Tesla and Edison: The War of the Currents

Thomas Edison engaged in three battles in his quest to electrify New York City. First he fought the gas industry, then arc lighting, and then his most famous battle against the polyphase alternating current system of Nikola Tesla.

Tesla vs Edison War of the Currents

Tesla was a Serbian engineer who had bounced around Austria, the current Czech and Slovak Republics, and Hungary before taking a job working for Continental Edison in Paris. While in Budapest he had envisioned a way to solve one of the biggest problems with direct current, the sparking commutator. Like Edison, Tesla also labored eighteen to twenty hours a day, a habit that occasionally sent him into a serious bout of exhaustion. After one such incident he was walking through a downtown park reciting the epic poem Faust by Johann Goethe when suddenly he stopped:

“The idea came to me like a flash of lightning and in an instant the truth was revealed. I drew with a stick on the sand the diagrams…The images I saw were wonderfully sharp and clear.”

Tesla envisioned the rotating magnetic field that would become his alternating current motor, which solves the problem that had kept alternating current from replacing direct current as a power source. It would be many more years before Tesla would have a chance to build his motor. (He created his prototype while fixing Edison’s direct current dynamos in Strasbourg—the ones that nearly killed Emperor Wilhelm.)

By the time the unknown Tesla arrived in New York in 1884, Edison was already famous and well on his way to establishing a monopoly on providing electricity to New York and other cities. During the year that Tesla worked for Edison, in which he revamped and improved direct current dynamos, he tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to convince Edison that it would be better to use alternating current using his unproven rotating magnetic field induction motor. But Edison had already ruled out alternating current as viable power source, and he was permanently invested in the massive infrastructure he had already created for direct current. Tesla grew fed up, and eventually quit.

Tesla vs Edison

Meanwhile, Edison’s direct current empire continued to expand to other cities and states, although not without competition. In 1882, George Westinghouse—famous for his invention of the air brake for railroad cars—bought out Philip Diehl’s competing induction lamp patent rights, which forced Edison to lower the licensing rate for using his patents, thus reducing the price of electric lamps (and Edison’s profit). Other direct current companies, like Thomson-Houston, also pressured Edison to keep his rates reasonable. The ubiquitous patent lawsuits kept everyone busy trying to protect their own businesses.

Edison was clearly the leader in this field, but that was about to change. Westinghouse formed his own electric company in 1886, and by 1888 Tesla finally had developed his complete alternating current induction motor and all the associated transformers. This revolutionized the industry. Westinghouse purchased the rights to Tesla’s patents and hired him to incorporate them into his own systems. The war of the currents was officially on.

Eventually, Tesla would go on to win that battle. More on that in a future post.

[The above is adapted from my book Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016). Also check out my earlier book, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013). Both are available in Barnes and Noble stores nationwide]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (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]

How Bloomington Illinois Made Abraham Lincoln Great

I recently returned from a week-long trip to central Illinois, stopping in places where Abraham Lincoln became famous as a lawyer and a politician. Check out Part I and Part II of my travel summaries from that week. The week started in Bloomington, Illinois, and it turns out that this city may very well have brought out the greatness in the man who would become our sixteenth president.

David Davis mansion

David Davis mansion

Lincoln’s first court case in Bloomington took place in 1838, when the 29-year-old lawyer and state legislator was riding the 8th judicial circuit. Bloomington was a stop on that circuit and the home of David Davis, the judge who rode the circuit for six months out of each year with Lincoln and several other lawyers. Davis would go on to be Lincoln’s campaign manager years later when Lincoln ran for president (and during his presidency Lincoln appointed Davis to the U.S. Supreme Court).

The convergence of Purpose

The convergence of Purpose

Another key player in Lincoln’s life was Jesse Fell, a local lawyer, businessman, and founder/editor of the Bloomington Observer (later changed to the Pantagraph, the newspaper greeting us in the hotel lobby today). In the statue above called “The Convergence of Purpose,” Lincoln is joined by Davis and Fell as they discuss the issues of the day, most notably slavery, tariffs, and the railroads. Fell was instrumental in arranging the confluence of two major railroads just north of Bloomington, which is now the sister city of Normal, Illinois.

