Tesla arrived in Colorado, he was impressed by the frequent lightning storms
in the area and he noticed that during these storms the ground became
electrically charged. Tesla became convinced that the secret to
broadcasting power was not the upper atmosphere, but the Earth itself.
He believed that the planet was filled with electrical "vibrations"
and that it wasn't even necessary to build up a charge in the Earth
like a battery, but rather to simply send vibrations out from a single
source. These would send electrical waves throughout the world
that could be tapped with equal intensity anywhere simply by sticking
a wire in the ground. It was also supposed to be able to power
aeroplanes, but as to how it was going to do that Tesla was a teeny
Tesla's experiments at Colorado Springs were
nothing if not spectacular. When he cranked up his apparatus for
the first time there were electrical discharges, a hundred feet long,
claps of thunder that could be heard fifteen miles away, and one dead
generator at the local power plant, which Tesla managed to burn out
and had to repair for free. For nine months he continued to try
to create broadcast power, but with very little to show for it.
He was reported to have lit a string of lights at a distance and nearly
electrocuted a few horse through their iron horseshoes, though this
was most likely due to good old-fashioned ground conductivity.
In the end, he achieved a new scale in high voltage experiments, he
may have created ball lightning, he may have observed ELF waves, he
may even have recorded radio waves from space, but he certainly took
his investors for a soaking.
In 1900, Tesla
convinced J.P. Morgan to sink $150,000 in what Morgan thought was an
improvement on wireless telegraphy. Tesla had pitched to Morgan
the idea of a "World System" that would link together the four corners
of the globe in an information system that would make the Internet
look like two cans and a bit of string. It would allow audio
transmissions as well as Morse. It would perfect television.
It would synchronise all the world's stock tickers. It would
regulate all the world's clocks and watches. It would carry
telephony over any distance. It would provide governments with
perfectly secure communications. Handwritten documents,
drawings, and photographs could be transmitted instantly. It
would provide pinpoint navigation. It would control machines
What it did on its days off was left to the
What Tesla had not revealed to Morgan was that his
World System wasn't really a communication network, but an improvement
on his broadcast power scheme. Communication was just the gravy
for the electrical pot roast. With his new system Tesla expected
to broadcast power to any point of on the globe; this time by turning
the Earth into a giant condenser with the ionosphere as one plate and
the ground as the other connected by electric channels formed by
gigantic ultraviolet lamps beaming upwards. Or not.
Tesla's notes aren't very clear and he seems to have been vacillating
between three different theories as he went along. Since he was
by now dreaming of using his broadcast power to control the weather
and abolish war, perhaps it's just as well that he kept
practical-minded Morgan in the dark.
By 1901, Tesla was building his power broadcaster
at Wardenclyffe out on Long Island in New York State, which Tesla
envisioned as the centre of a great industrial community tending his
device. Next to his new laboratory rose a huge tower topped by a
fifty-ton steel sphere that was the heart of his transmitter.
Unfortunately for Tesla, he grossly overestimated
his ability to build his installation on what little money he could
raise. When he went back to Morgan for more, he had the bad
judgment to reveal to Morgan the true purpose of his World System and
added to his lack of foresight by explaining to the great financier
that his system would turn the world into one gigantic brain of
godlike intelligence. Needless to say, Morgan did not fork over
any more gelt and in 1905 Wardenclyffe was sold off to pay Tesla's
$20,000 in hotel bills at the Waldorf Astoria. Tesla never
abandoned his dreams of revolutionising the world with his system, but investors were becoming much more wary of him and nothing
came of it.
One question is, how did Tesla think that his system would fit in
with the development of atomic power? Not much. Tesla
regarded atomic power as purest nonsense. Don't be ridiculous;
won't ever happen.