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The Forgotten Genius of Electricity

By James Samuels


Smashwords Edition

Library House Books
Paramount, CA

Copyright 2018 –James Samuels

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any format or by any means without written permission from the publisher.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication

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Tesla: The Forgotten Genius of Electricity by James Samuels

First Edition March 2016

Library Edition 2018

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 1

ON JANUARY 9, 1861, many events occurred which were to reshape the history of the world. In America, the opening gun of the Civil War sounded the warning of the bloody years to follow. In Germany, young Bismarck, who was to be Germany's first Chancellor, and responsible for the militarization of the Fatherland, received his first decoration. In England, Queen Victoria was forging into a unified whole the far flung British Empire and casting knowing eyes upon the Suez Canal, which had been started the previous year.

In the little town of Smiljan in the Serbian province of Lika, then known as Croatia, a seemingly unimportant event took place which, too, was destined to shape the future. Nikola Tesla, scarcely five years old, found the family's pet poodle Trixie dying. The little black poodle was lying under a bush at the side of the road, whimpering, and the small boy picked her up and carried her home to his twelve year old brother Dane. Strangely, the death of that pet dog was to be the first of several events that would determine the course of Nikki Tesla's life.

Trixie had been given to Dane by one of their father's congregation. Everyone in Smiljan liked the Tesla family. The Reverend Milutin Tesla was a tall, handsome man with a fine speaking voice and a prodigious memory. He knew the Bible by heart and could quote it word for word in proof of a point he might be trying to make. Djouka, his wife, a charming, attractive woman, also had an amazing memory. She had learned to speak German, French, and Italian, as well as her native Serbian, even though she never learned to read or write.

Milka, Angelina, and Dane were the three oldest children; Nikola and little Marica were the youngest; and all pleasant, well mannered, and charming to be with. Neighbors often visited the Tesla home for an evening of music or conversation, but it was Dane they talked about at their dinner tables or in their living rooms. Some said he was a genius; others were sure that he was not long for this world. Everyone agreed that, at twelve, Dane knew more than most of the grownups in Smiljan.

No one was surprised when he was given a present of a thoroughbred French poodle, even though he already owned a big white and tan dog, part Spitz and part Collie, which he had found in the woods behind the rectory. The family had accepted Keno, but no one thought him very smart. Certainly he was not beautiful.

Trixie was both and Dane spent every minute of his spare time teaching her tricks. She learned quickly and soon the evening visits to the Tesla home were even more enlivened by a "show" that Dane often put on. Trixie would walk on her hind legs, sit up and beg, fetch, and "speak," performing all her tricks with such relish and obvious enjoyment that the guests could not fail to praise the young boy for his kindness and patience as a trainer.

When Nikki brought the dying Trixie home, the whole family gathered around anxiously. Dane turned angrily on his little brother. "What did you do to her?" he cried.

"Dane!" The Reverend Tesla spoke sharply. "Nikki didn't do anything. Why should he?"

"Because he hates her," Dane answered. "He's angry because no one pays any attention to him since we got Trixie."

"Stop such talk at once, Dane!" Mrs. Tesla ordered, putting her arm around the bewildered little boy. "Nikki loves the dog as much as you do." She knelt beside the little dog. "Get me the white of an egg, Angelina. Quickly!"

They did everything that could be done, but it was no use. Nikki, seeing the little dog's eyes glaze over and close, felt very sorry for her, but even sorrier for his older brother. As he reached out to take Dane's hand, Keno arrived, late as usual, and pushed his big, bumbling way between them. He walked over to where the little black dog lay, nuzzled her, and licked her nose. Getting no response, he raised troubled eyes to his master's face. Dane looked down at him and cried out more in grief than in anger:

"Why did it have to happen to Trixie? Why did Trixie have to die?"

Keno's long, plumed tail drooped and he slunk away.

"You shouldn't have said that," Nikki protested. "He thinks you're angry at him."

