Nikola Tesla -- and The Chain of Silent Sparks

- an Anniversary Piece, by Gaston Burridge -- (July 1856-1956).

Man is the most complicated machine on Earth. Man's mind, without doubt, stands next to Earth's creation itself as the most wonderful accomplishment here. One of the greatest -- and the strangest -- of all human minds, was that of Nikola Tesla. If Tesla's was not the greatest inventive mind our time has known, then surely his was one of the five most brilliant. Probably, Tesla's fathoming of the "rotating electro-magnetic field" principle, and his application of it to the alternating current electric motor, did more to put mankind on wheels than any other single invention.

Thirty years ago I was pulling 14-inch long sparks from the end of an index finger, thanks to previous experiments and inventions of Tesla with alternating electric currents of high potential and high frequency. In a small basement laboratory my father, Charles Burridge, and I were performing experiments which literally made our hair stand on end. Earlier in my father's career he had been associated with the old Thompson-Houston Electric Company, one of the concerns merged to form the present great General Electric Company. Therefore, I feel rather near to the subject of electricity and to one of its great exponents, Nikola Tesla.

At midnight, between July 9 and 10, 1856, Nikola Tesla was born. Now, 100 years later, the world is to celebrate his birthday with tributes and honor. This is highly proper. All of today rests upon yesterday, as tomorrow will rest upon today. As great as today is and we hope tomorrow will be - it would not be possible had it not been for yesterday. Nowhere is this more true than in the field of electricity. And there can be few names in this field greater than that of Tesla's.

Nikola Tesla was no "cut and try" inventor. Neither was he a great draftsman. Tesla worked out his inventions to the most minute detail in his head! His mind was photographic and encyclopedic. Whatever he saw he remembered, not for a few days but for years. He built his inventions completely in his mind first - before he ever began them in the flesh. As unbelievable as it may sound, once Tesla had completed an invention in his mind, all parts of it fit together when the time came for their assembly! There were no mistakes - if his instructions had been carried out fully. Tesla "saw" his inventions as a whole, but a whole made up of individual parts which were also seen as a whole in themselves.


The U.S. Government granted Tesla 115 patents. Other foreign governments granted him many more. Most of these inventions came into being in Tesla's mind at night. He would lie on his bed in the dark and "think" them out. Next day, at his laboratory, the work of the night before would take shape in metal and wire. Certainly, Tesla was 'In Tune with the Infinite'. However, he would have been the first to deny it. Several times Tesla seemed anxious to make clear he believed that the Soul was part of the body, and at death died with the body. What he may have truly believed is difficult to know - or surmise - for Tesla left very few written records of any sort. He could remember. He forgot most men could read writing but not minds.

Tesla fully intended writing his memoirs. He just never got around to them. He believed he would live to be between 130 and 150 years old, and he would have more than time enough for them later in his life. Time played a trick on him - and on us.

Fortunately, much has been written about Tesla during his long life, both in this country and abroad. He gave many interviews early in his career. Tesla also wrote articles for scientific and engineering magazines about his work. He gave several lectures which were recorded. All available Teslana is now being collected by "The Tesla Society", P.O. Box 135, University Station, Minneapolis 14, Minnesota, - Mr. Leland I. Anderson, Director. Any person having any sort of material on Tesla, or about him, or who may know of others who may have such material, are urged to please contact Mr. Anderson. Should anyone wish to become a member of "The Tesla Society", thus to help carry on its excellent work, they may do so by writing Mr. Anderson.

Tesla was never of robust health, but he never employed medical men. When he was a boy of twelve he learned deep rhythmical breathing, which over-ventilated his lungs. This over-ventilation drove out all the carbon dioxide and rather upset the chemical balance of his body. It was a sensation he did not wholly dislike! This process also set his brain to producing experiences known to occult practitioners. While there are no records Tesla produced levitation in himself - and if he had done so he probably would have then credited it to an orthodox reason - there are such records where other workers are concerned.

Tesla was a keen observer of Nature as well as an original thinker on his own. It has been often noted, man has never done anything which Nature has not done first - and long, long before. We think the hydrogen bomb is something very new - and something very fearful. It is - to us this close. But if we should collect all the H-bombs and A-bombs together in one place, and detonate them at one tine, the result would compare with that which goes on all over our sun's surface, all the time, like dropping a pin in the center of the Pacific Ocean. The only difference between man and Nature is that Nature is smart enough to carry on her fission [5] experiments some 95 million miles away from where she is carrying on other experiments with protoplasm! Man is not that smart by many million miles!

