Light and other High Frequency Phenomena. A lecture delivered before the National Electric Light Association at its Sixteenth Convention held at St. Louis, MO, February 28th, March 1st and 2d, 1893.

[New York: James Kempster Printing Company for the National Electric Light Association, 1893].

First edition, extremely rare offprint, inscribed by Tesla to the great American astronomer George Ellery Hale, of this famous lecture. “At St. Louis [Tesla] made the first public demonstration ever of radio communication, although Marconi is generally credited with having achieved this feat in 1895” (Cheney, p. 68). “What Tesla described in this lecture should be taken to be the foundation of radio engineering” (Sarkar, p. 271). By virtue of this 1893 lecture, Tesla was recognized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers as discovering radio: “In a lecture-demonstration given in St. Louis in the same year – two years before Marconi’s first experiments – Tesla also predicted wireless communication; the apparatus that he employed contained all the elements of spark and continuous wave that were incorporated into radio” (Pratt, p. 1107). Tesla also anticipated in this lecture the 1902 discovery of the ionosphere by Heaviside and its use for radio propagation (Seifer, p. 105). “He was an inventor, an engineer, a scientist and an oddball … more than any one man, Nikola Tesla is responsible for the twentieth century” (Hunt, introduction to Nikola Tesla: My Inventions and Other Writings (2011)). In his speech presenting Tesla with the Edison medal in 1917, B. A. Behrend, Vice President of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, stated: “Were we to seize and eliminate from our industrial world the result of Mr. Tesla’s work, the wheels of industry would cease to turn, our electric cars and trains would stop, our towns would be dark and our mills would be idle and dead. His name marks an epoch in the advance of electrical science.” The offered work is a separately-paginated offprint from the Proceedings of the National Electric Light Association, 1893 (journal pagination 191-302). It was reprinted (in parts) in May-June of the same year in Electrical Engineer (New York), Electrical Engineer (London), Electrical Review, The Electrician, and Electricity, in July-December in the Journal of the Franklin Institute, and in the following year as Chapter 28 in The Inventions, Writings and Researches of Nikola Tesla, as well as in numerous later publications (in several languages). We know of no other inscribed book or pamphlet of Tesla’s having appeared in commerce, nor of any other copy of this offprint. OCLC lists copies at the American Philosophical Society, Huntington, Library of Congress, Linda Hall, New York Public Library, and New York University (no listings outside US).

Provenance: Inscribed on front wrapper ‘Compliments of the Author’ in Tesla’s hand to George Ellery Hale (Hale’s signature and ink stamp of the Kenwood Astrophysical Observatory in Chicago, of which Hale was director, also on front wrapper). Tesla and Hale met on at least one occasion. In a letter to Hale of June 4, 1908, Tesla wrote: “I have greatly regretted that since our meeting at Chicago years ago, we have never been able to get again together. Your work interests me very much, and I am heartily in sympathy with you” (hale.archives.caltech.edu/islandora/object/hale:19006#page/1/mode/1up). It is surely probable that this meeting was on the occasion of the World’s Fair, held May-October 1893 in Chicago – Tesla also gave a demonstration of his wireless experiments at the Fair and Hale had recently been appointed director of the Kenwood Observatory and professor of astrophysics at the newly founded University of Chicago – and the date of the Exposition suggests that Tesla could have presented this offprint to Hale at that meeting.

“Nikola Tesla was born in Smiljan, Lika [now Croatia] in 1856 as the fourth child of Milutin and Djuka Tesla. His father was a well-educated priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Nikola’s mother was also intelligent and talented and he often said that his mother influenced his life as an inventor. His technical education was limited to two years polytechnic studies at Gratz, Styria [now Austria], where he devoted himself to mathematics, physics and mechanical engineering. From Gratz he went to Prague with the object of completing his scientific education and on philosophical studies at the University. From Prague he went to Budapest to work in a new telephone company. It was there that in 1882 he invented his induction motor and an alternating-current system of power transmission. Seeking better opportunities to find people who were interested in his invention, he accepted a position of electrical engineer for a French company in Paris, where he remained for two years. Another important step in his life was acceptance of the position of designer to build direct current dynamos and motors for the Edison Company in New York, where he arrived in 1884 in hope of finding the “the land of golden promise”. Edison was not interested in Tesla’s alternating currents system and Tesla soon left Edison, after a bitter struggle. In 1885, the Tesla Electric Light Company was formed but Tesla had to work on electric arc light. It was not until he formed the new Tesla Electric Company [that he was able] to realize his inventions and develop working models of motors, generators and transformers. During the years 1887 and 1888 Tesla applied and was granted more than 30 patents for his inventions. In 1888, the American Institute of Electrical Engineers invited Tesla to give a lecture on his work on the alternating-current system. After that lecture Tesla became famous. In 1889 George Westinghouse approached Tesla and soon they completed an agreement for transferring exclusive license of Tesla’s polyphase current patents to the Westinghouse Company … At the beginning of 1892, [Tesla] visited London and Paris talking about his future experiments with alternating currents of high potential and high frequency. He disclosed his new achievements in obtaining better operation of his high frequency spark generator by producing rapid succession of sparks, either by employment of a magnet, simple or multiple air gaps or by various designs of mechanical interrupters. Many of these inventions were later ‘reinvented’ by others without referring to Tesla” (Sarkar, pp. 267-269).