Dane stared at his brother a few moments before answering, then said, "I didn't mean it the way you think. I only meant that, when there are so many dogs in the village, why did it have to be Trixie?"

Nikki silently accepted this explanation, but he knew that, for a moment, his brother had wished that Keno had died instead of Trixie.

After that, Nikki seemed to change. He became shy and withdrawn, as if afraid to call attention to himself, and this was especially noticeable whenever Dane was present. Perhaps, in time, he would have forgotten the unhappy episode of the dog and his brother's harsh accusations had not unexpected tragedy stricken the Tesla household.

No one knew exactly how it happened. All five of the children were playing in the back yard when suddenly there was a loud scream. Mrs. Tesla found Dane, writhing in pain, at the foot of the stone cellar steps. He lost consciousness when they carried him to the upstairs room he shared with Nikki, but he soon came to and began to talk excitedly, saying that Nikki had pushed him. The Reverend and Mrs. Tesla did not for one moment believe that their youngest had deliberately set out to hurt his older brother, but they didn't want him to hear Dane's delirious accusations and become upset, so it was decided that Nikola should spend a week or two with some friends who lived nearby, and little Marica went with him to Mr. and Mrs. Mark Wentzlas' to keep him company.

Every morning Mrs. Wentzlas got Nikki his breakfast and hustled him off to school. And every day, when he returned at noontime, she was watching for him from the great bay window at the front of the little farmhouse. She would wave at him and little Marica would come bouncing out the front door, while Keno galumphed from somewhere at the back of the house to stand with his forepaws on the white gate waiting for Nikki to pat him.

But one day Nikki came home to find only Mrs. Wentzlas waiting at the gate, with Keno standing quietly at her side.

"I have sad news for you, Nikki," she said. "You must be a big, brave boy."

He looked up at her worn, kind face and saw that her eyes were red, as if she had been crying. Even before she spoke he guessed what she was going to say.

"Dane has gone away," she said solemnly and Nikki nodded. He had known she was going to say that. Why was it, he wondered, that grownups so often said someone had "gone away" or "passed on" when they meant "died"? When an animal died, they said so, but it seemed as if people didn't ever die— they just "went away."

"I knew you wouldn't cry." Mrs. Wentzlas went on. "I knew you'd be a fine, brave boy. And now you just go into the kitchen and wash and then go upstairs. You'll find your Sunday suit laid out on your bed."

"Do I have to wear stockings?" Nikki asked.

"Of course. All your parents' friends and neighbors—everybody who loved Dane—will be there to say 'goodby' to him. Now hurry along. Marica is already dressed. We'll go over to your house as soon as you're ready."

Obediently Nikki washed at the pump in the kitchen, then went up the back stairs to his room and dressed quickly. As he was coming down the front stairs he suddenly heard Mrs. Wentzlas speaking:

"—didn't cry or seem to feel anything at all. Seemed almost stupid."

Then a rumble. That was Mr. Wentzlas talking.

"Oh, I know he's only five years old," Mrs. Wentzlas answered impatiently, "but he's no genius. Oh Mark, why did it have to be Dane?"

Nikki stood frozen on the dark stairway. Suddenly he wanted his mother. He wanted her arms around him. He wanted to hear her say that she didn't feel that way too. But what if she did? Almost as if in answer to his thoughts, Mrs. Wentzlas continued: "Oh, I know I shouldn't have said that, or even thought it, but I can't help it. Dane would have grown up to be a great man. He would have brought honor to his parents and to Smiljan . . ."

Nikki forgot his own hurt and felt suddenly very sorry for his mother and father. And then, right there on the dark stair way, he made his decision. He would be a greater, more important man than Dane would have been! He would bring more fame and greater honor to his parents than his brother would ever have brought!

Mrs. Wentzlas' voice grew louder. "Whatever can be keeping that boy? We'll be late unless . . . Oh, there you are!"

She had come out into the hall and now she held out her hand to him. "Come, Nikki. We must hurry."

