From these honored dead – Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a federal holiday set aside to remember the people who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. Whereas Armed Forces Day pays tribute to those currently in service and Veterans Day celebrates those who have served in the past, Memorial Day honors those who died in military service.

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery, across the bridge from the Lincoln Memorial, was established late in the Civil War on land that had previously belonged to Robert E. Lee. It is the most famous and largest national cemetery, but it is only one of 147 official national cemeteries designated to hold the remains of our nation’s military departed. Another in the national capital region is the Annapolis National Cemetery. Illinois hosts the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.

I recently visited the Arlington National Cemetery where I met up with an old friend of sorts. Abraham Lincoln’s eldest son Robert Todd Lincoln is buried in a large above ground tomb. He is the only one of the Lincoln family not buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. Robert had served as a Captain under General Ulysses Grant’s command at the end of the Civil War and was present at Appomattox and met General Robert E. Lee during the surrender. Robert would later serve as Secretary of War under President James Garfield (continuing under President Chester A. Arthur after Garfield’s assassination).

In these current troubling times, it is critical that we use this Memorial Day to honor “those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.” Furthermore, as Lincoln noted in his dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release in summer 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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[Daily Post]

A Little Bit of Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan, South Korea

Like fish? You better if you travel to Busan, South Korea. And the place to be is the Jagalchi Fish Market, the biggest fish market in all of Korea. When I say big, I mean huge. Do not miss it.

Busan (as it has been named officially since 2000 to avoid the unpleasant sound of its original name, Pusan) is South Korea’s second biggest city, weighing in at about 3.6 million people. Sitting on the southeast coastline, Busan is know for its grand beaches, mountainous parks, ancient temples, and, of course, an aquarium.

One of Busan’s biggest attractions is the fish market. Located in the Nampo-dong neighborhood along the waterfront, the rather surprising main building takes up several floors behind a wall of glass. The first floor is lined with row after row of fresh seafood, much of it still alive and waiting to be chosen for tonight’s dinner. The second floor has a restaurant and a dried fish market. Upper floors hold an exhibition room, another restaurant and seafood buffets, and oddly enough, a guesthouse and sky park.

Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan, South Korea

But to me the much more interesting part of the fish market is the one outdoors. Stretching down a narrow lane from the front doors of the building are hundreds of small vendors selling every kind of seafood you can imagine. Some of it is mobile like this octopus (above) that almost made a getaway before being snagged up by the vendor and returned to his not-so-private temporary swimming pool.

Not to be outdone, each vendor tries to lure you into their stand by hyping their specialties – live hagfish, clams, sea cucumbers, whelk, mackerel, pompano, belt fish, skate, lobster, several species of crabs, and some things that I still can’t identify despite my old marine biology training.

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If you don’t want live fish, or those freshly departed, you can find every variety of dried fish and squid to gnaw on. A few stalls sell precooked fish as well. Hungry now? Many of the outdoor stalls have mini-restaurants tucked in behind their display tables where they will be happy to whip up a freshly cooked (and killed) morsel of your choice on the ubiquitous compressed coal open stoves. Don’t know what to order? Choose the pre-made variety dishes for a delicious hot pot. Don’t forget the vegetables (you can buy those here too).

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You can get to Jagalchi by taking Line 1 of the Busan subway system to Jagalchi station. Take Exit 10 and head for the waterfront.

There is so much more to see in the Busan. Stay tuned.

David J. Kent is an avid science traveler and the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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Abraham Lincoln, Nikola Tesla, and Mark Twain Connected in the Arts

No one would mistake Abraham Lincoln for an artist, though scholars give him high marks on his writing. Long before there were speechwriters, politicians wrote their own material, and Lincoln is well known for such memorable speeches as the Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses. He was also a great letter writer, often crafting policy positions in the form of “private” letters that were, in fact, intended for public consumption. His response to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, for example, in which he states his position on emancipation of the slaves, thus preparing the public for the proclamation that he had already prepared but not yet revealed, is a classic of historical writing.

But did you know that our 16th President wrote poetry? Perhaps not on par with Robert Burns (one of his favorite poets), but clever and with great storytelling. Which reminds us that Lincoln is well known for his ability to tell a humorous story.

