So What Exactly Were They?:
The movie "The Secret of Nikola Tesla" has a strange problem. It doesn't
live up to its name: it doesn't point out any Big Secret. It doesn't even
speculate about the secret. What the hell.
In perusing Tesla literature I find similar problems everywhere.
[*] This isn't about
revealing The Big Secret, or
about trying to figure out The Big Secret. Intead, WHICH SECRET ARE WE
TALKING ABOUT?! Nobody seems to know. It's not the Death Ray; we have the
plans for it and know roughly how it was supposed to work. We know about
Earth Resonance (we just don't know whether the Wardenclyffe device would
have actually worked if completed.)
So, what was Tesla's secret? Did Tesla ever say? Well, yes.
1. Radio Receivers
Tesla had an unknown method of wireless communication, but his project
failed. Much documentation exists though, at least on his radio receiver.
Decades later he discussed his "Guitar string" CW receivers in a legal
deposition. And eventually, after the Beograd Tesla Museum released the
"Colorado Springs Notes," the Corums build his Coherer device. They
found that this was a fairly advanced regenerative radio capable of
picking up unmodulated CW carriers (for Morse code,) as well as being
many orders more sensitive than
any other device at the time. This in 1899! Don't forget, this was
before the invention of vacuum tubes. As a product, it could have easily
taken over the market. I mean, if any famous inventors
had actually decided to manufacture any of the things!
2. "Bullseyes" surrounding thunderstorms
Local standing waves created by lightning?
Atmospheric researchers are apparently clueless about this. Perhaps
modern VLF radio receivers don't actually detect any. Tesla claimed
of his receivers would turn slowly on and off as a thunderstorm retreated
across the landscape. If this was an example of Earth Resonance, then
should be surrounded by a "bullseye shape" of EM standing waves. It would
have to be well below 100KHz, at frequencies where the waves pass around
the Earth multiple times. Have VLF hobbyists not searched for these?
3. Tesla's Magnifying Transmitter
Status: known? lost?
The Tesla-coil hobbyist community believes they know what constitutes a
They agree that it's simply a 3-coil tesla coil: a close-coupled
transformer driving a free-floating "extra coil." Unfortunately Tesla
remained somewhat evasive when revealing details of the Magnifying
Transmitter. Probably it *wasn't* a 3-coil system, since he described it
as a new discovery resulting from his Colorado Springs work, and since
such 3-coil systems were nothing new to him (they'd already appeared in
much older Tesla notes from 1892.)
If the Magnifying Transmitter is not simply a 3-coil Tesla Coil, then
what could it be? Well, the Wardenclyffe tower was Tesla's purported
Magnifying Transmitter. It differed from all other Tesla devices in two
major respects: it contained an extremely extensive grounding system, and
the upper main terminal was designed to include some sort of large glass
globes, ultraviolet sources. Now notice that the extensive grounding
isn't a major break from Tesla's other systems; it's merely a
low-resistance, high-power version of earlier examples. Not a
revolutionary breakthrough, only a difference in size but not in kind.
OK then, what were those large glass globes inside the main terminal?
Those don't appear in other Tesla transmitters. A huge Tesla coil
with a glass sphere at the top is a difference in kind. We can speculate:
those glass globes were placed there to intentionally ionize the
surrounding air. Tesla noted in the CSN that, as his system ran for long
periods, operation became more and more enhanced, presumably caused by a
very extensive cloud of air-ions developing in the environment surrounding
his transmitter. Ionized air is a resistor, therefore an ionized
atmosphere would both behave as a huge added capacitance to the main
terminal, as well as acting like a large-area VLF radio antenna. Perhaps
a sufficiently large ionization region behaves the same as extremely tall
balloon-lofted antenna wires? Intentional ionizers could instantly create
the ion-cloud he described earlier, or at least keep it controllable and
stable. And intentional ionizers could be aimed upwards, thus reducing
any unwanted resistive ion-paths to ground? If so, then some sort of
independently powered ionizers placed inside the main terminal would form
a novel invention: a Magnifying Transmitter rather than just a much larger
but otherwise familiar 3-coil tesla coil.
More Speculation: perhaps the Magnifying Transmitter optimizes a
strange mode of operation Tesla reported in CSN. Tesla did what the
contemporary builders of large Tesla coils never do: he carefully designed
his devices to prevent any "lightning." He wasn't after impressive
streamers, instead he was trying to suppress them. When successful, he
observed something unique: slowly-repeating sudden vertical discharges
which produced sounds resembling gunshots. This phenomenon is actually
predictable, since the output voltage of a silent coil lacking the usual
streamers will rise very much higher than usual, and the stored energy
varies as V^2 or voltage squared. Double the voltage and you get 4X the
net field energy in surrounding space. So, on a V/I graph of air
characteristic breakdowns, any observed discharges will be *much* further
out on the voltage axis. If a coil is in full operation without
streamers, and then the air does finally break down, there should be a
brief discharge of "inconceivable violence" and of unusual length. A
conductive streamer of unusual length will spoil the coil's resonance,
essentially "discharging" the stored oscillation and requiring a
relatively long time to again build up high AC voltage. The discharge
also might take place in much shorter than one resonant cycle ...and
therefore might act as an Electrostatic Machine, depositing DC charge into
the air. None of these effects arise with contemporary "lightning
machines," and perhaps this is the difference between modern tesla coils
versus the so-called "Magnfying Transmitter."