As they went down the walk toward the gate, Keno appeared from behind the house, walking slowly as if he knew that it would not be appropriate to jump and frisk about. Nikki wondered if he knew about Dane.

"You be a good dog, Keno," Mrs. Wentzlas said. "You stay and guard the house. We won't be gone long."

"Can't Keno come?" Nikki asked in surprise.

"Certainly not," Mrs. Wentzlas answered firmly.

"But why not? You said that people who loved Dane were coming to say goodby to him. Keno loved him. Can't he say goodbye to him too?"

Mr. and Mrs. Wentzlas looked at each other.

"The boy's right," Mr. Wentzlas rumbled.

Mrs. Wentzlas stooped down and gave Nikki a quick little hug.

"Of course, you're right," she said. "Keno can come along."

Keno took his place beside Nikki and they went through the gate and on down the street side by side, the dog ignoring the taunting chatter of the chipmunks in the low branches of the elms that lined the sidewalk—resisting a temptation to reply to the challenge that at any other time would have been irresistible. After they had gone a short distance and were out of earshot of the others, Nikki addressed the dog seriously:

"Keno, I am going to train you. I'm going to be a better dog trainer than Dane was, and you're going to be the smartest, best trained dog in the whole world."

Keno waved his plume slowly back and forth without much enthusiasm.

"You don't believe it, do you?" Nikki went on. "Well, you'll see. Everybody will come to our house to watch us do tricks. Everybody will talk about you. You'll be famous! Just wait and see"

Secretly and with intense concentration and singleness of purpose that would have been startling—almost frightening— to anyone who might have seen them, Nikki spent every free moment training the big dog. Responding to this unexpected windfall of patient and affectionate attention, the friendly animal was transformed from a clumsy, lumbering clown into a skilled performer. And, as Nikki had prophesied, the night finally did arrive when neighbors and friends, who had dropped in to enjoy an evening of music and conversation with the Teslas in an effort to help them forget their loss, found themselves unexpected witnesses to a performance they had never dreamed of. Keno walked on his forelegs, balanced a piece of sugar on his nose and then tossed it in the air on the command of his new young master. Keno fetched and "spoke" and played hide-and-seek and did many tricks that they had never seen a dog do before.

But being a better dog trainer than Dane was not enough. Nikki felt impelled to do something startling, something unusual, but he had no idea what it would be. It was his mother's ingenuity and handiness with tools that finally gave him the idea of becoming an inventor. Mrs. Tesla had created several convenient or laborsaving devices for home use: the fourfold screen that served as a partition between the children's beds and provided a modicum of privacy, and her "eggbeater."

She had tied two wooden forks together, facing each other, finding it much easier to beat eggs thoroughly with this device than with a single fork. One day Mrs. Tesla complained that her wrists ached, and said she wished she could think of something that would turn her eggbeater.

"The amount of energy I waste beating eggs for this family could probably pull a cart from here to Praguel" she said laughingly.

Nikki pricked up his ears. If he could think of something that would turn the forks, he would be doing something that Dane had never thought of. If only he could think of something! He thought about it a great deal, but when the idea finally came to him, it was while he was teaching Keno a new trick and not thinking about the eggbeater at all.

Not far from the Tesla home a mountain stream rushed through the woods, tumbling over itself as it raced downhill over small rocks and tree roots. Nikki decided that the power of the water should be used to turn something that would in turn cause a gear to revolve. The gear could be connected to a small upright post that would be turned by pulleys. In his mind the upright post represented his mother's eggbeater. He remembered that when the woodcutters chopped down some of the huge trees on the mountainside, they often sawed the trunks into round segments that could be used as small cartwheels. He went in search of a discarded or broken one and succeeded in finding a round one that had obviously been sawed too thin to serve any practical purpose, for it was only about an inch thick.

