Nikola Tesla in his laboratory

Figure 1 - Nikola Tesla in his laboratory.  From the Wikicommons and in the public domain.

Figure 1 – Nikola Tesla in his laboratory. From the Wikicommons and in the public domain.

Among the great “scientist in the laboratory” photographs is the image of Figure 1, showing the great inventor Nicola Tesla (1856-1943) in his Colorado Springs laboratory.  He sits in deadpan concentration at his reading undaunted by the tremendous (multiexposure) bolts of electricity flashing above him.  It is just what Tesla wanted to portray, the safety of high powered alternating current as opposed to the dangers of high powered direct current.

Tesla was the ultimate showman.  In that respect he is accurately portrayed by David Bowie in the film, “The Prestige,” starring Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansonn.  This film is one of my personal favorites, and I recommend it to anyone who likes their period pieces with just a tad of science fiction.

Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor, physicist, and futurist.  He came to America in 1884 to work with Edison.  However, he soon found his own financial backers and broke with Edison to set up his own laboratory and company.  He sold the rights to his AC induction motor patent to George Westinghouse and served as a consultant for Westinghouse in the development of alternating current, which indeed is a safer form of electrical energy.  Tesla was well known for his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New York and Colorado Springs.  Beyond electrical power he made major contributions to radio transmission, radio control, and the development of practical X-ray instruments.  He was truly one of the intellectual giants of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

I can never resist a photograph of Mark Twain; so I include below Figure 2, which is an image of Mark Twain in Tesla’s laboratory in 1894.  I believe that what we are looking at is Twain igniting a phosphor coated gas discharge lamp by touching it because he is transmitting high frequency alternating current, from a Tesla coil, over the surface of his body.  In a modern sense the picture is reminiscent of the famous candle lit paintings of sixteenth/seventeenth century French artist Georges de La Tour (1593-1652).  I love the obscure image of Tesla looking on in amusement and the spherical flash of light creating a sphere on the left.

Mark Twain in Tesla's laboratory.  Originally from The Century Magazine from the Wikicommons and in the public domain.

Mark Twain in Tesla’s laboratory. Originally from The Century Magazine 1894 from the Wikicommons and in the public domain.

This entry was posted in History of Photography.

One Comment

  1. Eleanor Goud April 18, 2013 at 1:04 am #

    I learned about Tesla in 1974. I was pleased to read your blog about him. Thanks for mentioning the film. I will look at Nexflix and see if they have it.

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