Nikola Tesla was also fond of poetry. He could recite long classic poems in their entirety, and could do so in several different languages. Tesla’s own writings were perhaps not as succinctly to the point as Lincoln’s but they were often entertaining and fanciful; not an easy task for an electrical engineer writing about cutting edge technical discoveries. Most of our knowledge of his childhood and early adult years come from Tesla’s own autobiographical accounts serialized in the scientific magazines of the day.

Tesla also was a big fan of the writings of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Which gets us to yet another connection between Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla.

Mark Twain in the House

Samuel Clemens, known to most of us by his pseudonym Mark Twain, was born in Hannibal, Missouri on November 30, 1835, shortly after Halley’s Comet had made its regular but rare pass by the Earth. The 26-year-old Abraham Lincoln – an amateur astronomy buff who two years earlier had marveled at the Leonid meteor showers – may very well have been gazing at the skies when Mark Twain came into this world. At that age Lincoln lived in New Salem, Illinois, just a stone’s throw across the Mississippi River from Hannibal. In 1859, Lincoln rode the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad to give a speech in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The railroad just happened to be formed in the office of Mark Twain’s father thirteen years before.

Lincoln floated flatboats down the Mississippi River to New Orleans as a young adult, then took steamboats back upriver. He often piloted steamboats around shoals near his New Salem home. Mark Twain had worked on steamboats on the river for much of his younger years, first as a deckhand and then as a pilot. Being a riverboat pilot gave him his pen name; “mark twain” is “the leadsman’s cry for a measured river depth of two fathoms (12 feet), which was safe water for a steamboat.” In 1883 Twain even titled his memoir, Life on the Mississippi. Lincoln’s time traveling on and piloting steamboats eventually inspired his patent for lifting boats over shoals and obstructions on the river.

Lincoln would not have read any of Mark Twain’s stories (his first, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, was published in 1865, about seven months after Lincoln had been assassinated). But Twain says his humorous writing style was strongly influenced by another pen named-humorist, Artemus Ward, and the Jumping Frog story was published in the New York Saturday Press only because he finished it too late to be included in a book Artemus Ward was compiling. This is the same Artemus Ward that was so often read by Abraham Lincoln to break the tensions of the Civil War.

In fact, Lincoln was so entranced by the humor of Ward that on September 22, 1862 he read snippets from one of Ward’s books to his cabinet secretaries before settling into the business of the day – the first reading of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

Ironically, Mark Twain’s piloting job ended when the Civil War started, as much of the Mississippi River became part of the war zone. So what is a writer/river-boatman to do? Well, join the Confederate army of course. His unpaid service lasted only two weeks in 1861 before disbanding. He then left for Nevada to work for his older brother, out of harm’s way for the rest of the war, though his brief service for the confederacy did give him material for another of his humorous sketches, The Private History of a Campaign That Failed.” Later, Mark Twain would publish the memoirs of Civil War hero and President, Ulysses S. Grant.

Like Lincoln, Mark Twain was very interested in science and technology. Twain actually had three patents of his own, for a type of alternative to suspenders, a history trivia game, and a self-pasting scrapbook. Many years after the Civil War he met and became close friends with Nikola Tesla. Often when he was in New York City Twain would hang out in Tesla’s laboratory. One photo taken only with the light produced by Tesla’s wireless lighting technology shows Mark Twain holding a ball of light.

Mark Twain in Tesla's Laboratory

They became such good friends that Tesla felt comfortable playing a practical joke on him. One day Mark Twain dropped by the lab and Tesla decided to have a little fun. He asked Twain to step onto a small platform and then set the thing vibrating with his oscillator. Twain was thrilled by the gentle sensations running through his body.

“This gives you vigor and vitality,” he exclaimed.

After a short time Tesla warned Twain that he better come down now or risk the consequences.

“Not by a jugfull,” insisted Twain, “I am enjoying myself.”

Continuing to extol on the wonderful feeling for several more minutes Twain suddenly stopped talking. Looking pleadingly at Tesla he yelled:

“Quick, Tesla! Where is it?”

“Right over there,” Tesla responded calmly. Off Twain rushed to the restroom, embarrassed by his suddenly urgent condition. Tesla smiled; the laxative effect of the vibrating platform was well known to the chuckling laboratory staff.