Happily, Nikki bored a hole in the center of it, pushed a long green stick through the hole, and rested its two ends in crotched sticks he drove into the soft ground on either bank of the stream. As soon as the water struck the rough perimeter of the circular wooden segment, it began to revolve very slowly around the stick. Nikki saw at once that the water power was not great enough to turn the stick as well as the wheel. He would have to find a place where the waters rushed with greater force—perhaps he could find a waterfall nearby, then he could run pulleys down the hill right into the Tesla kitchen. By connecting them with the eggbeater, the water power would turn it without any help from his mother.

Accompanied by the seemingly tireless Keno, Nikki fell into the habit of taking long hikes into the nearby hills in search of a waterfall. The Reverend Tesla was pleased that his son should find so much of interest in nature, and Mrs. Tesla often made up picnic lunches for him to take on his trips.

It was on one of these hikes into the mountains that Nikki came upon a very old and long forgotten chapel formed by a great bronze door that had been hinged with iron spikes into a boulder that had fallen in front of the opening of a cave. Beyond the partly open door he could see the cavern, which was dark and evil smelling, but his curiosity and his adventurous spirit overcame his fear. Calling to Keno to precede him, he started toward the cave entrance. Something, however, seemed to frighten the dog, and for the first time since Dane's death he refused to obey Nikki's command.

"Keno!" Nikki shouted. "Go in!"

But the dog backed away, the hair bristling along the length of his spine, his lips curled back from his teeth in a soundless snarl.

"Sissy! Fraidycat!" Nikki jeered, but Keno would not approach the cave.

"All right then, I'll go in alone," the boy said and crawled around the heavy door and entered the cavern. The contact of his shoulder as he brushed by the door was just enough to dislodge the rust encrusted hinge. The door sagged and the top swung across the opening, completely blocking it. Nikki was sealed in the total darkness of the damp smelling stone chapel. He threw his weight against the door in sudden panic, but his efforts did not even make it budge. From the other side the frightened boy could hear the faint sound of the dog's barking.

"Go home, Keno!" Nikki shouted. "Go home and get help." Keno did just that. Hours later, panting and bedraggled, he galloped into the Tesla yard.

"What's the matter, Keno? What's all the fuss about?" Mrs. Tesla asked. He paid no attention to her but ran through the house, quite obviously searching for something or someone. He almost hurtled out of the front door and raced along the wooden sidewalk to the church. As he reached it, the Reverend Tesla emerged from a small side door and the frenzied dog flung himself upon the minister, barking and whimpering, running away for a short distance and then returning to the man.

After watching for a moment the Reverend Tesla asked, "You want me to go with you? Is that it, boy?" and Keno barked furiously. Mr. Wentzlas heard the noise and came hurrying along the street. "What's the matter, Reverend?" he asked.

"I believe the dog wants to take me to Nikki," the Reverend Tesla answered slowly, and Keno bounded about, as if to show his relief at being understood.

"What are we waiting for?" Mr. Wentzlas cried, and both of them started out after the barking dog. Four other neighbors, hearing the commotion, joined the party and headed for the mountains with Keno leading the way. It took all the strength of the six men to swing the heavy bronze door away from the opening far enough to let the Reverend Tesla slip through and carry out the now unconscious Nikki. They revived him and the little procession turned homeward.

"What were you doing 'way up here on the mountainside, Nikki?" his father asked him.

"I was looking for a waterfall."

"From now on you'll have to be more careful when you go into the woods," his father said sternly, but Nikki noticed a warm smile quivering on the lips that were barely visible beneath the handlebar mustache.

"I'll try, Nikki promised.

They walked down the steep mountain path in silence for a time, Mr. Wentzlas and the other neighbors following behind the Reverend Tesla.

"Papa," Nikki said, "I don't have to stop thinking about the water, do I?"

His father stared at him, completely puzzled. "Water? What water?"

"Water all over—everywhere. The rivers and streams and brooks—all moving and none of them doing anybody any good."

"Nonsense," the Reverend Tesla replied. "Of course they do good. They supply moisture for our gardens; they provide fish and other food for people to eat."

