Letter: Tesla Describes His Investigations

Saturday, November 26, 1898
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November 26, 1898 Transmission of Power Through the Air Without Wires.‘ Br Pizor. _loan Tizowniunon. Mr. Tesla has recently patented a method of trans- mitting power through the air without the use of wires. This method consists in producing a very great difference of potential between a high point in the atmosphere, reached by a wire connected to a balloon, and a distant point on a balloon, which in turn is connected through a step-down trans- former with the earth. A step-up transformer pro- duces the high potential at the sending station, or at the first balloon, and the diiierence of potential thus created produces a current .of conduction through the rarefied air to the second balloon and thence through the step»down transformer to earth. Mr. Tesla relies upon the good conductivity of rare» hed air to high electromotive force. Some recent experiments I have made with high clectromotive force are interesting in regard to the suggestion of Mr. Tesla, and are in continuation of those I described in the Scientific American for January 15, 1898. At that time my apparatus was capable of producing 1,2oo,oco volts. It can now pro- duce 3,ooo,ooo. Up to the point of one million and a half volts, the length of the electrical discharge in air appears to be closely proportional, to the electromotive force. Vlfhen this voltage is exceeded, the length ol the spark no longer increases in proportion to this force, for instance, and electromotive force of approximately 3,ooo,ooo volts produces a spark _of about seven feet in length, when it should excite one aL least I0 feet long. The reason of this dint- inution is readily seen when the operation of my apparatus is examined in the dark. From both terminals and from the conductors to those terminals there is a luminous brush dis- charge to the walls and floor of _the room. The main portion of the discharge is, so to speak, shunted through the air, which breaks down with facility at such high voltages. The high eleetrorno- tive force exerts a similar action to that of dimina ished air pressure. _ In_ the case of rarelied air, one sees the luminous area of discharge on the positive terminal extend farther and farther from the point of the terminal, thus indicating that there is an increased flow through the raretied air: In ordinary atmospheric air the same increase of electrical conductivity takes place under the action of great electromotive force. When discharges produced by 1,ooo,ooo volts or more are excited between terminals six feet apart. in tubes filled with water, the tubes are speedily burst, and when the phenomenon is carefully ex~ amined, it is perceived that the disruptive sparks occur on the surface of the water inside the tubes, which vaporize the water and thus lead to an ex- plosion. The layer of air conducts more readily than the water, The same phenomenon can be shown by interposing a conductor made of plum- bago and infusorial earth, making a resistance of about 1o,ooo ohms between the terminals of the ap- paratus. A spark passes over the surface of such a conductor through the air, if the length of such a conductor does not exceed I0 or I2 inches. I found also that the spark preferred to jump through tive centimeters of air to passing through a thousand ohms ofa copper-sulphate solution. Thus the air evidently breaks down with increasing readi- ness when the electromotive force is increased be» yond a certain limit. _ One of the most striking experiments in this connection can be performed by coating a board with a thin layer of plumbago, which is polished upon the sTzrface in such a manner as to make a resistance of about 1,ooo ohms between broad ter- minal bands of copper. When adischarge under a diierence of potential of 1,ooo.ooo volts passes between the terminal hands, the entire surface of the conductor becomes luminous. When my new apparatus was first set up, the coated surfaces of the Leyden jars were not more than a foot from the floor. On account of the great loss due to electrostatic induction, I determined to have the entire apparatus lifted three feet from thge Hoof. A certain portion of the loss was thus obvi- ated, but when discharge takes place, sparks an inch long can be drawn from the neighboring brick walls, and the entire room seems to be filled with brush discharges. I believe, therefore, that beyond 1.000.000 volts, the length of the spark is no longer proportional to the voltage, and that this departure from propor- tionality is due to the initial resistance of the neigh- boring air becoming less and less. In order to get the full effect ofthe voltage of my machine, I bel`eve that it should be placed 30 or .to feet above the earth and at a distance from neighboring masses. The apparent length of lightning discharges at low al- titudes is therefore no criterion of the voltage which oroduces these discharges, for there must be great leakage, which necessinates an excess of electromo- tive force to produce the discharge. On the other hand. the discharges in higher regions of the atmo- sphere a.re much lengnhened on account of the in- creased conductivity nf the medium. , In view of the exoeriments which I have described, I am led to believe that ordinary atmospheric air under very high vol'a`sre acts like a fairly good con- ductor. and I can conceive of such a high electro- x. From the Stientilic American. WESTERN ELECT RICIAN . motive force that the initial resistance of air might not be more than the resistance of metals. The loss of electrical energy in producing diderence oi potential of 3,ooo.ooo volts at a distance of to feet from the terminals of my machine is very great. and in employing such high voltages Mr. Tesla could only obviate great loss by lifting his entire generating apparatus far above the surface of the earth. Tesla Describes His Investigations. [Frm the New vert Sum] I cannot but gratefully acknowledge my indebted- ness to earlier-workers, as Dr. Hertz and Dr. Lodge, in my efforts to produce a practical and economical lighting system on the lines which I tirst disclosed in a lecture at Columbia College in 1891. There exists a popular error in regard to this light, inas- much as it is believed that it can be obtained with- out generation of heat. The enthusiasm of Dr. Lodge is probably responsible for this error, which I have pointed out early by showing the impossibil- ity of reaching a high vibration without going. through the lower or fundamental tones. On purely theoretical grounds such a. result is thinkable, but it would imply a device for starting the vibrations of unattainable qualities, inasmuch as it would have to be entirely devoid of inertia and other properties of matter. Though I have conceptions in this re- gard, I dismiss for the present this proposition as being impossible. We cannot produce light without heat, but we can surely produce a more eiiicient light than that obtained in the incandescent lamp, which, though a beautiiul invention, is sadly lacking in the feature of efficiency. As the first step toward this realization I found it necessary to invent some method for