Happy birthday to electrical pioneer and futurist Nikola Tesla, who was born on this day in 1856.
From the 1890s through 1906, Tesla spent a great deal of his time and fortune on a series of projects trying to develop the transmission of electrical power without wires. It was an expansion of his idea of using coils to transmit power that he had been demonstrating in wireless lighting. He saw this as not only a way to transmit large amounts of power around the world but also, as he had pointed out in his earlier lectures, a way to transmit worldwide communications.
At the time Tesla was formulating his ideas, there was no feasible way to wirelessly transmit communication signals over long distances, let alone large amounts of power. Tesla had studied radio waves early on, and came to the conclusion that part of existing study on them, by Hertz, was incorrect. Also, this new form of radiation was widely considered at the time to be a short-distance phenomenon that seemed to die out in less than a mile.Tesla noted that, even if theories on radio waves were true, they were totally worthless for his intended purposes since this form of “invisible light” would diminish over distance just like any other radiation and would travel in straight lines right out into space, becoming “hopelessly lost”.
By the mid-1890s, Tesla was working on the idea that he might be able to conduct electricity long distance through the Earth or the atmosphere, and began working on experiments to test this idea including setting up a large resonance transformer magnifying transmitter in his East Houston Street lab. Seeming to borrow from a common idea at the time that the Earth’s atmosphere was conductive, he proposed a system composed of balloons suspending, transmitting, and receiving, electrodes in the air above 30,000 feet (9,100 m) in altitude, where he thought the lower pressure would allow him to send high voltages (millions of volts) long distances.