"I didn't mean that," Nikki tried to explain. "I only meant that their force is being wasted. If somebody could capture it —the way my water wheel does—and use it to help people turn things and move things and . , ."

The Reverend Tesla laughed. "One inventor in the family is enough! Oh, I'll admit that the four way screen that your mother thought up, with the hinges on both sides, has its good points. It does keep the heat from the stove away from the kitchen table whenever we decide to eat there instead of in the dining room. And the bed without legs that your mother made is easier to get into, instead of climbing up into the big four poster—but we're the ones who have to test all these experiments, and if you were to begin too, there's no telling what we'd find ourselves doing!"

"I'm going to capture the water's power," Nikki said stubbornly. "I'm going to harness it the way Mr. Wentzlas harnesses old Meg."

The Reverend Tesla looked down at his fivefold son's thin, earnest face and a frown of worry wrinkled his forehead. "Don't try too hard," he cautioned.

"I'm going to make you proud of me. Papa," the boy said.

"We like you the way you are."

Then Niki said something that made no sense at all to his father: "Dane liked Keno the way he was."

Had the Reverend Tesla asked Nikki what he meant, he might have understood what forces drove his son on to endless and tireless efforts to succeed, but he saw no particular meaning behind Nikki's words. He thought the boy was criticizing the son he had lost, and so he spoke impatiently and said exactly the wrong thing:

"Dane was different, he was a genius."

Nikki decided in that moment that he would invent something that would startle the world.

Chapter 2

NIKKI tried one thing after another with a sort of desperate compulsion that made him seem almost feverish. Both the Reverend Tesla and his wife sensed that the boy was under a strain, but neither of them guessed the cause. Meanwhile Nikki invented a blowgun and soon afterward a popgun, which he sold to his classmates in elementary school. When an epidemic of broken windows struck Smiljan, Nikki realized that this was not an invention that was likely to raise him in the esteem of their neighbors.

Just after his fifth birthday he made his first attempt to emu late the flight of a bird. The result was three broken ribs and six weeks in bed. Then followed another approach to the water wheel. This time he used parts of a toy cart and made scoops which turned the wheel much more effectively than had the water on the relatively smooth surface of his first wheel. Us continued to drive himself, and grew thinner and quieter as time passed.

"It's almost as if he blames himself for Dane's death," Mrs. Tesla said. "You don't suppose he overheard those delirious mutterings our boy . . ."

"No," her husband assured her. "I'm sure Nikola doesn't blame himself. Perhaps he's just trying to make up to us for our loss."

"Try to get him to relax, Milutin," Mrs. Tesla urged. "The boy will make himself sick."

When the Reverend Tesla's popularity and many services to both church and community were rewarded by a promotion to a much larger parish in the thriving city of Go spic, his parents thought the move would be good for Nikki. The boy, now seven, was delighted at the prospect of moving to a new home. His disappointment was great when he finally saw the redbrick rectory and the huge Gothic church adjoining it. He had spent a happy childhood close to nature, and he disliked the city with its little houses all crowded together like sheep huddled in a corral before a thunderstorm. Nor did he like the people he met. His reserve did not permit him to make friends easily and his loneliness added further to his unhappiness.

It was his job to ring the church bell before and after services. After a service one Sunday in the \ spring, Nikki came down the spiral staircase in great leaps, swinging himself past three or four steps by leverage on the handrail. At the bottom of the stairway he sprang down and landed on the train of the new gown of the Countess con Filibustering—the wife of the fat Austrian mayor of Go spic With the sound of tearing cloth, the very pompous dowager was bereft of her skirt and her dignity. Her face purple with rage, she turned to the astonished minister.

"This boy is your son, is he not, Dr. Tesla?" she asked accusingly. The Reverend Tesla nodded.

