ported, Tesla’s neighbors witnessed “all sorts of lightning . . . from the tall tower. . . . For a time the air was fi lled with blinding streaks of electricity which seemed to shoot o ff into the darkness on some mysterious errand. Th e display continued until after midnight.” Wh en asked to explain these fl ashes, Tesla replied, “It is true that some of them have had to do with wireless telegraphy” and that if the local people “had been awake instead of asleep, at other times [they] would have seen even stranger things. Some day, but not at this time, I shall make an announcement of something that I never once dreamed of.” 39 THE WIRELESS SPECULATIVE BUBBLE So why did Morgan decide to stop supporting Tesla in 1903 ? If Mor- gan had provided the Wizard with perhaps another $ 100 , 000 —the
the dark tower © 347 cost of one Old Master painting—Tesla could have tested his ideas, and the patents he had assigned to Morgan might have become highly valuable. 40 Morgan could have pro fi tably sold or licensed these pat- ents to someone else who could exploit this technology commercially. Morgan certainly did not need an elaborate reason for refusing to continue to support Tesla. He had already sunk $ 150 , 000 into the project and Tesla had promised in late 1900 to span the Atlantic in six to eight months and the Paci fi c a year later. Two and a half years had now elapsed, Marconi had transmitted across the Atlantic, and Tesla had yet to provide any sort of demonstration of his system. Morgan could have easily concluded that Tesla was not a good risk. Th e explanation most frequently o ff ered for Morgan’s decision to withdraw his support from Tesla was that Morgan had become con- cerned that Tesla had no plan for making money from wireless power and that he intended to give the power away for free. Perhaps the most colorful version of this story comes from Andrija Puharich, an inventor and physician who conducted research in parapsychology: “Now, I always got this second hand; you won’t fi nd it anywhere in print, but Jack O’Neill gave me this information as the o ffi cial biogra- pher of Nikola Tesla. He said that Bernard Baruch told J. P. Morgan, ‘Look, this guy is going crazy. Wh at he is doing is, he wants to give free electrical power to everybody and we can’t put meters on that. We are just going to go broke supporting this guy.’ And suddenly, over- night, Tesla’s support was cut o ff , the work was never fi nished.” 41 As we have seen, Tesla emphasized in his letters to Morgan how he would use Wardencly ff e for communications and that he intended to make money by manufacturing and selling receivers. Th ough Tesla was ex- cited about the prospect of transmitting power, his letters reveal that he knew that this was the harder idea to sell to Morgan.
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- Spring '16
- Dr. Peter Van Cleave