine of the imme- diate future ; namely, the one which is best suitable for the-generation of electricity. The first eiforts in this direction gave a strong impetus to the dev(-lopn1ent_ of the reciprocating high-speed engine. and also to the turbine, which latter was a type of engine of very limited prncti» cal usefulness, but became, to a certain ex. Lent, valuable in connection with the electric generatorand motor. Still, even the former engine, though improved in many pariieu. lms, is not radically changed, and even now has the same objectionable features and limitations. To do away with these as much as possible, a new type nf engine ,is being perfected in which more favorable conditions for economy are maintained, which expands the working tluid with ut- most rapidity and loses little heat, on the walls, an engine stripped of all usual regu- lating mechanism-packings, oilers and other appendages-and forming part of an electric generator; and in this type, I may sav, I have implicit faith. The gas or explosive engine has been likewise profoundly affected by the commercial introduction of electric light and power, particularly in quite recent years The engineer is turning his energies more and more in this direction, being nt- tractcd hy the prospect of obtaininga higher thermodynamic erflciency. Much Karger engines arenovr being built, the construction is constantly improved, and a novel type of engine, best suitable for the generation of electricity, is being rapidly evolved. There are many other lines of manu- facture and industry in which the influence nf electrical development has been even more powerfully felt. So. for instance, the manufacture of a great vurietyof articles of metal, and especially of chemical pro- ducts. The welding of metals by electric- ity, though involving a wasteful process, has, nevertheless. been accepted as a legiti- mate art, while the manufacture of metal sheet. seamless tubes and the like affords promise of much improvement. We are coming gradually, hut surely, to the fusion of bodies and reduction of all kinds of ores- even of iron nrcs-by the use of electricity. and in each of these departments great reali- zations are probable. Again, the economical conversion of ordinary currents of supply into highfrequency currents opens up new possibilities, such as the combination of the atmospheric nitrogen and the production of its compounds; for instance, ammonia and nitric acid, and their salts, by novel proc- esses, The high-frequency currents also bring us to the realization of a more economical sys~ tem of lighting ; namely, hy means of phos- phorescent bulbs or tubes, and enable ns to produce with these appliances light of prac- tically any candle-power. Following other developments in purely electrical lines, we have all rejoiced in observing the rapid strides made. Which, in quite recent years, have been beyond our most sanguine expec- tations. To enumerate the many advances recorded is a subject for the reviewer. but I can not pass without mentioning the beauni- fui discoveries of Lenard and Roentgen, particularly the latter, which have found such a powerful response throughout the scientioc world that they have made us for- get. for a time, the great achievement of Linde in Germany, who has etleeted the liquefnction of :iir on an industrial scale by a process of continuous cooling: the disccv» cry of argon by Lord Rayleiglrand Professor Ramsay, ani the splendid pioneer work of Professor Dewar in the field of low temper- ature research. The fact that the United States have contributed a very libernlshare to this prodigious progress must afford tri all of us great sotisfarti