Tesla learned early Nature plays rough sometimes. On a mountain hike one day he was caught in a wet snow-storm. Boys and snow-balls go hand in hand, so Tesla sphered some of the wet snow between his palms. He enjoyed tossing these snow-balls down hill and watching them grow as they landed and rolled a short way in the thickening white. Always they stopped against some stone, fallen branch or stump. The fun disappeared with the last snow-ball thrown.

Nature was set to teach the young inventor a lesson he would never forget. Conditions, time and place Were all right. Nikola Tesla tossed a snow-ball. It alighted and rolled, then struck a stick. This stick was not large enough to stop it. The rolling snow-ball picked up the stick as it rolled over it. Next time around for the stick it picked up a gob of snow and the snow-ball was twice its original size and moving faster. Down hill rolled the ball, growing fantastically both in size and speed. The hillside was long and steep. The snow-ball snapped off a bush in its path. It grew like a balloon. It began picking up large rocks, snapping at young trees or pulling them up by the roots. It rumbled the earth like a herd of running elephants. Young Tesla stood transfixed, spellbound, horrified.

As the huge sphere of snow sped down the slope it snapped off full-grown trees, winding them into its ever-increasing trampling, crushing path of destruction. Finally, the valley below thrust a rugged cliff before the giant. It crashed against the cliff with earthquake proportions. Tesla learned his lesson well. He was always interested in the "force of gravity" and developed a new dynamic theory for this mysterious energy.

One of the best biographies of Tesla was written by Mr. John J. O'Neill. Its title, "Prodigal Genius, The Life Of Nikola Tesla". O'Neill knew Tesla personally for years and wrote many articles about him for the New York Herald Tribune. O'Neill's book is considered quite authentic and covers Tesla's 86-year life rather fully.

Tesla was credited with having perfected a "Death Ray Machine", which he himself said could stop an army of 100,000 men 200 miles away, or pick out one or a fleet of aircraft as far. When Tesla died in 1943, agents of the F.B.I. are reported to have opened Tesla's large steel safe and taken from it many papers for "examination and classification". There never has been any report as to what those papers may have contained. Speculation has been wild at times. As Tesla had no immediate family, his effects were turned over to the Jugoslavian Ambassador for disposal in that country. This because Tesla's only support the last few years of his life had come from a "pension" of about $7,000 a year granted him by [6] the Jugoslavian government.

Whether the physical remains of Nikola Tesla's life in this country finally made their way into the hands of the Russian government is not known. Whether the papers taken from Tesla's safe by the F.B.I. agents were included among those things turned over to the Jugoslavian Ambassador is not known. Whether Tesla actually had perfected a device as potent as a "death ray", or whether it was still in the great vaults of his mind, we cannot be certain.

It would seem quite contrary to Tesla's nature to have written anything down concerning such a device. There is some question whether even if he knew his time was short on earth, he would have written such information. Of course, there is always the chance he did. Indications are, however, such a device did not exist in actuality, for if it had would there have been a need for such frantic development of the atomic weapons? What a travesty on human-kind if such proves not to have been the case!

Many of Tesla's discoveries have never been applied or used -- even though the protection of the patents on them ran out years ago. This can well be a commentary on orthodoxy. The U.S. Patent Office is a morgue full of broken dreams. Without a doubt more good ideas lie buried there unused, than those for which royalties are being paid. Tesla owned 115 patents, yet he died practically penniless. It may be quite true this condition came about in some part through his own nature, but it can hardly be denied that during his later years Tesla was shunned by the Electrical Industry because of his unorthodox views on many items pertinent to it. He was too far ahead of them. He was too far ahead of his times.

As Tesla's 100th birthday approaches, from several quarters comes gathering impetus for some concrete expression to be made in America with respect to this great man. Several Electrical and Engineering Societies and Associations are planning such expressions. There is a movement afoot to have the Post Office Department issue a commemorative stamp in honor of Tesla. A statue may be erected - or at least a few plaques set. But as fine and deserving as all these things may be, by far the greatest tribute which can be paid to Nikola Tesla is to have every American take the trouble to learn something of his work and his life, then hold in their hearts a deep respect for one of their kind who truly worked for their betterment.


  1. O'Neill, John J. Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla. New York, N.Y: I. Washburn, 1944. Print. <http://amzn.to/1RkTDkc>