By the way, Mark Twain was also friends with Thomas Edison. And Edison filmed the only footage of Mark Twain currently in existence. The less-than-two-minute-long film would not win any Academy Awards for content or production value – its grainy images show Twain merely walking while smoking his cigar and eating lunch with his two daughters – but it has obvious cultural and historical significance. Mark Twain died the following year, the day after Halley’s Comet returned for the first time since Twain’s birth, in effect, seeing him both into this world and out of it.

[The above is adapted from my e-book, Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate, available for download on Amazon.com.]

Click here for more posts here on Science Traveler about the connections between Lincoln and Tesla.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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Nikola Tesla and the Development of Hydroelectric Power at Niagara Falls

Nature has provided an abundant supply of energy in various forms which might be utilized if proper means and ways can be devised.” – Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its TimeOne of Nikola Tesla’s first professional forays into the power of nature was the development of hydroelectric power at Niagara Falls. The idea of exploiting flowing water to convert potential energy to kinetic energy to mechanical energy has been around for centuries, but during the 1800s it was combined with the new developments in electricity as a means to generate electrical power.

The very first use of hydropower to generate electricity occurred in England in 1870. William George Armstrong created a series of artificial lakes at his estate, Cragside, which allowed him to power small incandescent lamps. By 1880, development of a brush arc light dynamo driven by a water turbine provided for the first use of hydroelectric power in the United States, lighting theater and storefronts in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The world’s first actual hydroelectric plant was small in scale and began operation on September 30, 1882 in Appleton, Wisconsin. Powered by the flow of the Fox River, the plant produced only enough electricity to light the home of Appleton paper manufacturer H.J. Rogers, along with the plant itself and a small nearby building. Not dramatic, but it was a beginning.

To this point, rudimentary hydroelectric power relied solely on direct current systems. But as discussed in Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity, direct current has significant limitations. In contrast, Tesla’s alternating current system was what allowed Niagara Falls to become the biggest and most fundamentally different producer of electricity at that time. Success there changed the future of electricity forever.

Niagara Falls

Tesla statue overlooking Niagara FallsNiagara Falls has been attracting attention since it was first discovered, and for good reason. The Niagara River drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, resulting in some of the most beautiful falls in the world. Niagara Falls actually encompasses three separate waterfalls: American and Bridal Veil Falls on the American side of the border; Horseshoe Falls generally considered to be on the Canadian side (though the actual demarcation is in dispute due to erosion over the years).

Taken together, and with a maximum vertical drop of more than 165 feet, the three falls provide the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world. Horseshoe Falls alone is considered to be the most powerful waterfall in North America as measured by vertical height and rate of flow.

It is not surprising that people were interested in using the Falls to make their lives easier. As far back as 1759 a man by the name of Daniel Joncairs had dug a ditch above the Falls on the American side and used the flowing water to turn a waterwheel that powered a small sawmill. Almost 50 years later, in 1805, two brothers bought the rights to American Falls and used the old ditch to feed water to a gristmill and tannery. They then tried to build a larger canal leading to a reservoir on the cliffs, which would be allowed to flow to the gorge through “turbines connected by belts to industrial machinery.” None of those ideas worked out, and several companies went bankrupt trying to finish the project.

In 1853 the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power & Manufacturing Company was chartered and by 1860 the company had begun construction of a 35-foot wide, 8-foot deep hydraulic canal to transport water from above the Falls to mill sites below the Falls. Delayed by the American Civil War, it would be take another 15 years before the canals were finished and the powerhouse was operational. Initially the plant ran only a single flour mill, but eventually a small generating station was producing enough electricity to light the first direct current lights in the village of Niagara Falls. Then the company went bankrupt.

In 1877, a successful tannery business owner, Jacob Schoellkopf, bought the canal and power rights at Niagara. While previous entrepreneurs had tried to harness the power of the falling water for mechanical energy (e.g., driving mill wheels), Schoellkopf realized the future was in generation of electrical energy. Modifying the existing systems, by 1881 Schoellkopf was providing power to Charles Brush to power “16 electric carbon arc lights” used to illuminate the Falls.

All of this was restricted by the limitations of direct current, which could not transmit more than a mile or two. Growing cities such as Buffalo, only 20 miles away, were unable to get electricity from the power of Niagara. While Schoellkopf’s efforts were a great step forward, something else needed to be done.