“But before he could get too far along with new experiments, Tesla agreed to lecture again, first before the Franklin Institute [in Philadelphia] on 25 February 1893 and again the following week at the National Electric Light Association in St. Louis. In this lecture, Tesla followed a strategy similar to the one he employed in his performances in London and Paris, offering American audiences both his philosophical musings on the relationship between electricity and light along with sensational demonstrations.

“In St. Louis Tesla lectured at the Exhibition Theatre, which seated four thousand, but the hall was packed to suffocation as another several thousand people crowded in, most of whom came to see Tesla’s spectacular demonstrations. The demand for seats was so great that tickets were being scalped outside the hall for three to five dollars.

“Tesla did not disappoint this huge crowd. In his first demonstration he allowed 200,000 volts to pass through his body; as he described in the published lecture: ‘I now set the coil to work and approach the free terminal with a metallic object [most likely a ball] held in my hand, this simply to avoid burns. As I approach the metallic object to a distance of eight or ten inches, a torrent of furious sparks breaks forth from the end of the secondary wire, which passes through the rubber columns. The sparks cease when the metal in my hand touches the wire. My arm is now traversed by a powerful electric current, vibrating at about the rate of one million times a second. All around me the electrostatic force makes itself felt, and the air molecules and particles of dust flying about are acted upon and are hammering violently against my body. So great is this agitation of particles, that when the lights are turned out you may see streams of feeble light appear on some parts of my body. When such a streamer breaks out on any part of the body, it produces a sensation like the pricking of a needle. Were the potentials sufficiently high and the frequency of vibration rather low, the skin would probably be ruptured under the tremendous strain, and the blood would rush out with great force in the form of fine spray or jet so thin as to be invisible … I can make these streams of light visible to all, by touching with the metallic object one of the terminals as before, and approaching my free hand to the brass sphere [connected to the coil’s other terminal] … [T]he air … is more violently agitated, and you see streams of light now break forth from my fingertips and from the whole hand … The streamers offer no particular inconvenience, except that in the ends of the finger tips a burning sensation is felt’ [the offered work, pp. 36-37].

“In the rest of the lecture, Tesla reviewed systematically the different means by which electricity could produce light using effects based on electrostatics, impedance, resonance, and high frequencies. Waving differently shaped tubes in the strong electromagnetic field created by his oscillating transformer, Tesla produced ‘wonderfully beautiful effects … the light of the whirled tube being made to look like the white spokes of a wheel of glowing moonbeams.’ Near the end of the performance, Tesla held up in his hand one of the phosphorescent bulbs and announced that he would illuminate this lamp by touching his other hand to his oscillating transformer. When this lamp burst into light, recalled Tesla, the audience was so startled that ‘there was a stampede in the two upper galleries and they all rushed out. They thought it was some part of the devil’s work, and ran out. That was the way my experiments were received’ …

“Although Tesla’s 1893 lecture covered many of the same topics as his previous lectures, what was new was that Tesla outlined for the first time his hopes for wireless transmission” (Carlson, pp. 176-178).

Tesla began his discussion of wireless transmission with a prescient prediction of the necessity of developing renewable energy sources. “Looking at the world around him, Tesla realized that it was a finite place and that the natural resources which gave humans the fuel to produce electricity would eventually run out. ‘What will man do when the forests disappear, when the coal deposits are exhausted?’ he asked … ‘Only one thing, according to our present knowledge, will remain: that is to transmit power at great distances. Man will go to the waterfalls, [and] to the tides’ [p. 13]. Tesla speculated that these, unlike coal and oil reserves, are replenishable.

