Wednesday, January 6, 2010


OK, I am a little miffed this morning. My plan was to use this picture of Nicola Tesla as this week's mystery person, but when I put up the picture of Edison yesterday, no one wanted to talk about Edison, they wanted to talk about his arch-Nemesis, Nicola Tesla. Yes, I too have to admit having a fascination with Tesla. The feud between Edison and Tesla was one of the most famous of the last century. It was over whether DC or AC electricity should be used in developing the power grid.

I consider Tesla to perhaps be the brightest man of the last 200 years. He had the inventive talent of Edison, he had the mathematical and scientific talent of Einstein, and he had the showmanship of P.T. Barnum. He brought these three things together to envision wild and impossible sounding ideas, and then bring them to complete and practical solutions. He was responsible for inventing most of the things necessary for building a practical electrical generation and distribution system. In addition, he either invented, or played a major part in the development of x-rays, radios, and various wireless technology. While Tesla was a true Genius, at the same time he was somewhat of a madman. In some cases it was difficult to tell whether his ideas were brilliance or fantasy. He had a number of peculiar behaviors and compulsive instincts, which in later years got worse. There was a good movie a few years ago called the Prestige. The movie is not about Tesla as such, but he is a fairly important part of the plot. I found the portrayal of Tesla in the movie to be very good.


  1. Well . . . Tesla may have been a little nuts, but he was definitely a hottie.

    And David Bowie’s portrayal of him in the film “The Prestige” was excellent. As far as I’m concerned, he was the best character in the movie.

    However, I must say that other than Bowie’s performance, I really didn’t like that film much. The story was so convoluted (as was the book) - with so many flashbacks, flashes forward, and flashes sideways - that I couldn’t figure out who was doing what to whom or where and when they were doing it. I didn’t even find the characters believable or appealing - Hugh Jackman is a lousy actor and I hate Christian Bale.

    By the middle of the movie I had a giant headache and felt like I was spinning in a centrifuge. I didn’t care what happened to any of the characters, I just wanted it to be over. It was almost as bad as watching that awful, pointless film “Vanilla Sky.”

    On the other hand, the film “The Illusionist” which was also about a magician and set in the same era (and was released the same year - 2006), was beautifully and tastefully filmed and had great performances by the classy Ed Norton and Jessica Biel.

  2. What is really unique about these accomplishments of this series of inventors this week is the fact that not only were their labs set up to experiment in their chosen fields but they also had to manufacture their own parts and castings for their experiments using metallurgy and such. I do believe Tesla was light years ahead of Edison and the rock band Tesla had an album named after his greatest patent infringement case "The Great Radio Controversy" which was finally settled in 1943 when Marconi attempted to sue the US Navy for infringement.

  3. Well it's a good thing you decided against Tesla as the Mystery Person. This crowd would have gotten him right away, and then what would we do for fun on Saturday?

  4. Misunderstood scientist who conducted experiments in power generation in the remote Western United States; a self-sufficient animal lover, very sweet with a distinguished and refined nature, but possessing a rare cutting wit and a life-long nemesis, philosopher in the gender struggles of his day...


    PJM, you aren't seriously considering powering a tractor through wireless transmission of electrical energy, are you?

  5. Ok, ok, so I have to object at this point. I'm an engineer, so naturally I adore Tesla. We all do, it's part of the job description. But lets calm down a little. Whenever I see internet discussions of him, everyone seems to worship him like a god. He was a great (even one of the greatest) engineers, true. But not more than that.

    He's not Einstein. I'm sorry, but saying that he had "the mathematical and scientific talent of Einstein" is patently absurd. Einstein threw overboard 250 years of science by rejecting Newtonian physics and coming up with his own theory of how the world works. Nothing Tesla did can even come close to that achievement.

    And we don't even have to go that far. The last two centuries has seen men such as Darwin, Hilbert, Heisenberg, Lord Kelvin, Schrödinger, Bohr and scores others that did thing, I'm sorry to say, that Tesla never came close to.

    Hell, he wasn't even the most clever man to investigate electromagnetism over the last 200 years! That honor should rightly go to James Clerk Maxwell!

    So, listen, I don't mind people loving Tesla. I love him to. But lets cool it with the "perhaps...the brightest man of the last 200 years". That's simply absurd. He wasn't.

  6. When I was young I knew Ken Swezey who, among other things, had been the Boswell to Tesla's Johnson and the explicator of the great man's theories to the layman. Even to a devoted acolyte like Swezey, Tesla was elusive though much of what he was elusive about was nevertheless known, even obvious.

    Swezey told me that Tesla believed Einstein was all wrong and he was working on his disproof of the relativity theory for a long time, right up to his death in Nov. '43
    at the Hotel New Yorker, near Penn Station. (In the '70s the New Yorker it was taken over as a residence for Moonies and their converts. Don't know what it is today).

    Somewhat depressingly (to me) Tesla also believed we were all nothing more than "meat machines." G'wan with ya Tesla. You were a shmaht guy but not every day. Jim Smith

  7. Oscar, your comments show typical "scientific elitism" mentality common among scientists and math types. It would be impossible to argue that Einstein touched the world in any way close to the way Tesla did. Tesla had ideas that were out of the box, and he brought them to practice in a way that profoundly changed the world. Edison's DC ideas would have never enabled a practical power grid. Few scientists have the practical sense to understand “impact”, and hence few ever have any real impact. They are like an elite country club of gentlemen dedicated to considering lofty concepts and their own self iportance, none of which ever amount to making the world better. True genius is the man that actually changes the world.

  8. Tesla is way too well known these days to be a mystery photo candidate. He's also the darling of the History Channel and conspiracy devotees.
    Oscar has an excellent point. We can't single out any one person as the "greatest mind in 200 years". (I'll go with 50 years for Tesla.) Every giant of technology and science is building on the work of the giants before him.
    Because of his genuine, fascinating achievements and quirky character Tesla is well known to lots of people who don't know much about the other scientists who built foundations before Tesla.

  9. panavia999
    errr . . . tesla died much more than 50 years ago, so certainly he was not the best mind of the last 50 years.

  10. you all are much smarter than this onlooker. I had never heard of Tesla before. Edison, yes of course! maybe b/c I was an English major trying to move away from all my engineer brothers.

  11. I did not mean Tesla was the great mind of the last 50 years, but that he was the greatest mind in a 50 year period which would begin in his own lifetime of course.

  12. +JMJ+

    Thanks for the Tesla pic!
    A QT for sure (which one can't say of Edison). He certainly had a lot more in the personality dept. than most scientists.

  13. Wow, this subject certainly touches a nerve! Can't speak in any wisdom, but I agree with your movie review. I thought The Prestige was great, and that The Illusionist stank. David Bowie was pretty excellent as Tesla!

  14. Anon:

    How funny. I thought just the opposite. The Prestige was awful and the Illusionist was better.

    You must be a guy.

  15. Never heard of TESLA??? Jules, That's patently impossible

    I agree with Lizbette-Edison was definitely not a QT, or even a likable person. Unlike Tesla AND my idol, Einstein!

  16. Alright, I feel like I must speak against what seems to be the general sentiment: The Prestige is wonderful, even from a purely technical aspect, but the story itself was fascinating, while the Illusionist was simply an elaborate love story. The end. But, I do really love this blog!


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