Enter Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse

Nikola TeslaThe Schoellkopf Company was eventually absorbed by the Niagara Falls Power Company run by New York financier, and former Edison Electric Company Board member, Edward Dean Adams. By 1889 a subsidiary called the Cataract Construction Corporation was incorporated and financed by heavyweights of the industrial world, including J. Pierpont Morgan, John Jacob Astor, William Vanderbilt, and the company’s president, Edward Dean Adams himself.

While Cataract began building the needed tunnels, Adams was researching the advantages and disadvantages of the well-known direct current vs the still untested alternating current. The company wanted to send electricity great distances, a major deficiency of direct current. Even the great Thomas Edison could not convince Cataract direct current would do the job, so in 1893 Adams opted for an alternating current system. The contract was awarded to the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company.

The key to Westinghouse’s win was none other than Nikola Tesla. In My Inventions, Tesla recalls that he first heard of Niagara Falls when still a boy in his backwoods school. Some mechanical models used by his instructors interested him in the idea of water turbines. After hearing a description of the great Niagara Falls, Tesla “pictured in my imagination a big wheel run by the Falls.” He proclaimed to his uncle that one day he would “go to America and carry out this scheme.”

Suddenly he had that chance. Tesla and Westinghouse had teamed up to win the contract to light up the Chicago World’s Fair – also known as the World Columbian Exposition – which opened May 1, 1893. The success of lighting up “the white city” was so impressive that Cataract quickly awarded the Niagara contract to Westinghouse. Tesla’s patented polyphase alternating current system would power the generators and bring electric lights and power to Buffalo. As somewhat of a consolation prize, Thomas Edison’s General Electric Company was hired to construct the long-distance transmission lines. Edison likely found this demeaning, not to mention ironic, given that his preferred direct current system could not be transmitted long distances and was the reason he lost the coveted Niagara contract in the first place. Edison would largely abandon direct current power plants after Niagara, following along on Tesla’s alternating current success.

Let there be energy

The concept behind gaining energy from the Falls is relatively simple. Potential energy is stored at the top of the Falls and as it drops the energy becomes kinetic. To tap it, some of the water that would go over the Falls is displaced through a long tunnel to turn a series of turbines, which converts the energy into mechanical energy, and that generates electricity.

Completed in 1895, Tesla’s polyphase generator could produce 15,000 horsepower, an unprecedented amount of power at that time. The Westinghouse Company would add seven more generating units to raise that level to 50,000 horsepower. On November 15, 1896, Westinghouse Electric, powered by nine key patents comprising Tesla’s polyphase system, began providing alternating current electricity to the city of Buffalo, twenty miles from the Falls. This achievement…

“…was the first alternating current electrical generating plant built on a large scale in the world. Its success encouraged the international creation of hydroelectric stations, now the most widely used form of renewable energy.”

Courtesy of NMAH Smithsonian InstitutionTesla’s success changed the world, and soon many other power stations would be built at Niagara and elsewhere in the United States. Within ten years hydroelectric plants would provide 15 percent of all the electricity in the U.S.; by 1920 that had reached 25 percent.

Tesla himself only made his first visit to the plant on July 19, 1896. It was his transformers that solved one of the most difficult problems in electrical science, but he was too busy to visit the site. In fact, on March 13, 1895, just as the generators using his technology were about to become operational at Niagara, his New York City laboratory burned to the ground. Rebuilding his equipment, and extracting the theoretical knowledge stored in his head, would keep him occupied for many months. When Tesla did finally find time, he noted that he was “delighted” with his visit to Niagara Falls. After touring “from top to bottom of the power plant,” he added, “You may say it is the greatest and the best, the most thoroughly equipped in the world.” And Tesla was right.

Tesla noted that in addition to Niagara there were many waterfalls that could be tapped for their natural energy. While most people react with awe upon seeing Niagara and the other great waterfalls, Tesla dispassionately focused on the mechanics of how their awesome power could be exploited for the generation of electricity.

“Great waterfalls exist in many inaccessible regions of the globe and new ones are being discovered, all of which will be eventually harnessed when the wireless transmission of energy is commercialized.”