“Having set up the premise that it could be possible to derive inexhaustible amounts of energy with properly constructed equipment, that is, ‘to attach our engines to the wheelwork of the universe,’ Tesla described, for the first time ever, his invention of wireless transmission. Cloaking his true goals in more palatable language, he announced, ‘I … firmly believe that it is practicable to disturb by means of powerful machines the electrostatic conditions of the earth and thus transmit intelligible signals and perhaps power.’ Taking into consideration the speed of electrical impulses, with this new technology, ‘all … ideas of distance must … vanish,’ as humans will be instantaneously interconnected. ‘First we must know what capacity the earth is, and what charge it contains.’ Tesla also speculated that the earth was ‘probably a charged body insulated in space’ and thus has a ‘low capacity.’ The upper strata, much like the vacuum created in his Geissler tubes, would probably be an excellent medium for transmitting impulses [p. 76]. We see here the precursor to the discovery by Heaviside and Kennelly of the ionosphere …

“With pure resonance, Tesla suggested, wires become unnecessary since impulses can be ‘jumped’ from sending device to receiver. Naturally the receiving instruments would have to be tuned to the frequency of the transmitter. ‘If ever we can ascertain at what period the earth’s charge, when disturbed [or] oscillates with respect to an oppositely electrified system or known circuit, we shall know a fact possible of the greatest importance to the welfare of the human race’ [p. 76]” (Seifer, pp. 105-107).

Tesla’s demonstration of wireless transmission in the St. Louis lecture was described in 1976 by William Broughton, as told to him by his father H. P. Broughton, who had been Tesla’s assistant at the lecture. “On the auditorium stage a demonstration was set up by using two groups of equipment. In the transmitter group on one side of the stage was a 5-kva high-voltage pole-type oil-filled distribution transformer connected to a condenser bank of Leyden jars, a spark gap, a coil, and a wire running up to the ceiling. In the receiver group at the other side of the stage was an identical wire hanging from the ceiling, a duplicate condenser bank of Leyden jars and coil – but instead of the spark gap, there was a Geissler tube that would light up like a modern fluorescent lamp bulb when voltage was applied. There were no interconnecting wires between transmitter and receiver. The transformer in the transmitter group was energized from a special electric power line through an exposed two-blade knife switch. When this switch was closed, the transformer grunted and groaned, the Leyden jars showed corona sizzling around their foil edges, the spark gap crackled with a noisy spark discharge, and an invisible electromagnetic field radiated energy into space from the transmitter antenna wire. Simultaneously, in the receiver group, the Geissler tube lighted up from radio-frequency excitation picked up by the receiver antenna wire. Thus wireless was born. A wireless message had been transmitted by the 5-kilowatt spark transmitter, and instantly received by the Geissler tube receiver thirty feet away” (Cheney, p. 68). Tesla’s account of this demonstration in the published lecture is illustrated with a diagram (Fig. 21) showing how to set up the aerials, receivers, transmitter, and ground connection.

“Although the St. Louis demonstration was no ‘message sent round the world’ as Tesla would doubtless of course have preferred it to be, he had nevertheless demonstrated all the fundamental principles of modern radio: 1. An antenna or aerial wire; 2. A ground connection; 3. An aerial-ground circuit containing inductance and capacity; 4. Adjustable inductance and capacity (for tuning); 5. Sending and receiving sets tuned to resonance with each other; and 6. Electronic tube detectors” (Cheney, p. 69).

Some of Tesla’s contemporaries found the idea of wireless transmission too speculative and worried that what they saw as his far-fetched claims might discourage investors in Tesla’s polyphase AC system. “In Tesla’s autobiography, written a quarter of a century later, the inventor informs the reader that there was such opposition to his discussion of wireless telegraphy at that time that ‘only a small part of what I had intended to say was embodied [in the lecture] … This little salvage from the wreck has earned me the title ‘Father of the Wireless’.’ Tesla stated that it was Joseph Wetzler [editor of Electrical Engineer] who told him to deemphasize his work in wireless in this lecture. Wetzler probably edited out a number of key passages which, in the long run, could have helped Tesla establish more easily his priorities in the field” (Seifer, p. 107).

“In developing his 1893 system, ‘using a single or no wire for electrical energy transmission’, Tesla was slowed down because of many other side activities, such as the inauguration of the polyphase system built by George Westinghouse at the World Fair in Chicago, which opened to the public from May 1, 1893 till October 30, 1893. At this fair, Tesla had his own stand showing his inventions in the area of low and high frequency currents … On March 13, 1895 Tesla’s laboratory in South Fifth Avenue [New York] was burned, and that stopped his research in the field of high frequency currents for some time” (Sarkar, p. 272). It was not until 1897 that Tesla filed his first patents for wireless transmission.

