Collier's Interview with Nikola Tesla

January 30, 1926

An interview conducted by John B. Kennedy and published in the January 30, 1926 issue of Collier's magazine.

At sixty-eight years of age Nikola Tesla sits quietly in his study, reviewing the world that he has helped to change, foreseeing other changes that must come in the onward stride of the human race. He is a tall, thin, ascetic man who wears somber clothes and looks out at life with steady, deep-set eyes. In the midst of luxury he lives meagerly, selecting his diet with a precision almost extreme. He abstains from all beverages save water and milk and has never indulged in tobacco since early manhood.

He is an engineer, an inventor and, above these as well as basic to them, a philosopher. And, despite his obsession with the practical application of what a gifted mind may learn in books, he has never removed his gaze from the drama of life.

This world, amazed many times during the last throbbing century, will rub its eyes and stand breathless before greater wonders than even the past few generations have seen; and fifty years from now the world will differ more from the present-day than our world now differs from the world of fifty years ago.

Nikola Tesla came to America in early manhood, and his inventive genius found quick recognition. When fortune was his through his revolutionary power-transmission machines he established plants, first in New York, then Colorado, later on Long Island, where his innumerable experiments resulted in all manner of important and minor advances in electrical science. Lord Kelvin said of him (before he was forty) that he had contributed more than any other man to the study of electricity.

“From the inception of the wireless system,” he says, “I say that this new art of applied electricity would be of greater benefit to the human race than any other scientific discovery, for it virtually eliminates distance. The majority of the ills from which humanity suffers are due to the immense extent of the terrestrial globe and the inability of individuals and nations to come into close contact.

“Wireless will achieve the closer contact through transmission of intelligence, transport of our bodies and materials and conveyance of energy.”

“When wireless is perfectly applied, the whole Earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do this will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.”

“We shall be able to witness and hear events—the inauguration of a President, the playing of a world series game, the havoc of an earthquake or the terror of a battle—just as though we were present.”

“When the wireless transmission of power is made commercial, transport and transmission will be revolutionized. Already motion pictures have been transmitted by wireless over a short distance. Later the distance will be illimitable, and by later I mean only a few years hence. Pictures are transmitted over wires—they were telegraphed successfully through the point system thirty years ago. When wireless transmission of power becomes general, these methods will be as crude as is the steam locomotive compared with the electric train.

All railroads will be electrified, and if there are enough museums to hold them the steam locomotives will be grotesque antiques for our immediate posterity.”

“Perhaps the most valuable application of wireless energy will be the propulsion of flying machines, which will carry no fuel and will be free from any limitations of the present airplanes and dirigibles. We shall ride from New York to Europe in a few hours. International boundaries will be largely obliterated and a great step will be made toward the unification and harmonious existence of the various races inhabiting the globe. Wireless will not only make possible the supply of energy to region, however inaccessible, but it will be effective politically by harmonizing international interests; it will create understanding instead of differences.”

“Modern systems of power transmission will become antiquated. Compact relay stations one half or one quarter the size of our modern power plants will be the basis of operation—in the air and under the sea, for water will effect small loss in conveying energy by wireless.”

Mr. Tesla foresees great changes in our daily life. “Present wireless receiving apparatus,” says he, “will be scrapped for much simpler machines; static and all forms of interference will be eliminated, so that innumerable transmitters and receivers may be operated without interference. It is more than probable that the household’s daily newspaper will be printed ‘wirelessly’ in the home during the night. Domestic management—the problems of heat, light, and household mechanics—will be freed from all labor through beneficent wireless power.”

“I foresee the development of the flying machine exceeding that of the automobile, and I expect Mr. Ford to make large contributions toward this progress. The problem of parking automobiles and furnishing separate roads for commercial and pleasure traffic will be solved. Belted parking towers will arise in our large cities, and the roads will be multiplied through sheer necessity, or finally rendered unnecessary when civilization exchanges wheels for wings.”

“The world’s internal reservoirs of heat, indicated by frequent volcanic eruptions, will be tapped for industrial purposes. In an article I wrote twenty years ago I defined a process for continuously converting to human use part of the heat received from the sun by the atmosphere. Experts have jumped to the conclusion that I am attempting to realize a perpetual-motion scheme. But my process has been carefully worked out. It is rational.”

Old men have dreamed dreams and young men have seen visions from the beginning of time. We of today can only sit and wonder when a scientist has his say.



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