Further on the same topic, Leland Anderson in his book below offers
some diagrams of the Wardenclyffe tower where Tesla includes an "extra
gap;" a spark-gap placed in series with the connection between the final
Extra coil and the large sphere atop the tower.
with an analogous circuit shows that the gap produces an odd effect: it
behaves as an electrostatic square wave generator of extreme voltage.
Slow periodic firing of the gap is observed (actually quite fast, but much
slower than the coil resonance period.) And after each firing, the large
sphere terminal is left with an electrostatic charge of a single polarity.
At the next gap-firing this polarity reverses, so each two sparks
completes a single cycle of the square wave. By increasing the spark gap
distance, the square wave frequency can be adjusted lower. Possibly this
is how Tesla intended to step down the frequency of the main coil to match
Earth resonance frequencies well below 20KHz. An added benefit is that
the gap firing time is biased by external e-fields, and any returning
Earth-resonance waves should cause the gap-firing to phase-lock with one
of the resonant overtones. With ease Tesla could have produced any output
frequency between the coil's natural resonance, all the way down to 8Hz
global fundamental note. And the transmission frequency would have
adapted itself to lie directly at the peak of one of the many
slowly-wandering Earth resonance lines.
So, possibly a "Magnifying Transmitter" is actually a tesla coil
modified to produce DC electrostatic output having slowly reversing
polarity, and which naturally syncs to one of the absorption lines of
the Earth (Earth as treated as an enormous RF cavity resonator.)
"Nikola Tesla On His Work With Alternating Currents and Their Application
to Wireless Telegraphy, Telephony, and Transmission of Power," 2002,
Leyland Anderson ed. 21st Century Books
4. Lab trick: Glowing Human
Status: probably lost
Eyewitnesses report that in a darkened room, Tesla could cover himself
with glowing electrical fire. Yet if we sit atop a modern Tesla coil,
lightning bolts only shoot out of our fingers (better wear some
thimbles on fingertips to avoid burns.) No 'fire' covering your body.
Just the usual expected plasma streamers. How did
Tesla do it? Were the eyewitness' stories and newspaper illustrations
just a distortion? Yet it seems easy for someone to describe the difference
between "shoots lightning bolts from fingers," verus "whole body covered
with glowing discharge."
5. Lab trick: Room Lighting Without Bulbs
During one public event at Tesla's NYC lab, reporters say that the lab
was well lit, but without any obvious sources of light. This may have
been a Tesla secret now lost. Or it could have been a simple trick.
Tesla was known to have run his labs on fluorescent tube/globe lighting.
Maybe he had some sort of recessed lightning fixtures that news reporters
didn't recognize. Or maybe the fringe community is right, and Tesla could
light up a room with some glows from THE VERY AIR ITSELF HA HAAAAAAA! :)
(Hmmm, but would that not create choking clouds of ozone? O3 is like
carbon monoxide and cyanide: it takes over your hemoglobin and gives you
bad headaches. Mad scientist must need invent a way of ionizing the air,
but using a voltage so low that it created only air ions but no ozone or
any nitride chemistry! ha haaaaa.)
6. Driving EM energy into the Earth Resonance
Today we know about Schumann Earth Resonance. But we haven't found any
simple inexpensive way to transmit power on those frequencies. The
transmitter antenna is the problem. The military uses kilowatt VLF for
communicating with submarines, but they employ miles-long antennas dragged
behind airplanes or spread across entire midwestern states. If you wanted
to power your car or your house with Tesla Broadcast Power, you can't use
a Receiver which requires a 5mi antenna tower sticking up out of your
Yet Tesla thought he'd discovered the answer to this at the Colorado
Springs lab. He started out with antennas lifted by balloons, but then
dropped the idea and used something else. And he apparently imagined that
his Wardenclyffe tower would transmit on Schumann frequencies (well below
17KHZ, with wavelength well above 17 kilometers.) Was he just crackpot?
Or did he discover a secret method for antenna-less broadcasts and
antennaless receivers, a secret now lost? Electrically short antennas with
high-Q resonant base-loads do supply one part of the answer, and resonator
coils cooled with liquid nitrogen can help. Tesla discussed using both.
But these don't provide the secret to global megawatt power transmissions.
So ...see below.