transforming economically the ordinary currents as furnished from the lighting circuits into electrical vibrations of great rapidity. This was a difficult problem, and it was only recently that I was able to announce its practical and thor- oughly satisfactory solution. But this was not the only requirement in a system of this kind. It was necessary also to increase the intensity of the light, \vhich at first was very feeble. In this direction, too, I met with complete success, so that at present I am producing a thoroughly serviceable and economical light of any desired intensity. I do not mean to say that this system will revolutionize those in use at present, which have resulted from the co~operation of many able men; I am only sure that it will have its fields of usefulness. As to the idea of rendering the energy of the sun available for industrial purposes, it fascinated me early, but I must admit it was only long after I discovered the rotating magnetic Held that it took a firm hold upon my mind. In assailing the prob- lem I found two possible ways of solving it. Either power was to be developed on the spot by convert- ing the energy of the sun’s radiations or the en» ergy of vast reservoirs was to be transmitted eco- nomically to any distance. Though there were other possible sources of economical power, only the two solutions mentioned offer the ideal feature of power being obtained without any consumption of_ma- terial. After longthought I finally arrived at two solutions, but on the tirst of these, namely, that re~ ferring to the development of power in any locality from the sun's radiations, I cannot dwell at present, The system of power transmisson without wires, in the form in which I have described it recently, originated in this manner: Starting from the two facts that the earth was a conductor insulated in space and that a body cannot be charged without causing an equivalent displacement of electricity in the earth, I undertook to construct a machine suited for creating as large a displacement as pos- sible of the earth’s electricity. - ~ This machine was simply to charge and discharge in rapid succession a body insulated in space, thus altering periodically the amount of eleclricity in the earth, and, consequently, the pressure all over its surface. It was nothing but what in mechan'cs is a pump, forcing water from a large reservoir into a small one and back again. Primarily, I C0n\em- plated only the sending of messages to great dis- tances in this manner, and I described the scheme in detail, pointing out on that occasion the importance of ascertaining certain electrical con~ ditions of the earth. The attractive feature of this plan was that the intensity of the signals should diminish \'ery little with the distance, and, in fact, should not diminish at all, if it were not for certain losses occurring chiefly in the atmosphe e. As all my previous ideas. this one, tco, received the treat- ment of Marsyas, but it forms, nevertheless. the basis of what is now know as "wireless telegraphy." This statement will bear rigorous examination, but it is not made with the intent of detracting from the merit of others. On the contrary, it is with great pleasure that I acknowledge the early work of Dr. Lodge, the brilliant experiments of Marconi. and of a later experimenter in this line. Dr. Slaby_of Berlin. Now, this idea I extended to a system of power transmission, and I submitted it to Helm- lioltz on the occasion of his visit to this country. He unhesitatingly said that power could certainly he transmitted in this manner, but he doubted 'hat I could ever produce an apparatus capable of creat- ing the high pressures of a number of millions of \oits which were required to attack the problem with any chance of success, and that I could over- come the difficulties of insulation. Impossible ,as 301 this 'problem seemed at first, I was fortunate to mas- ter it in a comparatively short time, and It 'was in perfecting this apparatus that I came to a turning point in the development of this idea. I, namely, at once observed that the air, which is a perfect insulator for currents produced by ordinary appa- ratus, was easily traversed by currents furnished by my improved machine, giving a tension of some- thing like two and a half million volts. A further investigation in this direction led to another valu- able fact, namely, that the conductivity of the air for these currents increased very rapidly with its degree of rarefaction, and at once the transmission of energy through the upper strata of the air, which, without such results as- l have obtained, would be nothing more than a dream, became easily realiz- able. _This appears all the more certain, as I found it quite practicable to transmit, under conditions such as_exist in heights well explored, electrical energy in large amounts. I have thus overcome all the chief obstacles which originally stood in the way, and the success of my system no\v rests merely on engineering skill. Referring to my latest invention, I wish to bring out a point which has been overlooked, I arrived, as has been stated, at the idea through entirely ab- stract speculations on the human organism, which I conceived to be a sel.f~propelling machine, the motions of which are governed by impressions re- ceived through the eye. Endeavoring to construct a mechanical model resembling in its essential, ma~ tenal features the human body, I was led to com- bine_a controlling device, or organ sensitive to certann waves, with a body provided with propelling and direct.mg_ mechanism, and the rest naturally followed. Originally the idea interested me only from the scientihc point of view, but I soon saw that I had made a departure which sooner or later must produce a profound change in things and conditions l>f€S€\1fly existing. I _hope this change will he for the good only, for, if it were otherwise, I wish that I had never made the,invention. The future may or may not' bear out my present convictions, but I cannot refrain from saying that it is difiicult for me to see at present how, with such a principle brought to great perfection, as it undoubtedly will be in the course of time, guns can maintain them- selves as weapons. We shall be able, by availing ourselves of this advance, to send a projectile at much greater distance; it will not be limited in any way by weight or amount of explosive charge; we shall be able to submerge it at command, to arrest it in its flight, and call it back, and to send it out again and explode it at will, and, more than this, it will never make a miss, since all chance in this regard, if hitting the object of attack were at all required, is eliminated. But t.he chief feature of such a weapon is still to be told, namely, it may be made to respond only to a certain note or tune; it may be endowed with selective power. Directly such an arm is produced, it becomes almost impossible to _meet it with a corresponding development. It is in this feature. perhaps, more than in its power of destruction, that its tendency to arrest the de- velopment of arms and to stop warfare will reside. With renewed thanks, I remain, very truly yours, N. TESLA. New York, November 19, 1898.