Nikola Tesla - CSPM

Nikola Tesla

When Nikola Tesla arrived in Colorado Springs in 1899, he was a famous scientist on the forefront of energy transmission and wireless telegraphy. His interest in the “extraordinary purity of the atmosphere” and the region’s frequent lightning storms led him to develop machines that measured lightning strikes, and his breakthrough achievement – a magnifying transmitter. Satisfied with his progress, he abandoned Colorado Springs and returned to New York in January 1900. He left behind unpaid bills, an unhappy caretaker, and the public’s endless fascination with him.

– From the CSPM Curator of History

Nikola Tesla was born to Serbian parents in Croatia in 1856. After studying engineering, he took a job in Paris with the Continental Edison Company. S supervisor recommended he work directly for Thomas Edison in New York. Tesla and Edison later had a famous falling-out over their opposing views on direct (DC) versus alternating (AC) current. Tesla left Edison’s workshop and developed patents for an AC motor, generators, transformers and lights, many of which he sold to George Westinghouse. While working for Westinghouse, Tesla met patent attorney Leonard E. Curtis who invited him to Colorado with the promise of free land and electricity.

When Tesla arrived in Colorado Springs in 1899, he said this about his plans, “I propose to send a message from Pike’s Peak to Paris.” Tesla hired local carpenter Joseph Dozier to build a laboratory, and ordered equipment from New York. By June 2, 1899 the workshop was nearly complete. “The building is a rough board structure…filled with dynamos, electric wires, switches, generators, motors and almost every conceivable invention…” Very few were allowed inside. When questioned by a reporter he replied, “When am I going to make an experiment in wireless telegraphy? Why, I don’t intend to make such an experiment.” Apparently, he changed his mind.

Tesla’s interest in the “extraordinary purity of the atmosphere” and the region’s lightning storms led to machines that measured lightning strikes. In July, he made an observation that changed the course of his research. He watched as a violent storm approached from the west. When the storm moved east, his machines continued to record signals as if the storm never moved. He concluded that he observed, “stationary waves,” capable of sending wireless telegraphic messages, transmit the human voice, and power in unlimited amounts.

Tesla developed a magnifying transmitter, a 150 ft. pole topped by a copper ball in the center of his lab. He believed that by matching stationary waves, he could transmit signals across the globe without losing power. He claimed to have powered banks of lights wirelessly in Colorado Springs. An oft-repeated tale describes how Tesla “blew the town’s power supply and created a blackout.” However, there is no evidence. Instead, as Tesla recalled in 1917, “the dynamos in a power house six miles away were repeatedly burned out,” requiring repairs, but no city-wide power outage.

Satisfied with his progress, Tesla left for New York in January 1900. Locals expected him to return, and when he did not, he was sued for payment of electricity, water, and the caretaker’s back wages. When Tesla refused to pay, his laboratory was sold to C.E. Maddocks who planned to use the lumber to build his new house. A short time later, “27 cases of goods and 10 coils of copper wire” were auctioned off.

Submitted by Leah Davis Witherow, CSPM Curator of History

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Additional Sources:

  • Book: My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla by Nikola Tesla
  • Book: Nikola Tesla: Colorado Springs Notes 1899-1900 by Nikola Tesla
  • Book: Lightning in His Hand the Life Story of Nikola Tesla by Inez Hunt and Wanetta W. Draper
  • Book: Tesla: The Modern Sorcerer by Daniel Blair Steven
  • Children’s Book: Nikola Tesla for Kids: His Life, Ideas, and Inventions, with 21 Activities by Amy M. O’Quinn
  • Video: “Nikola Tesla – Engineer & Inventor” by Biography, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xP76q3quHb0
  • Video: “The Tesla Files: The Colorado Experiment” by History, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIyBOpfgc7U
  • Website: “Tesla: Life and Legacy – Colorado Springs” by PBS, https://www.pbs.org/tesla/ll/ll_colspr.html