Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tesla Versus Einstein

Tesla's Battle with Einstein

"Too bad, Sir Isaac, they dimmed your renown
And turned your great science upside down.
Now a long-haired crank, Einstein by name,
Puts on your high teaching all the blame.
Says: matter and force are transmutable
And wrong the laws you thought immutable."

Fragments of Olympian Gossip
Nikola Tesla, poet, September 1934

    Nikola Tesla was perhaps the greatest inventor in the golden age of invention which took place at the end of the 19th century. Merely considering two of his inventions, the AC generator and motor spawned a century of progress, spurring the creation of the modern city and commerce as we know it. Although at the cutting edge of science through the 1890s, Tesla rejected many twentieth century scientific discoveries including relativity.

    In spite of the fact that Tesla was among the most important inventors involved in the development of radio, Tesla dismissed the findings of Heinrich Hertz, rejecting the idea of electromagnetic waves being transmitted through the air or empty space. Tesla claimed light transmission and electromagnetic waves were the same as sound transmission: vibrations of a substance. Radio waves, he contended, traveled through the earth. In line with many 19th century scientists, Tesla believed a gas called "ether" filled outer space.

    In a 1929 interview he said, "I had maintained for many years before that such a medium as supposed could not exist, and that we must rather accept the view that all space is filled with a gaseous substance. On repeating the Hertz experiments, with much improved and very powerful apparatus, I satisfied myself that what he had observed was nothing else but effects of longitudinal waves in a gaseous medium, that is to say, waves, propagated by alternate compression and expansion. He had observed waves in the ether much of the nature of sound waves in the air1."

    According to Tesla, in space, someone could hear your screams—and the noise traveled quite rapidly. Ether allowed sound to move as quickly as light. "This means that the velocity of the sound waves propagated through the ether is about 300,000 times greater than that of the sound waves in air, which travel at approximately 1,085 feet a second. Consequently the speed in ether is 900,000 x 1,085 feet, or 186,000 miles, and that is the speed of light2."

    Tesla claimed to have propagated waves at speeds much faster than light. "Stating that the Einstein theory is erroneous in many respects, Dr. Tesla stated as early as 1900, in his patent 787,412, that the current of his radio-power transmitter passed over the surface of the earth with a speed of 292,830 miles a second3."

    Tesla took this even further. As reported in a 1935 New York Times article:
    "He [Tesla] described relativity as "a beggar wrapped in purple whom ignorant people take for a king."

    In support of his statement he cited a number of experiments he had conducted, he said, as far back as 1896 on the cosmic ray. He has measured cosmic ray velocities from Antarus, he said, which he found to be fifty times greater than the speed of light, thus demolishing, he contended, one of the basic pillars of the structure of relativity, according to which there can be no speed greater than that of light4.

    Tesla also disagreed with the Einstein's fundamental finding that energy is matter (e = mc2). "I have disintegrated atoms in my experiments with a high potential vacuum tube I brought out in 1896 which I consider one of my best inventions. ... But as to atomic energy, my experimental observations have shown that the process of disintegration is not accompanied by a liberation of such energy as might be expected from the present theories5."

    Tesla was recognized for his life achievements in a gala 75th birthday celebration. This made the cover of Time Magazine along with a feature article. In that article, Tesla explained he was working on "...an explanation based upon pure mathematics of certain things which Professor Einstein has also attempted to explain. My conclusions in certain respects differ from and to that extent tend to disprove the Einstein Theory. My explanations of natural phenomena are not so involved as his. They are simpler, and when I am ready to make a full announcement it will be seen that I have proved my conclusions6." As with many of Tesla's late-life promises, nothing was forthcoming.

    In that interview, Tesla reiterated his dismissal of mass equaling energy. "I shattered atoms again and again. But no appreciable energy was released7."

    Among those sending him letters of congratulations was Albert Einstein. In a terse two-sentence greeting which seemed to diminish Tesla's accomplishments, he said, "Dear Mr. Tesla, I am delighted to hear of your 75th birthday and the celebration of your work as a successful pioneer in the field of high-frequency currents which allowed the wonderful development of this field of technology. I congratulate you on the great successes of your life's work. Albert Einstein8."

    So what did Einstein think of Tesla's claims? Einstein was accustomed to criticism. In response to a 1931 pamphlet titled "100 Authors Against Einstein," he said, "If I were wrong, then one would have been enough9." Over a century has passed since the theory of general relativity was put forward and there have been regular attacks against it, followed by quick retreats.

    In the early twentieth century, long-held orthodoxies were overturned and the universe was found to be much more complex than previously recognized. In the realm of invention and engineering Tesla was without peer. Tesla failed in his battle with Einstein because he fought on Einstein's turf: pure science. In twentieth century science, Tesla had become a stranger lost in a new world10.


1. Nikola Tesla Tells of New Radio Theories. Does Not Believe in Hertz Waves and Heaviside Layer, Interview Discloses. New York Herald Tribune Sept. 22, 1929, pp. 1, 29.

2. ibid.

3. No High-Speed Limit, Says Tesla. The Literary Digest Nov. 7, 1931.

4. Tesla, 79, Promises to Transmit Force. Scientist on Birthday Reveals Scheme to Send Mechanical Energy All Over World Would Even Guide Ships. Assails Theory of Relativity as Work of Metaphysicians and not Scientific. New York Times. July 11, 1935, p. 23.

5. Radio Power will Revolutionize the World by Nikola Tesla as Told to Alfred Albelli. Modern Mechanix and Inventions. July 1934

6. Nikola Tesla at 75. Time Magazine, July 20, 1931.

7. ibid

8. A photo of the original letter in German is presented at the Nikola Tesla Society website.

9. As cited in: A Brief History of Time (10th ed.), Hawking, Stephen (1998). Bantam Books. page 193.

10. End note. There are those who still advocate the concept of ether. Some have tried to modernize the theory, others cling to the archaic principles. For some it has become a means of rationalizing modern perpetual motion machines.

Tesla, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Henry H. Holmes are all characters in my forthcoming thriller, A Predator's Game, Rook's Page Publishing, March 30, 2016.

Back page blurb of A Predator's Game (advance copy, subject to change).

Manhattan, 1896.

When the author Arthur Conan Doyle meets Nikola Tesla he finds a tall, thin genius with a photographic memory and a keen eye, and recognizes in the eccentric inventor the embodiment of his creation, Sherlock. Together, they team up to take on an "evil Holmes." Multi-murderer Dr. Henry H. Holmes has escaped execution and is unleashing a reign of terror upon the metropolis. Set in the late nineteenth century in a world of modern marvels, danger and invention, Conan Doyle and Tesla engage the madman in a deadly game of wits.

Martin Hill Ortiz, also writing under the name, Martin Hill, is the author of A Predatory Mind. Its sequel, set in 1890s Manhattan and titled A Predator's Game, will be available from Rook's Page Publishing, March 30, 2016. It features Nikola Tesla as detective.

His recent mystery, Never Kill A Friend, is available from Ransom Note Press. His epic poem, Two Mistakes, recently won second place in the Margaret Reid/Tom Howard Poetry Competition. He can be contacted at mdhillortiz@gmail.com.


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