7. Broadcast power to run ship engines
Status: some clues
In much later decades Tesla broke silence on how he planned to
megawatts to ships at sea. It wasn't Earth Resonance. It wasn't
Instead he was going to place some sort of "beam generator" on each ship,
and another at the transmitter on land. Aimed vertically, these beams
would cause electrical breakdown of the atmosphere within the beam: a
vertical lightning bolt or a columnar glow-discharge. The natural
conductivity of the ionosphere and the ocean would then complete the
circuit. It would be "wireless" power, but only in the sense that a neon
sign is "wireless" (since there is no metal filament inside the neon sign,
only a conductive path through glowing gases.)
His scheme was basically the same as his earlier idea for lighting up
night sky above cities via artifical ionospheric aurora: just connect the
sky to a pair of conductive pathways, then dump high voltage into the
circuit. Here is an
image from a later inventor, TW Benson, in
March 1920, Electrical Experimenter Magazine.
Compare it to one
of Tesla's, taking careful note
of the dirigible with the two beams: one shining upwards, one
When questioned by a reporter (possibly O'Neil,) Tesla refused to give
any details about this. The reporter then said it was obvious that
spotlights could be used to provide the ionized pathways. Tesla then said
something to the effect of "please make it clear to your readers that this
idea is your own speculation." So it sounds like Tesla was already aware
of the fact that UV-spotlights don't work, and he'd worked out some other
secret solution. (Note that Tesla apparently had been a searchlight
carbon arclight designs in his first private company, and provided the
huge spotlight for the Westinghouse exhibit at Columbian Exposition.)
"I will confess that I was disappointed when I first made tests along
this line on a large scale. They did not yield practical results. At the
time I used about 8,000,000 to 12,000,000 volts of electricity. As a
source of ionizing rays I employed a powerful arc reflected up into the
sky. At the time I was trying only to connect a high tension current and
the upper strata of the air, because my pet scheme for years has been to
light the ocean at night." N. Tesla, 1935
8. Secure Comms
Part of his "World System" involved jam-proof non-interceptable
communications, where transmitters and receivers behaved as combination
locks with twenty number-dials, and listening in was impossible without
the unguessable code. But this was no secret; one of his patents was for
a clockwork-driven spread-spectrum system using frequency hopping. Tesla
named this invention "Wave-Complex," and one prototype he called the
"Static Eliminator." Like FM radio, freq-hopping eliminates static, since
as Tesla specifically stated, natural sources of interference cannot
duplicate the complicated pattern of N frequencies employed by
transmitter and receiver. However, in later decades Tesla discussed this
switched-capacitor freq-hopping method, and hinted that he and one other
physicist were working on a different method to accomplish the same.
Since Wardenclyffe failed, we never had a chance to find out what this
other method was.
9. Fluorescent lighting panels
10. Flying Machine
11. Flying Platform (in artist conception, and 3rd-hand story
told by grandson of eyewitness in Colorado Springs)
12. New Source of Energy
Tesla repeatedly mentioned "electrical energy in unlimited amounts?"
And mankind should be thankful that it exists? He never revealed what
13. A single invention which explains all of the above
Pure speculation, but informed by decades of Tesla-watching. "The
Secret" could be a single fundamental breakthrough. During his European
lecture tour, Tesla reported a vast
insight when almost struck by lightning during a mountain hike near his
childhood town. What did he see? And why didn't he say?
ANALOGY: What if
Tesla had invented the gas laser, and kept it secret? He then could have
accomplished all sorts of miracles and wonders. If the device was never
re-discovered, then long after he was gone, we'd all still be scratching
our heads. That, or we'd be laying on the snarkiness, and accusing
eyewitnesses to his demonstrations of being delusional. Or suppose a
20,000BC neolithic Tesla had been keeping back the secret of the Wheel, or
Fire, or any of the great breakthroughs? He could give little hints,
possibly use it to play as tribal shaman and screw with people's minds.
And then he'd sadly let it remain unreleased, since we poor sinners would
certainly use such a major breakthrough for destructive purposes.
My bet is on the above: a single breakthrough now lost. Tesla
invented Fire (well, Fire-II.) Also the Wheel. And the laser, the
transistor, all of
them wrapped up in a single invention. And then to avoid being chained to
a peak and having his liver daily torn out by eagles, he kept it to
Tesla's behavior has all the earmarks. I strongly suspect that he
stumbled upon something really gigantic; something with millions of
applications both beneficial and destructive. And then he refused to just
give it away for free to the robber-baron bankers and corporations.
Imagine what society would be like today if the transistor had been
suppressed by its inventors? Or the telegraph? The gasoline engine?
What if we currently did have a bit of electric technology, but there were
no batteries or generators anywhere? ANY of these breakthroughs would
easier, and they might wipe out modern society, so their discoverers could
easily have decided to conceal such
dangerous work and go onto other things. They made them public, but they
easily could have "pulled a Tesla" and remained silent. Now go watch The
Wheel ('Das Rad,' subtitles.)
Tesla's father didn't like that his son wasted all his time in reading,
so first he
forbade it, then after finding Nikola reading after dark, confiscated all
household candles. Tesla proceeded to collect hardened fat, construct his
own candles, and for hours read every night until daybreak with keyholes
and door cracks carefully plugged against light leaks.