Much credit has to be given to George Westinghouse and his willingness to take the chance on new technologies. Tesla himself was positively effusive about Westinghouse. Thomas Edison, on the other hand, tried to discredit alternating current; he even suggested the wires might be better put to use drying laundry. Another renowned electrician of the time, Charles Proteus Steinmetz, “had a very poor opinion” of Tesla’s induction motor. To Tesla, George Westinghouse was “a genius of the first degree…a man truly great, of phenomenal powers,” and perhaps even more importantly, “undertook to wage a war [based on Tesla’s alternating current technology] against overwhelming odds.” Together, Tesla and Westinghouse’s alternating current won “the war of the currents” over Edison’s direct current. The world still benefits today from that victory each and every time we use the electricity transported long distances to our homes and businesses.

To honor his role in bringing hydroelectric power to Niagara Falls, the main power station would be named after Edward Dean Adams in 1927. Adams would make the cover of Time magazine on May 27, 1929. Nikola Tesla would do the same just over two years later, on July 20, 1931, in celebration of his 75th birthday and a lifetime of achievement. Tesla’s inventions had not only revolutionized electrical generation, they did what he always wanted to do – “harness the forces of nature for the service of mankind.”

[The above is adapted from my e-book, Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time, available on Amazon.com.]

Read other posts on Nikola Tesla here on Science Traveler.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America – The Cover Reveal!

It’s time to reveal the cover design for my new book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America. Drum Roll Please!!

Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America

Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America is scheduled for release on July 31, 2017. It will be available in Barnes and Noble stores nationwide as well as online and as a Nook e-book. Lincoln joins my previous books by the same publisher, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World.

Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America traces Lincoln’s life from his early farming days in Kentucky and Indiana to his adventures on a flatboat down the Mississippi River and his first days struggling on his own in New Salem. The book delves into his time as a lawyer, his life in politics, and his rise to the presidency. We take a look at his loves and family, his evolving views on “the slavery question,” and his desperate fight to save America from its greatest challenge during the Civil War. The book wraps up with Lincoln’s martyrdom and legacy. Read the Prologue here.

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Like Tesla and Edison, Lincoln is filled with period photos, drawings, and other highlights that make the book visually appealing. Reviewers of my previous books have described them as “beautifully illustrated” with “clear, accessible writing.” They have been called “quick to read” and “a fun book” that “appeals to general readers with a wide range of interests” and makes “a perfect gift.”

Check out a few previews for the book and other Lincoln-related stories here on Science Traveler. Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America will be in stores this summer. And if you missed my earlier e-book discussing the incredible connections between Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla, click on the link to download that immediately.

More to come!

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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CPRC In Annapolis

Good day for CPRC-SETAC in Annapolis.

Keynote speaker Tala Henry from EPA giving an update on the new TSCA law.

Tons of great posters.

And scientific research papers.

And a great luncheon (not counting the fire alarm test).

More to go this afternoon.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.

Abraham Lincoln Assassinated on Good Friday. Again.

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated this past Friday, April 14th. Good Friday. That is, 152 years ago he was shot by John Wilkes Booth while Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln were in Ford’s Theatre watching the comedic play, Our American Cousin. The anniversary is commemorated every year but this year took on special significance because April 14th once again coincided with Good Friday, a rare occurrence. By Sunday the martyrdom of Abraham Lincoln had begun, with Lincoln’s memory taking center stage during Easter services. An annual Easter service at the Lincoln Memorial continues to this day.

Back in 1865 the still living but limp body of the fallen president was carried across the street to the Petersen House where he died the next morning, April 15, at 7:22 am. “Now he belongs to the ages,” spoke Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, before spearheading a 12-day chase that ended in the death of the assassin.

All of this is the stuff of history, well known to most everyone. Less well known are some of the fascinating details. For example, as the crowd at the theater slowly came to realize what had happened a cry rang out “Is there a surgeon in the house?” There was, Dr. Charles A. Leale, a recent graduate of Bellevue Hospital Medical College and commissioned as assistant surgeon only six days previously. As luck would have it, Leale was seated in the dress circle of Ford’s Theater that night, mere steps from Lincoln’s box. His quick action likely prolonged Lincoln’s life by several hours, though he couldn’t save him from his ultimate fate. Leale’s clinical report gives us a detailed record of the event.

