Friday, February 26, 2016

Nikola Tesla in Who's Who, Part One

Who's Who as a title is now in the public domain so that whoever is who can publish their own versions. However, once upon a time, it was the definitive guide to a nation's most prominent individuals. First appearing in England in 1849, it began publication in the United States in 1899 as "Who's Who in America: A Biographical Dictionary of Living Men and Women of the United States." The publisher was A.N. Marquis and the American series is often referred to as "Marquis Who's Who."

Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone
The year 1899 is a fine moment to take a snapshot of Nikola Tesla's career.

(page 719)
TESLA, Nikola, electrician; b, Smiljan, Lika, Servia, 1857; ed. in Servia at public schools of Gospich; grad. Real Schule, Karlstadt, 1873; studied at Polytechnic School, Gratz, with intent to become prof, mathematics and physics, but in second year changed to the eng'ring course, which he completed; later studied languages at Prague and Buda-Pesth; (LL.D., Yale and Columbia). For short time was asst. in gov't telegraph-eng'ring dept., and invented several improvements; then was eng'r for a large lighting company at Paris; soon after came to U.S. and was employed at Edison Works, Orange, N.J.; later left to become electrician Tesla Electric Light Co., and to establish the Tesla laboratory in New York for independent electrical research. Invented the modern principle of the rotary magnetic field, embodied in the apparatus used in the transmission of power from Niagara Falls; new forms of dynamos, transformers, induction coils, condensers, arc and incandescent lamps; and also the oscillator combining steam-engine and dynamo; etc. His researches in electrical oscillation have created a new field of electrical investigation. Address: 46 E. Houston St., New York. (First Edition, Who's Who in America, 1899)

As matter of comparative fame, let's look at Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell's entries.

(pages 49-50)
BELL, Alexander Graham. physiologist, (illegible) b. Edinburgh, Scotland, March 3, 1847; son Alexander Melville Bell, q.v., ed. at Edinburgh and London Univs., went to Canada 1870 and to Boston 1873 becoming prof in vocal physiology, Boston Univ. Invented telephone which he first exhibited at Centennial Exp'n, 1876; also invented the photophone. Address: 1331 Connecticut Av., Washington.

(page 213)
EDISON, Thomas Alva, electrician; b. Alva, O. [sic], Feb. 11, 1847; received some instruction from his mother (Ph.D.. Union.1878); at 12 years of age became newsboy on Grand Trunk Ry.; later learned telegraphy; worked as operator at various places in U.S. and Canada; invented many telegraphic appliances, including automatic repeater, duplex telegraph, printing telegraph, etc. established workshop at Newark, N.J., removing to Menlo Park, N.J., 1876, and later to West Orange, N.J. Invented machines for quadruplex and sextuplex telegraphic transmission; the carbon telegraph transmitter; the microtasimeter for detection of small changes in temperature; the megaphone, to magnify sound; the phonograph; the aerophone; the incandescent lamp; the kinetoscope; also scores of other inventions. Was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French gov't. Address: West Orange, N.J.

Tesla's entry at 179 words proved to be nearly as long as Bell's and Edison's combined (56 and 128 words, respectively).

More fascinating is to look at how the length of entries changed over time. New editions were published approximately each two years with the number of entries and overall length of the book increasing. Below the length of entries is provided for the first three editions. Bell's biographical sketch doubled then tripled, Edison's slightly increased and Tesla's remained roughly the same.

The First Edition, 1899, 827 pages and 8,602 sketches.
Tesla: 179 words
Bell: 56 words
Edison: 128 words

The Second Edition, 1901, 1,300 pages and 11,551 sketches.
Tesla: 177 words
Bell: 115 words
Edison: 138 words

The Third Edition, 1903, 1,800 pages and 14.443 sketches.
Tesla: 177 words
Bell: 173 words
Edison: 148 words

And then with the Fourth Edition, Tesla's entry exploded.

The Fourth Edition, 1906, 2,000 pages and 16,216 sketches.
Tesla: 306 words
Bell: 186 words
Edison: 148 words

The Fifth Edition, 1908, 2,304 pages 16,395 sketches.
Tesla: 305 words
Bell: 192 words
Edison: 156 words

The Sixth Edition, 1910, 2,468 pages and 17,546 sketches.
Tesla: 309 words
Bell: 209 words
Edison: 155 words

With the Seventh Edition, 1912, again a marked increase took place in Tesla's entry and this time his sketch became longer than Bell's and Edison's combined.

The Seventh Edition, 1912, 2,664 pages and 18,794 sketches.
Tesla: 394 words
Bell: 215 words
Edison: 155 words

The length of his biographical sketch was remarkable. Having glanced through these books, it seemed to me to be as long or longer than anyone else's. I decided to sample several of the most prominent living Americans of the year, 1912*.

At that time, William Howard Taft had been president for three years. His sketch was 354 words.

John Pierpont Morgan, a supporter and sometimes thorn-in-the-side of Tesla had a sketch of 308 words.

John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil, 251 words.

George Westinghouse, longtime advocate and business partner of Tesla, 353 words.

The only person I could find whose biography eked out that of Tesla was then ex-president Theodore Roosevelt, with 404 words, representative of a fascination which continues to this day.

This dominance was not long-lived. While the Eighth through the Tenth Editions of Marquis Who's Who are not available on-line, the Eleventh Edition is available. Tesla, always in first place, is now third.

The Eleventh Edition, 1920, contains 3,302 pages and 23,443 sketches.
Tesla: 238 words
Bell: 249 words
Edison: 245 words

*Some famous Americans had recently died, including Mark Twain and Grover Cleveland,
while others, including Henry Ford had yet to make their mark.
A Predator's Game is available for pre-order through Amazon.

A Predator's Game, available March 30, 2016, Rook's Page Publishing.

Nikola 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


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