"I want him punished, and punished severely," the angry woman ordered. "He has been rude and destructive. I want——"

"He meant no harm," Nikki's father protested. "Perhaps it was wrong for him to jump in the House of the Lord, but——"

"Perhaps!!" she screamed. "Perhaps? Of course it was wrong and I want him punished. And I want the damages paid for. Do you understand?"

"Calm yourself. Madam," the Reverend Tesla replied quietly. "The damages will be paid."

"Out of what? The measly salary we pay you to preach in our church? It would take a year."

"You will have to be patient then, for I have not yet received .even the first quarterly payment of the 'measly salary' the church pays me. But if you will send me a bill, it will be paid."

"Very well," the Countess sputtered, not at all mollified by the minister's quiet tone, "but you must promise to punish the boy." '

"The boy will not be punished."


"He was guilty of nothing more serious than an excess of high spirits. It was an accident. I'm certain that Nikola is very sorry for what happened. I cannot find it in my heart to feel that he requires further punishment."

"My husband and I are not accustomed to having our requests refused. I say that the boy must be taught manners and respect—if not for persons at least for the church.

"The Bishop shall hear of this" the Countess con Furstenburg threatened. "We'll see what he thinks of your disrespect." She swept the remains of her torn gown about her and moved naughtily out onto the marble steps at the church entrance.

Dr. Tesla looked down at his small son and smiled. "Let us go home together," he said.

"Oh Papa!" Nikki cried. "Can't we go back to Smiljan, where everyone was friendly?"

"I'm afraid not." His father said and explained that a new minister had already been installed in the church there and could not very well be asked to give up his post.

"We'll just have to be brave—all of us," he said.

At that moment Nikki wished that he had the words to tell his father how sorry he was for what he had done and how much he admired him for his kindness and his loyalty.

He soon found out that being brave was not easy. The On Burgomasters had two sons and a daughter at the school that Nikki attended. The girl talked to her friends about the Teslas and made it plain that her parents would be pleased if so crude a family were ignored and socially ostracized. These were only words to Nikki and did not really hurt him. But the two boys did not confine their dislike to words. Nikki discovered that if he managed to think hard enough about something else, he didn't feel the pain so much when they pulled his hair or twisted his arm back between his shoulder blades. When the bullies finally learned that they couldn't make him knuckle under to them, they decided to leave Nikki alone; but while this afforded some physical relief, it did not help to make the boy happy. Then when the Teslas had been in Go spic little more than a year, Nikola was given an opportunity to win recognition and a sort of grudging respect.

The Town Council decided to purchase a brand new fire engine, which turned out to be a most impressive looking contraption. The Council was very proud of it and planned a parade and a public demonstration to introduce it to the enthusiastic townspeople. General Count con Furstenburg, husband of the formidable lady whose wrath Nikki had incurred, had volunteered to arrange for the purchase of the new apparatus, and on the day of the carefully planned ceremony stood in the place of honor, a hastily erected rotunda on the river bank, where the shiny new engine was to be demonstrated.

Pompously and at great length the Count told the assembled citizens how very fortunate they were to have such a splendid Town Council headed by so distinguished a leader as himself. He pointed out the vast improvement of the new apparatus over the old bucket brigade system and explained at length how it was made and operated. It seemed to Nikki, standing shyly at the outermost edge of the crowd, that the Mayor had done everything but draw a diagram of what seemed like a very simple idea. The long, flat canvas hose that led from the engine to the river was the means of drawing the water into the tank, the central supply source, from which it would be pumped, under pressure, onto the flames.

At last the pompous little man stopped lecturing and called upon sixteen members of the Volunteer Fire Department to man the pump handles. Then, to the amazed delight of the onlookers, eight men on each side grasped the two long handles and began a sort of formal minuet. The pump was operated much as a railroad handcar is operated, first one then the other handle being forced down. A silence fell upon the crowd as they stared in fascination, waiting for the shining brass nozzle to begin spouting an impressive stream of water skyward—but Nikki only had eyes for the sixteen men who seemed to be bowing to one another over the heavy pump handles.

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