John Wilkes Booth derringerThe gun used by Booth was a Philadelphia deringer, a small large-bore pistol fired by loading a percussion cap, some black gunpowder, and a lead ball. Since it can only fire a single shot without reloading, Booth dropped the gun on the floor of the box, slashed Major Henry Rathbone with a large knife, then leaped to the stage. The gun now is on display in the museum of Ford’s Theatre.

Into trivia? Here’s something with which you impress your friends. Deringers were made with “rifling,” that is, grooves in the barrel to spin the ball. Unlike most deringers where the rifling creates a clockwise twist, the one used by Booth had rifling that turned counterclockwise. No matter what the twist, the rifling is designed to improve accuracy by creating a more predictable flight of the ball or bullet. Needless to say the direction of rifling was a moot point since Booth shot Lincoln at very close range.

Ah, but what happened to the lead ball? Well, it now sits in a glass case at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland. Along with it are several skull fragments, just in case you’re into “morbid oddities.”

Soon after Lincoln’s demise, long-time admirer Walt Whitman wrote an extended metaphor poem, “O Captain! My Captain!” Whitman lived in Washington during the Civil War and often watched President Lincoln ride by on horseback, later by carriage, to and from his summer living quarters in the Soldier’s Home. It begins:

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Such a sad, yet exalting, eulogy for the fallen President. It has now been 152 years since that fateful day and battles still remain in our desire to form “a more perfect union.” As Lincoln noted in his Gettysburg Address: “It is for us the living…to be dedicated here to the unfinished work…” that Lincoln “so nobly advanced.”

[The above is adapted from two articles published on the Smithsonian Civil War Studies website. My new book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is in Barnes and Noble stores late summer 2017]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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Nikola Tesla – The Road to Wireless and Wardenclyffe

Wardenclyffe. The laboratory, with its iconic tower, has once again reached the almost mythical proportions it once attracted when Nikola Tesla was first erecting it. The recent purchase of the property by the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe ensures that Tesla’s name will touch a new generation of students eager to know about this almost forgotten inventor.

But the concept of wireless telegraphy had become an obsession with Tesla long before the tower began to rise near the Long Island shoreline. Back in the days that Tesla toiled in his South Fifth Avenue laboratory the idea of “radio” began taking shape. According to John O’Neill, Tesla’s friend and first biographer, Tesla had been on the verge of making the “first distance demonstration of his wireless system.” But then in 1895 his laboratory burned to the ground. Everything was lost – his equipment, his experiments, his notebooks, and his dreams. This catastrophe would set Tesla back long enough to give a certain Guglielmo Marconi a chance to leapfrog ahead and receive credit for the discovery of radio.

Off to Colorado Springs

Tesla reestablished himself in another lab in Manhattan, but quickly found the space to be rather limiting for the type of experiments he wanted to pursue. As luck would have it he was invited to build a laboratory in Colorado Springs. Blessed, or perhaps cursed, as one of the most active lightning strike areas in the country, this perfect location also came with a promise of unlimited access to electricity from the city’s newly built alternating current distribution system. Toss in a $30,000 feed stake from Col. John Jacob Astor and Tesla was westward bound.

During his nine-month stay in Colorado beginning in June 1899 and ending in January 1900 Tesla kept voluminous notes and drawings, explicitly detailing his many experiments. Scientists are still today poring through those notes to see what other wonders are yet to be discovered from Tesla’s work.

It was here that Tesla decided it was possible to transmit electric energy through the earth under the proper conditions of resonance. Tesla “quickly discovered that the earth is charged to an extremely high potential and is provided with some kind of a mechanism for maintaining its voltage.” He believed that he had found stationary waves, and that the planet behaved like a conductor. Already the significance of this phenomenon as it relates to the transmission of energy had become clear to Tesla. “Not only was it practicable to send telegraphic messages to any distance without wires, as I recognized long ago, but also to impress upon the entire globe the faint modulations of the human voice, far more still, to transmit power, in unlimited amounts, to any terrestrial distance and almost without loss.”

