Tesla's Secrets:
So What Exactly Were They?:
A List
2011 W.Beaty

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
Status: known

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
Status: lost

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 that one of his (narrow tuned?) VLF receivers would turn slowly on and off as a thunderstorm retreated across the landscape. If this was an example of Earth Resonance, then every thunderstorm 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. Mind you this isn't CW, but would be detected as a "ding;" an exponential audible note after each storm discharge. Have VLF hobbyists not searched for these? Maybe they were detected, but dismissed as tank-circuit ringing, and nobody ever noticed the slow periodic change in proportion to storm distance. This should appear in the 100-mSec window after each lightning-strike EMP. (Hmmm, while necessarily ignoring the few-uSecs of direct signal. And, would a spectrum-plot show a modulation; the periodic Schumann modes across the frequency-domain? And so be a precise detector of lightning distance from the receiving antenna?!!)

3. Tesla's Magnifying Transmitter
Status: known? lost?

The Tesla-coil hobbyist community believes they know what constitutes a Magnifying Transmitter.

They agree that it's simply a 3-coil tesla coil: a close-coupled transformer driving the ground wire of 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 coils 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 couldn't the added ionizers 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 constitute a novel and unpatented invention: a Magnifying Transmitter rather than just a much larger but otherwise familiar 3-coil tesla coil.

Tesla himself stated that the Magnifying Transmitter functioned via conduction and not by "Hertzian" radiation. For him, radio was an unwanted loss mechanism. His goal was to break down the atmosphere above the tower and so inject kilo-amperes into the Earth and the Ionosphere. Experts seem to assume that this would be done by Maxwell Displacement Current, where the strong e-field from the metal dome might produce a glow-discharge in the near-vacuum many miles above. But instead, could Tesla have been producing direct breakdown; a guided vertical glow discharge many KM tall?

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 these. When successful, he observed something unique: some 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 rises as V^2 or voltage squared. Double the voltage and you get 4X the net field energy in the surrounding space. So, on a V/I graph of air characteristic breakdowns, any observed discharges will be *much* further out on the voltage axis of the plot of spark phenomenon. If a coil is in full operation without streamers, then when 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 machine" theatrical coils, 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. Brief experimentation with an analogous circuit showing 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's 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 squarewave 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 to fire early; phase-locking with one of the resonant overtones. If true, then 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 by using the entire Earth as a small tank circuit, 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
Status: lost

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
Status: lost

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 aircraft 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 an antenna tower 5KM tall, sticking up out of your car's trunk. 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 some major wattage 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 baseloads 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'd long been planning to send megawatts to ships at sea. It wasn't Earth Resonance. It wasn't Radio. 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 the 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, turning the stratosphere into a giant neon sign. 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 shining down. (Hmmm, but the Wardenclyffe tower in the artwork does not produce a vertical ray!)

When questioned by a reporter (possibly O'Neil,) Tesla refused to give any details about any of this. The reporter then said it was obvious that ultraviolet 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 an arc-lighting and searchlight expert, patented and sold 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 (carbon?) 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
Status: known

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
Status: known?

11. Flying Platform (in artist conception, and 3rd-hand story told by grandson of eyewitness in Colorado Springs)
Status: lost

12. New Source of Energy
Status: lost

Tesla repeatedly mentioned "electrical energy in unlimited amounts?" And mankind should be thankful that it exists? He never revealed what this was.

13. A single invention which explains all of the above
Status: lost

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 hw was 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, Fire, Gunpowder, 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 himself. 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 make warfare 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. In our world 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.


BILLB Articles:


Created and maintained by Bill Beaty. Mail me at: .

 * The widespread internet scam "Tesla's Secret" doesn't count.  
   Neither do all the con artists and crackpots who claim to know Tesla's Big Secret.


View My Stats