Bring back some good or bad memories


March 14, 2015

Nikola Tesla in His Lab, Casually Reading While Volts of Electricity Fly Through the Air, 1899

In December, Nikola Tesla sent for his photographer, Dickenson Alley, to capture his work in the best possible light. By using multiple exposures, Alley would create what is perhaps Tesla’s most famous photograph: that of the inventor sitting calmly reading a book, dwarfed by myriad tongues of explosive lightning.

Nikola Tesla (1856–1943) in his laboratory in Colorado Springs in 1899, with the book Theoria Philosophiae naturalis by Ruđer Bošković, a famous Croatian scientist from the 18th century.

First the machine’s huge sparks were photographed in the darkened room, then the photographic plate was exposed again with the machine off and Tesla sitting in the chair. In his Colorado Springs Notes, Tesla admitted that the photo is false:
Of course, the discharge was not playing when the experimenter was photographed, as might be imagined!
During 1899-1900 Tesla built this laboratory and researched wireless transmission of electric power there. The Magnifying Transmitter, one of the largest Tesla coils ever built, with input power of 300 kW could produce potentials of around 12 million volts at a frequency of about 150 kHz, creating 130 ft. (41 m) “lightning bolts”. The arcs in the image are 22 feet long. When he first turned it on, the machine blew out the Colorado Springs power company’s generator. These long arcs were not a feature of the normal operation of the coil because they wasted energy; for these photos Tesla forced the machine to produce arcs by switching the power rapidly on and off.

The original image, without Tesla, appears in his magazine article Nikola Tesla, “The Problem of Increasing Human Energy”, Century Magazine, The Century Co., New York, June 1900, fig. 8 The note accompanying the image: “Fig. 8 - The coil, partly shown in the photograph, creates an alternative movement of electricity from the earth into a large reservoir and back at a rate of one hundred thousand alternations per second. The adjustments are such that the reservoir is filled full and bursts at each alternation just at the moment when the electrical pressure is maximum. The discharge escapes with a deafening noise striking at an unconnected coil twenty two feet away, and creating such a commotion of electricity in the earth that sparks an inch long can be drawn from a water main at a distance of three hundred feet from the laboratory.

This copy was sent to British physicist William Crookes, and is inscribed: “To my illustrious friend Sir William Crookes of whom I always think and whose kind letters I never answer! Nikola Tesla June 17, 1901



Browse by Decades

Popular Posts


09 10