Nikola Tesla was a major contributor to the electrical revolution that transformed daily life at the turn of the twentieth century. His inventions, patents, and theoretical work formed the basis of modern AC electricity, and contributed to the development of radio and television. Like his competitor Thomas Edison, Tesla was one of America's first celebrity scientists, enjoying the company of New York high society and dazzling the likes of Mark Twain with his electrical demonstrations. An astute self-promoter and gifted showman, he cultivated a public image of the eccentric genius. Even at the end of his life when he was living in poverty, Tesla still attracted reporters to his annual birthday interview, regaling them with claims that he had invented a particle-beam weapon capable of bringing down enemy aircraft. Plenty of biographies glamorize Tesla and his eccentricities, but until now none has carefully examined what, how, and why he invented. In this groundbreaking book, W.
Bernard Carlson demystifies the legendary inventor, placing him within the cultural and technological context of his time, and focusing on his inventions themselves as well as the creation and maintenance of his celebrity. Drawing on original documents from Tesla's private and public life, Carlson shows how he was an "idealist" inventor who sought the perfect experimental realization of a great idea or principle, and who skillfully sold his inventions to the public through mythmaking and illusion. This major biography sheds new light on Tesla's visionary approach to invention and the business strategies behind his most important technological breakthroughs.
W. Bernard Carlson is professor of science, technology, and society in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and professor of history at the University of Virginia. His books include Technology in World History and Innovation as a Social Process: Elihu Thomson and the Rise of General Electric, 1870-1900.
List of Illustrations ix CHAPTER ONE An Ideal Childhood (1856-1878) 12 CHAPTER TWO Dreaming of Motors (1878-1882) 34 CHAPTER THREE Learning by Doing (1882-1886) 60 CHAPTER FOUR Mastering Alternating Current (1886-1888) 76 CHAPTER FIVE Selling the Motor (1888-1889) 100 CHAPTER SIX Searching for a New Ideal (1889-1891) 117 CHAPTER SEVEN A Veritable Magician (1891) 129 CHAPTER EIGHT Taking the Show to Europe (1891-1892) 143 CHAPTER NINE Pushing Alternating Current in America (1892-1893) 158 CHAPTER TEN Wireless Lighting and the Oscillator (1893-1894) 176 CHAPTER ELEVEN Efforts at Promotion (1894-1895) 193 CHAPTER TWELVE Looking for Alternatives (1895-1898) 214 CHAPTER THIRTEEN Stationary Waves (1899-1900) 262 CHAPTER FOURTEEN Wardenclyffe (1900-1901) 302 CHAPTER FIFTEEN The Dark Tower (1901-1905) 331 CHAPTER SIXTEEN Visionary to the End (1905-1943) 368 EPILOGUE 396 Note on Sources 415 Abbreviations and Sources 421 Notes 423 Acknowledgments 473 Index 477