The main focus of his stay in Colorado was conducting wireless telegraphy experiments with the goal of perfecting the long-range transmission of radio signals. In some of his experiments he tested the idea of how to “tune” a wireless transmitter to respond to specific signals while rejecting others. This improvement was critical for the development of wireless transmission in order to avoid the interception of a signal by others. Alas, while his time in Colorado was extremely productive, one experiment knocked out the little Colorado Springs power station. Not long after, Tesla packed up his bags and headed back East.

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Tesla Magazine interview

David J. Kent being interviewed by Tesla Magazine

Wardenclyffe

Having advanced his wireless transmission of radio waves and energy in Colorado, Tesla returned to New York in early 1900 with a plan. He envisioned the ability to broadcast under multiple wavelengths from a single station. Purchasing 200-acres in a prime location near present day Shoreham, Long Island and an influx of money from venture capitalists – including a massive $150,000 stake from industrialist J. Pierpont Morgan alone – Tesla began working on the facility and tower that would be named Wardenclyffe.

Designed by famous architect Stanford White, Wardenclyffe consisted of an odd looking tower about “187 feet high, having a spherical terminal about 68 feet in diameter.” Tesla insisted that these dimensions were sufficient “for the transmission of virtually any amount of energy.” Right from the beginning, however, there were design problems. Many contractors balked at the idea of building such a large skeleton of wood topped by a large semicircular electrode that presented itself like a sail to the wind. Tesla also quickly used up the money provided by Morgan, who was none too pleased about the idea of continuing to finance an operation that may never produce results or provide any return on his investment.

Tesla continued to do preliminary experiments as construction moved forward, though this occurred unevenly because of financial difficulties and many last-minute design changes. Wardenclyffe was much more expensive to build than either Tesla or Morgan had anticipated.

But Wardenclyffe was to be the site where Tesla’s World Wireless System would provide a lucrative commercial exploitation of his long-theorized wireless communication system. This world system combined several of Tesla’s inventions and made possible “not only the instantaneous and precise wireless transmission of any kind of signals, messages or characters, to all parts of the world, but also the inter-connection of the existing telegraph, telephone, and other signal stations without any change in their present equipment.” It was to be the future.

The basic principles were relatively simple. The Earth would act as a conductor of electrical energy, just as would a current flowing through a wire or other conductors. A grounded Tesla coil transmitter would create a large displacement of the Earth’s electric charge. A similar Tesla coil tuned to the same frequency could be used as the receiver, and the energy would flow wirelessly through the Earth from one to the other. Whether this would actually work was something neither Tesla nor anyone else to date has been able to determine.

Unfortunately, the most recent economic downturn of the time – the “Panic of 1901” – had severely strained the available investment opportunities for continuing the wireless work. Tesla wrote to J. Pierpont Morgan repeatedly asking for additional funds, all without reply. Then came Marconi’s (apparent) transmission of the letter “S” from England to Newfoundland. Marconi, using ideas patented by Tesla, had beaten Tesla to the punch. Morgan was livid. Tesla was frantic. By mid-1903 the future of Wardenclyffe looked bleak and Tesla wrote Morgan again – this time to impress upon him that his World Wireless System could accomplish much more than just the wireless communication intended for the tower, it could also provide wireless transmission of electric power. Morgan remained unimpressed. Not seeing how he could make any profit from this “free energy,” he replied in late 1904 that it would “be impossible for [him] to do anything in the matter.” Morgan also discouraged other financiers from investing in Tesla’s enterprise. With Tesla’s earlier alternating current motor patents, and their associated royalties, expiring in 1905, Tesla was quickly running out of money to fund Wardenclyffe.

While Tesla did accomplish some useful things on the site, including invention of his bladeless turbine and sales of Tesla coils, for all intents and purposes the Wardenclyffe experiment was over. Wardenclyffe was eventually transferred to George Boldt of the Waldorf-Astoria in payment for all the years of unpaid hotel charges accrued to Tesla. Depending on who is telling the story, the tower was destroyed in 1917 either by a contractor for scrap so that Boldt could recoup some of his lost income, or by the government to keep it from being used by German spies.

Tesla was not finished inventing, but the most productive time of his life was slowly coming to an end.

But now, nearly a century later, Tesla’s laboratory is being resurrected from years of neglect. Its restoration as a museum and science center is a fitting tribute to a man whose contributions have also long been neglected. Together the museum and the name of Tesla will rise again.

