October 12, 2002
2:00 PM   Subscribe

While scientists like Einstein and Heisenberg are familiar names, others like Nikolai Tesla have been largely forgotten by history, despite the fact that some of his work with electricity still cannot be replicated to this day. Despite this, claims of governmental conspiracies are probably fairly far from the truth.
posted by nick.a (19 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Isn't Tesla being forgotten because his experiments can't be reproduced? If we could summon earthquakes with a simple machine, as he claimed to be able to do, I'm sure we'd remember his name.

Pons who? Flieshmann what?
posted by kfury at 2:09 PM on October 12, 2002

I have heard Tesla a lot... maybe I'm weird.

Searched the web for Heisenberg: 181,000
Searched the web for Tesla: 571,000
posted by rhyax at 2:15 PM on October 12, 2002

Did you know that Tesla, although brilliant, had some rather strange and obsessive personality traits?

Throughout his adult life, Tesla lived in numerous hotels and was always elegantly attired. His food items, towels, and napkins had to come in multiples of 18. He often felt compelled to walk around the block three times. He always counted his steps while walking. He chose room number 207 in another of his residences, the Alta Vista Hotel, because 207 is divisible by 3. He wouldn't even allow the maid to dust, because he liked to do his own cleaning. He washed his hands excessively and had a morbid fear of germs. In times of need, he had the ability to go for days without sleep. More info on Tesla's personality can be found in the book Strange Brains and Genius.

Tesla had what modern psychologists call obsessive-compulsive disorder. People afflicted with obsessive-compulsive disorder can't resist performing certain odd rituals. For example, Tesla insisted his meals be served by the maitre d'hotel rather than a waiter, and he always telephoned ahead of time with special instructions for his meals. He couldn't enjoy his meal without first lifting each napkin and then discarding it to form a large pile on the table. After each dish arrived, he compulsively counted the number of items before eating. For example, he would look in coffee cups, soup plates, and other containers and count anything in the shape of cubes. If he tried to resist this impulse, he couldn't enjoy the meal. These are all classic signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder, thought to be caused by a brain chemistry imbalance.

Tesla was revolted by pearls, although other sharp-edged jewelry and gems gave him no cause for alarm. Generally speaking, he detested earrings on women. But not only did Tesla have certain visual sensitivities and abhorrences, he also was hypersenstive to certain odors. The slightest scent of camphor would drive him wild. He also was a synesthesiac, someone with unusual sensory cross-overs. For example, during his research, if he were to drop small squares of paper in a dish filled with liquid, a horrible taste would fill his mouth. He couldn't touch other peoples' hair "except perhaps at the point of a revolver."
posted by Morphic at 2:17 PM on October 12, 2002

Tesla rocks.

Oh, you mean the guy. Yeah, he was pretty cool too.

Honestly, the discharge from a Tesla coil is one of the most impressive sights you'll ever get to see. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

Morphic says: "He always counted his steps while walking." "...he also was hypersenstive to certain odors."

Me too. Does that mean I'm nuts?

I'll be counting my heartbeats until I get an answer.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:21 PM on October 12, 2002

Much like Tesla, Kenneth Strickfadden is another electrical engineer associated with "lightning coil" devices. Yet few people today realise that the sparkler technology was developed not so much for entertainment, but as wireless transponders.
posted by Smart Dalek at 2:27 PM on October 12, 2002

Uh, I'm sure tesla is more famous then Heisenberg.

In fact, Tesla is mostly famous for being less famous then he should be.
posted by delmoi at 2:45 PM on October 12, 2002

You'll get a lot of hits on "tesla" because his name is used as a unit in physics.

And yes, "cannot be replicated to this day" isn't considered praise, in scientific circles.
posted by rosvicl at 3:05 PM on October 12, 2002

There are some pretty impressive Tesla coils in the Museum of Science in Boston - some pics here. It's worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood. Good post Nick.a.

And Morpeus - thanks for the interesting info on Tesla's ocd - it must have been really difficult for him to function!
posted by madamjujujive at 4:24 PM on October 12, 2002

others like Nikolai Tesla have been largely forgotten by history.