“The scientist who, next to Tesla, most deserved credit for pioneering radio was Sir Oliver Lodge, for in 1894 he demonstrated the possibility of transmitting telegraph signals wirelessly by Hertzian waves a distance of 150 yards. Two years later, young Marchese Guglielmo Marconi arrived in London with a wireless set identical to Lodge’s … He [had] a ground connection and antenna or aerial wire with which he had made crude experiments in Bologna. As it happened, this equipment was exactly what Tesla had described in his widely published lecture in 1893, which had been translated into many languages. Later … Marconi was to deny that he had ever read of Tesla’s system, and the US Patent Examiner was to brand his denial patently absurd” (Cheney, p. 69).

“On September 2, 1897 Tesla filed the patent application No. 650,343, subsequently granted as patent No. 645,576 of March 20, 1900 and patent No. 649,621 of May 15, 1900. The two patents by which Tesla protected his system and apparatus for wireless transmission are known as ‘system of four tuned circuits’. This fact is particularly important in the history of radio. They were the subject of a long lawsuit brought by the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America against the United States of America, alleging that they have used wireless devices that infringed on Marconi patent No. 763,772 of June 28, 1904 … After 25 years, the United States Supreme Court on June 21, 1943 invalidated the fundamental American radio patent of Marconi No. 763,772 … The Supreme Court cited Tesla’s system in its deliberations:

The Tesla patent No. 645,576, applied for September 2, I897 and allowed March 20, 1900, disclosed a four circuit system, having two circuits each at transmitter and receiver, and recommended that all four circuits be tuned to the same frequency. Teslas apparatus was devised primarily for transmission of energy of any form of energy-consuming device by using the rarefied atmosphere at high elevations as a conductor when subjected to the electrical pressure of a very high voltage. But he also recognized that his apparatus could, without change, be used for wireless communication, which is dependent upon the transmission of electrical energy. His specifications declare: ‘The apparatus which I have shown will obviously have many other valuable uses – as, for instance, when it is desired to transmit intelligible messages to great distances …’” (Sarkar, pp. 274-275).

“Having become obsessed with the wireless transmission of energy, around 1900 Nikola set to work on his boldest project yet: to build a wireless global communication system – to be transmitted through a large electrical tower – for sharing information and providing free electricity throughout the world. With funding from a group of investors that included financial giant J. P. Morgan, in 1901 Tesla began work on the project in earnest, designing and building a lab with a power plant and a massive transmission tower on Long Island, New York, that became known as Wardenclyffe. However, doubts arose among his investors about the plausibility of Tesla’s system. As his rival, Guglielmo Marconi – with the financial support of Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison – continued to make great advances with his own radio technologies, Tesla had no choice but to abandon the project … Two years later Tesla declared bankruptcy … Poor and reclusive, Nikola Tesla died on January 7, 1943, at the age of 86, in New York City, where he had lived for nearly 60 years” (Hunt).

Tesla was the first to publish the idea of radio communication, but it was Marconi who successfully commercialized it and was rewarded with the Nobel Prize in Physics 1909, shared with Karl Ferdinand Braun “in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy.” A persistent rumour is that Edison and Tesla were to be jointly awarded the 1915 Prize but that each refused to share it with the other and so neither received it (the 1915 Prize was actually awarded to the Braggs, father and son).

The recipient of this offprint, George Ellery Hale (1868-1938), was an American astronomer, best known for his discovery of magnetic fields in sunspots, and as the key figure in the planning or construction of several world-leading telescopes: namely, the 40-inch refracting telescope at Yerkes Observatory, the 60-inch Hale reflecting telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory, the 100-inch Hooker reflecting telescope at Mount Wilson, and the 200-inch Hale reflecting telescope at Palomar Observatory. In 1890, he was appointed director of the Kenwood Astrophysical Observatory in Chicago, founded by his father William E. Hale. He was professor of astrophysics at the University of Chicago (1892-1905). He also played a key role in developing the California Institute of Technology into a leading research university. He was coeditor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 1892-95, and after 1895 editor of the Astrophysical Journal. In October 1913, Hale received a letter from Albert Einstein, asking whether certain astronomical observations could be made that would test Einstein’s hypothesis concerning the effects of gravity on light. Hale replied in November, saying that such observations could be made only during a total eclipse of the sun. In 1919 F.W. Dyson and A.S. Eddington made observations during a total solar eclipse which verified Einstein’s hypothesis.

Carlson, Tesla. Inventor of the Electrical Age, 2013. Cheney, Tesla. Man Out of Time, 2001. Pratt, ‘Nikola Tesla 1856-1943,Proceedings of the IRE, vol. 44 (1956), pp. 1106-1108. Sarkar et al, History of Wireless, 2006. Seifer, Wizard. The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla. Biography of a Genius, 1998.



Large 8vo (240 x 160 mm), pp. 114, with text illustrations throughout. Original printed wrappers, spine with some wear, front wrapper starting to seperate, preserved in a clamshell box.

Item #4832

Price: $38,500.00