[The above is my contribution to the very first Tesla Magazine, July 10, 2013.]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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A Visit to the Bergen Aquarium

On the far west coast of Norway is the city of Bergen, home of the Akvariet i Bergen, the Bergen Aquarium. The aquarium is surprisingly good, and definitely worth the visit.

Most people arrive in Bergen at the end of a long train line extending through the mountains and fjords from Oslo, but you can also arrive by ship or its well-traveled airport. After arrival you’ll want to take the funicular up Mount Floyen for a bird’s eye view.

Bergen, Norway

Though seemingly small, Bergen actually is a fair sized city of over 275,000 people, so you might want to take a taxi or bike out to the end of the Nordnes peninsula, though it is walkable on a nice day. Your first site upon entering the aquarium is an open air seal show and some of the nicest Gentoo penguins you’re ever going to meet.

The aquarium has the usual array of tropical fish and seaside habitats. What makes it unique is its displays of North Sea and coldwater species. I was particularly drawn to the wolffish, whose huge teeth and massive jaws are perfect for its normal diet of hardshell molluscs (whelks,  cockles), sea clams, crustaceans, and echinoderms (like starfish and sea urchins). Wolffish also carry a natural antifreeze to keep their flood flowing in their frigid environment.

Bergen, Norway Aqarium

At less than 30-feet long, Bergen has the shortest underwater tunnel I’ve ever seen in a public aquarium. A quick glimpse at the handful of sharks, rays, and tropicals and you’re done. They make up for it by having an extensive collection of Nile crocodiles, caiman, and iguanas.

While I admit my expectations were low, I found the Bergen Aquarium to far exceed what I had anticipated. The aquarium was considered the largest and most modern aquarium in northern Europe when it opened in 1960. That may or may not still be true depending on what you count as northern Europe, but this is certainly the most northern aquarium I’ve visited (followed closely behind by the Stockholm Aquarium, which I saw on the same trip).

Either way, the Bergen Aquarium is worth seeing. I recommend doing what I did and take the scenic train/boat/train from Oslo through the mountains and fjords.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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If It’s Tuesday – Whose Stuff is This, Anyway?

In the continuing saga relating my three-year long working life in Brussels (based on the movie, If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium), just getting there was a chore. I’ve mentioned the bureaucratic process I had to go through before they would let me move, but when the actual move got closer I realized that all my townhouse stuff was in no way going to fit into whatever apartment I might find in Brussels. This revelation led me to wonder:

Whose stuff is this anyway?

Stuff

I blame all of my stuff on my parents (which is some sort of Freudian thing I’m sure).  My mother was one of 9 children, and my dad was one of 12 children. They were both born during hard times into blue collar families (assuming that a 2-acre subsistence farm serving 14 people even rises to the level of blue collar). Growing up in families the size of small Midwestern towns led to the tendency to hoard everything passing their way. And in positive proof that clutter is hereditary, I followed suit…or at least it seems that way at this moment as my eyes scan the mountain of stuff on which I have to make “keep” or “go” decisions.

Keeping in mind that I have a decent sized 3 bedroom townhouse full of “American male” furniture (i.e., big) that likely won’t fit into the tiny European-sized apartments, it seems that my first step is to separate stuff into several categories:

1)     Stuff that I should have thrown out ages ago (old magazines, holey clothes, and anything left behind by old girlfriends)

2)     Stuff that can be donated to charity or given away to friends (perfectly good clothes from the back of the closet that “I know I will fit into again some day”)

3)     Stuff that can be freecycled or sold on eBay or Craigslist (books, records, chachkas)

4)     Stuff that I want to keep but can’t take with me due to lack of room and so will likely have to put into storage (king size bed set with dressers and side tables, couches, my Abraham Lincoln book collection)

5)     Stuff that my company will ship to Europe for me (some furniture, some books, PhD stuff, and of course all my work stuff)

The hard part is deciding what fits into the first category – stuff to be thrown out.  It’s hard for me to throw out things because I see it as wasteful…surely someone can find a good use for each (seemingly) precious item.

So how do I let go of all my “valuable” stuff?  I addressed this problem in a recent post called “The Minimalist” on my writing blog, Hot White Snow. I’ll have more on how to deal with stuff in later posts.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.

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