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Margaret Cheney
Tesla Biographer
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Why I Wrote About Tesla

In school I never heard of Tesla at all. And when I did hear about him, I was intrigued by the mystery about him. There are several reasons why Tesla is not well known. One was that he was a man who never married and had children. He never worked for universities or for corporations. He was very independent. And he was so far ahead of his time, so much a visionary, that his contemporary scientists really didn't understand what he was doing. The Smithsonian Institution has never adequately credited Tesla for his invention of radio. They have tended to call Marconi the "father of radio," and they have tended to give Edison credit for Tesla's work in alternating current, although Edison didn't work in that area at all. So, there are many reasons why we have not learned as much as we should about Tesla.


His childhood made him an extremely intense student at a very early age because his older brother, who was thought to be a genius, died when Tesla was about five years old. As a result he always felt that his parents missed this older son and he had to work extremely hard to make them appreciate him.

When he was a very young child, he developed certain talents related to introspection such a pre-visioning and intuitiveness. Tesla had this tremendous power to visualize things. He felt that thought could be photographed ultimately. He believed we would develop ways to see thought and that people would communicate with their thoughts.

One of Tesla's delightful ideas as a child was to build a circle around the earth at the equator and then remove the scaffolding... so that the circle would orbit at the same speed as earth itself. The idea was that you could climb up and get on this and ride around the whole world in one day.

Tesla certainly did have some strange illnesses as a young man. He went through a period of hypersensitivity to sound and feelings. He could hear a fly land in the next room, so he claimed, and if a train passed, it jarred him terribly. They finally put his bed on rubber cushions.


Tesla did have some very strange eating habits. He always sat at the same table in the dining room at the Waldorf Astoria or whichever hotel he was able to afford to stay at. He would sit down and the waiter would bring him 18 napkins and he would start polishing his silver and glasses and plates with them, although of course they were immaculate. He had a terrific fear of germs, a compulsion about them. The reason he had 18 napkins was because that was a number divisible by 3, and 3 was the magic number. When he started doing something such as starting to walk around the block he had to go all the way around. If he started anything, like reading a book, he had to read all the author's books.

He had so many phobias that he couldn't have had close relationships with women. He didn't like most of the jewelry that they wore or the perfume, and he couldn't bear to touch hair. In fact, he didn't like to shake hands.

The Mystique of Tesla

Well, Tesla is an endlessly fascinating personality. He seemed to think that anything people could conceive they would be able to achieve. So I think that what his story gives us is a sense of endless possibilities—especially with electricity.

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