Tesla found that his senses were amplified beyond reason. He was terribly frightened at first, nervous exhaustion permeating his frail being. Eventually learning to manage these rare faculties, he again resumed his life. But the visions which began in his youth were now more vivid and solid than ever before. When they came, unbidden, he could literally touch and walk around them. Now also, he was equal to receiving them. He was waiting for the revelation by which his alternating current motor would appear.
Tesla’s life came into a new focus while walking in a park with some friends, the year 1881. It was late afternoon, and Tesla became entranced with the sight of a glorious sunset. Moved to indescribable emotions, he began quoting a verse from Goethe’s “Faust”:
“The glow retreats, done is our day of toil; it yonder hastes, new fields of life exploring, ah, can no wing lift me from this soil… upon his track to follow, follow soaring?” As he reached this last line of verse, Tesla was suddenly seized by an overwhelming vision. In it, he beheld a great vortex, whirling eternally in the sun and driving across the earth with its infinite power. Completely absorbed in this glory, he became catatonic and irresponsive… to the great fear of his companions. His mind and body buzzing with the power of the vision, he suddenly blurted out, “see my motor here… watch me reverse it”. They shook him, believing he had lost his mind completely.
Rigid and resisting all of their efforts, he would not move until the vision subsided. When he was finally led to a bench, he seemed completely transformed. The remainder of the day was spent in a grand and joyous celebration, Tesla’s remaining funds supplying the feast. Throughout the long hours of that night he shared with his friends the great sight he had beheld. They spoke of the sure implications portended for the world’s future, and departed with very great expectations.
Moving to Strassburg, he was employed as an engineer in a telephone subsidiary of the Continental Edison Company. It was in a small machine shop that he constructed the world’s first brushless motors. He called them “magnetic vortex motors”. Their whirling magnetic fields baffled electrical engineers. Now, Tesla’s professors were studying his work. Goethe was absolute in his judgment of science and human nature: nature leads humanity to “follow, follow soaring”.
Tesla’s strange whirling devices worked on their very first trial. There were no connections between the rotors and stators, no sparking, lossy brushes. The motion was smooth and efficient. Numerous alternating current generators, transformers, and “brushless” motors, all were developed by Tesla in quick succession. The vision in material form. Himself a professional draftsman, he mapped out his entire Polyphase System. Tesla emigrated to America with a full portfolio of plans. America would be the place where his dreams would find fulfilment.
Continually attracted to engineering problems which none could master, his sudden visualization of the solutions became his normal mode of operation. In this respect, as well as others, he remained the wonder of all his technical assistants. He worked for Thomas Edison in New Jersey for a very short time period until securing a laboratory and financial supporters of his own.
In his first independent venture he developed arc lamps and lighting systems. When his financial supporters betrayed his trust, they left him bankrupt overnight. He became a ditch digger, suffering all the indignities which immigrants faced in America during the 1880′s. He learned the value of publicity after his incessant mention of polyphase and alternating current managed to attract the attention of certain new financial supporters. They drew him out of the ditch, but not before he demanded his own laboratory, a machine shop, and a sizable personal percentage “up front”. The result was our present day electrical distribution system.
Tesla did not invent alternating current. Tesla reinvented alternating current in the form of Polyphase Current. His Polyphase System was a novel means for blending three identical alternating currents together simultaneously, but “out of step”. The idea was similar to having three pistons on a crankshaft rather than one. Tesla’s method had wonderful advantages, especially when motors were to be operated. Formally, no one could make an alternating current motor turn at all simply because no net motion could be derived from a current which just “shuttled” to and fro.
Polyphase applied a continuous series of separate “pushes” to rotors. Tesla’s Polyphase System made brushless motors and brilliant lighting methods possible. Polyphase made it also possible to send electrical power to very great distances with little loss. Alternating electrical currents vibrated in the line. Current did not flow continuously from end to end, as in Edison’s flawed system. Edison’s direct current system could not supply electricity beyond a few city blocks before current virtually disappeared.
In efforts to discover a more efficient kind of polyphase, Tesla explored higher frequency alternating currents. During this research, he built and patented several remarkable generators. Higher frequency polyphase was found by Tesla to perform with far greater efficacy than the common sixty-cycle variety which we still use. He fully intended on implementing these special generators in the system which his patron and friend, George Westinghouse, had proliferated. The business arrangement rendered Tesla fabulously wealthy at a young age.
Tesla extended his generator frequencies in multiples of sixty until reaching some thirty thousand cycles per second. These very high frequency alternating current generators became the marvel of all the academic and engineering world. They were copied and modified by several other subsequent inventors including Alexanderson. Remarkably driven at excessive speeds, they constituted Tesla’s first belief that high frequency alternating current generators would supply the world’s power.
High frequency current phenomena were new and exceedingly curious. A line of experimental research was conducted in order to evaluate new safe and possibly more efficient ways for transmitting power along long elevated lines. Tesla stated that the transmission of such safe currents across very long powerline distances in the future would be a certainty, seeing their wonderful new qualities.
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