Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Greatest Inventor

Can you imagine visiting your nerdy friend in his laboratory, a peculiar scientist with human oddities. For example, for dinner each evening he would enter his hotel restaurant and escorted to his table. He would then proceed to wipe each utensil and dish with a clean napkin starting with the knife; then with a new napkin would wipe down the spoon, and again with a new napkin wipe down the fork – this was a daily routine. 

Nevertheless, you’re in his laboratory, with all types of odd-looking electrical equipment around you. Then, your friend, a tall thin man walks up to you; he suddenly snaps his fingers, instantaneously a red fireball flame looking substance is created on his fingertips. He rolls the fireball ball into his hands and not for one second he is nervous about electricity flowing in and out of his body.  He now has your full and focused attention and you’re astonished that the fireball doesn’t burn him.

He rolls it around, on his body, on his head, and then onto your lap. Yikes! He picks up the fireball and places it into a wooden box, then closes the cover.  He opens the cover to show you the inside of the box, there is nothing there – no trace of the electrical red fireball ever existed!

Your friend is Nikola Tesla –  

Tesla conducted this experiment several times during his career; yet, no one has been able to duplicate mysterious experiment

Before I put a sketch on paper, the whole idea is worked out mentally. In my mind I change the construction, make improvements, and even operate the device. Without ever having drawn a sketch I can give the measurements of all parts to workmen, and when completed all these parts will fit, just as certainly as though I had made the actual drawings. It is immaterial to me whether I run my machine in my mind or test it in my shop. The inventions I have conceived in this way have always worked. In thirty years there has not been a single exception. My first electric motor, the vacuum wireless light, my turbine engine and many other devices have all been developed in exactly this way” - Tesla.  

That's how 3-phase [polyphase] AC power was invented - in Tesla’s head. Tesla is responsible for the 120 AC volt electrical systems that we use today. Prior to AC, Edison’s DC power was predominant; although effective, it was inefficient and difficult to transmit voltages over distances.

We all know that Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb and the equipment to light it, and that George Westinghouse built the world's first hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls; both men knew Tesla. Tesla, a Serbian immigrant, was the greatest electrical genius ever!  In his early days, he
worked for Edison “fixing” electrical systems that Edison and his engineers could not.
Edison - Tesla - Westinghouse

Westinghouse was a railroad man, some of his inventions include air brakes and railway signals.  Later in life, Westinghouse became interested in electrical systems and was convinced that alternating current [AC] was better than DC for transmission, thus his association with Tesla.

It started out with GE’s bid to electrify the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1893 using Edison’s DC system. GE lost to Westinghouse, who proposed Tesla’s AC system, and whose bid was 30% less costly. Furthermore, that same year, the Niagara Falls Power Company decided to award Westinghouse [using Tesla’s polyphase AC] to generate power from Niagara Falls to electrify Buffalo. Many doubted that the falls could power all of Buffalo. By 1896 Buffalo was fully lit, and it wasn't too long after that GE decided to dump DC systems and switch to AC as well.

Back, earlier in 1892, Tesla created a basic design for radio and in 1898 obtained a patent using the design for a radio controlled boat.  In 1898 at Madison Square Garden, Tesla exhibited his radio-controlled boat to the public for the first time.

The boat had an antenna, which received the radio waves coming from a transmitter controlled by Tesla. The receiver device used was a coherer. The coherer received the radio waves and mechanically converted them to steer the boat’s propellers, thus allowing Tesla to control the boat from his transmitter.  This made front-page news in the newspapers, as Tesla may have been the first to demonstrate the use of radio waves as a medium for remote control.  
Tesla's Radio Controlled Boat

Now, we all know that Guglielmo Marconi as the inventor of radio, but how many really know of Tesla’s work in radio? Marconi claimed all the first patents for radio. Tesla tried to prove that he was the creator of radio but it wasn't until 1943, where the US Supreme Court deemed Marconi’s patents invalid; however, not many know about Tesla's radio work.

Tesla’s coils, that when tuned to its resonant frequency, was able to magnify electrical signals. With these coils used in the transmitter, he found that he could transmit and receive powerful radio signals in 1895. However, that same year disaster struck and all of his work was destroyed by fire.  By 1897, he filed his radio patent and the US Patent Office granted it in 1900. Tesla was able to transmit and receive radio signals 30 miles away at West Point.

The timing could not have been worse as the Italian experimenter, Guglielmo Marconi, built a wireless device for telegraphy. Marconi had taken out the first wireless telegraphy patent in England in 1896.

Marconi submitted applications for a US patent in 1900, and received a grant in 1903. Both Tesla and Marconi filed litigation, and in 1904, the U.S. Patent Office reversed its previous decisions regarding Tesla and gave Marconi a patent for the invention of radio. Reasons for this action were never fully explained, but many feel that Marconi’s strong political and financial backing was at play here.

Marconi won the Nobel Prize in 1911. This infuriated Tesla who felt that Marconi was using several of his inventions. In 1915, he sued Marconi for patent infringement. However, Tesla did not have the financial backing to litigate a large case against a major corporation such as the Marconi Company.  Litigation dragged on for several decades and shortly after Tesla’s death in 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court finally upheld Tesla's radio patent.

The Supreme Court had a selfish reason for doing this. The Marconi Company, which was an English company, was suing the US for use of its patents in World War I.  The Court, to uphold US interest, avoided action by restoring the priority of Tesla's patent over Marconi.  Hence, Tesla holds the US patent for radio communications.