I'm sorry, but I don't believe the discoverer of alternating current, that put Edison's direct current out of the business of lighting cities, has been forgotten by history.
posted by the fire you left me at 4:34 PM on October 12, 2002

I bet the now defunct Office of Alien Property has alot of cool stuff in their 'lost and found' box.
posted by clavdivs at 4:37 PM on October 12, 2002

One of his "cannot be replicated to this day" experiments is in wireless transmission of electric power. Tesla ran a series of experiments with the goal of turning the earth itself into an ubiquitous power socket; he attempted this by pumping the ground with "waves" of electric current.

If you tried this today you'd fry almost every grounded electric circuit in existence. So yes, this experiment can't be replicated. Good thing, too.
posted by Cerebus at 7:02 PM on October 12, 2002

I'm sorry, but I don't believe the discoverer of alternating current...has been forgotten by history.

I was at the Smithsonian last summer and saw a huge tribute to Edison and Westinghouse. No mention at all was made of the fact that Westinghouse's AC generators were built by Tesla.

Also, Marconi has totally usurped Tesla in historical accounts of the development of trans-Atlantic wireless transmission, even though Marconi clearly based his work on Tesla's.
posted by MrBaliHai at 8:21 PM on October 12, 2002

I went on a train journey the other day, and was rather amused when the electric train pulled in and one of the carriages bore the nameplate "Nikolai Tesla". I boarded Mr. Tesla's carriage and chuckled geekishly all the way to my destination.
posted by chrid at 10:34 AM on October 13, 2002

Tesla's gotten a fair amount of attention more recently... He's shown up here a number of times before, and there was a collection of images / tribute to him on Houston & Lafayette recently (since he was from the LES).
posted by mdn at 10:41 AM on October 13, 2002

I don't think either Einstein or Heisenberg have had rock bands named after them on the Billboard top 10. And as far as forgotten scientists go, Tesla hardly fits the bill. Now, you want to talk about a scientist who deserves more attention, Edward Teller is your man. Helping build atomic bombs, fingering Oppenheimer as a communist and so much more. He's a man to be admired and hated.
posted by rodz at 1:36 PM on October 13, 2002

..."Tesla girls!
Tesla Girls!..."
posted by jpburns at 1:42 PM on October 13, 2002

Marconi didn't just base his work on Tesla's...
from here
It wasn't until 1943—a few months after Tesla's death— that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Tesla's radio patent number 645,576
posted by Iax at 2:29 PM on October 13, 2002

Isn't Tesla being forgotten because his experiments can't be reproduced?

Well we have this book to make us wonder. I do know his goal was to invent a way to end all wars. That was his ultimate goal in life. Some say he did it, the death ray. There is also this going on today, the Harrp Project . Things by him are still being looked at like the Harpp project. Also worked a lot with ions so weather patterns too he could change which by controling the weather fronts in a war could hae an impact like rain, fog or clouds. And yes he did recreate lightning and thunder, eyewitness accounts. Read what happened when he made them and other experiments in Colorado Springs

*Wow* He had used the entire planet as a conductor, and sent a pulse
through it. In that one moment in the summer of 1899, he made electrical history.

Funny the electric company didn't think so, it would be a cold day in hell before Tesla got any more free power from the Colorado Springs power company!

PS, he was a personal friend of Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens who shared interests in his inventions. There is a photo of Twain lightin up at the Colorado Springs Laboratory.

Way too much to ever close this dicsussion.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:19 PM on October 14, 2002

Random thoughts:
I have a cousin, an ex- comic, (who also says he was kidnapped by aliens) who owns all books available in English on Tesla. He has this idea of making a giant concrete balloon from which to launch projectiles into outer space. My own ideas are almost as weird but.....

The US gov. has shown a bit of interest in Tesla patents...and what's going on with the post WW2 US Nazi scientist grab ("operation Paperclip", anyway?).
posted by troutfishing at 8:57 PM on October 14, 2002

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