Jesse Fell telegraph

Jesse Fell telegraph

Fell also had the local telegraph in his office, which was likely the first exposure to this new device for the technology-loving Abraham Lincoln. When Fell wanted to start the first public university (now called Illinois State University) in Normal, it was Lincoln he called in to do all the legal paperwork.

Lincoln presented some 15 of his most important speeches in Bloomington, with his first probably being as early as 1838 when he stood in for his law partner, John T. Stuart, then running for Congress against a certain Stephen A. Douglas. It wouldn’t be the last debate he had with Douglas. In 1854, after listening to Douglas regale the afternoon crowd in support of the recently passed Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln, recently “aroused” back into politics, Lincoln took on giving a rebuttal that evening.

Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Bloomington is also the location of Lincoln’s “Lost Speech.” Given in 1856 at the first Illinois Republican Convention, the speech was supposedly so enthralling that reporters present forgot to take notes. An alternative (and perhaps more likely) explanation is that Lincoln asked the hyper-partisan newspapers of the day to suppress the speech, fearing it way too radical for his keen political sense. But perhaps the speech isn’t completely lost? Check the next Lincoln Group of DC Lincolnian for a book that purports to recreate it.

In 1858 Lincoln was trying again for a Senate seat, this time against his old rival Stephen A. Douglas. Bloomington was not one of the seven famed Lincoln-Douglas Debate cities since both candidates had already given speeches there. But Lincoln did give another famous speech that year in Bloomington, the one popularly known as the “House Divided” speech:

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or is advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new – North as well as South.

There is one other speech Lincoln gave in Bloomington that is of note, though it more accurately should be called a lecture. Always interested in the concept that all men should seek to improve themselves, on April 6, 1858, Lincoln prepared and presented a lecture now referred by the name “Discoveries and Inventions.” The lecture covered a wide range of discoveries (and, of course, inventions) beginning with the “fig leaf apron” of Adam and Eve to how patent laws “added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.” Apparently the response from the heavily attended Bloomington audience was sufficient to inspire Lincoln to give the lecture several more times, though when he returned to Bloomington a year later for another go at it the lecture had to be cancelled due to poor attendance.

Bloomington would play a large role in making Lincoln president. David Davis, Jesse Fell, Leonard Swett, Asahel Gridley, and others were the prime movers of opinion and action that led to unanimous support by the Illinois delegation for Lincoln’s nomination as the Republican candidate for President in 1860. It’s clear that Bloomington and its influential residents helped make Lincoln great from his days on the 8th judicial circuit through his political speaking appearances and even his lectures on inventions. It was Jesse Fell who prompted the Lincoln-Douglas debates to occur, encouraged Lincoln to run for the presidency, and to whom Lincoln provided his first official biographical account for distribution to eastern newspapers. It was Davis who pulled his substantial weight to garner support and lead the campaign for Lincoln’s nomination and election. Without Bloomington, Illinois, we may never have met Abraham Lincoln.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (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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Catching Up – Part 3 (The Dake Page)

This is the third in a series of catching up posts highlighting writing from the last few months. Part 2 looked at Hot White Snow while Part 1 covered this Science Traveler page. Today is The Dake Page.

blue marbleThe idea behind The Dake Page is to cover science, policy, and the interaction between them. Two primary topics are man-made climate change and communicating science to the public.

Climate change has been the subject of the most recent series of posts. Given the rampant disinformation being pushed by lobbying groups and their more ideological followers, there was a definite need to provide primers on the basics of climate change – both the science and the communication of that science. The goal of the series is to do a walk through progressing in understanding.

mean surface temperatureSo is it “Global Warming” or “Climate Change?”: The logical first step is to talk about some of the terms used because the definitions used by scientists may not always match those used by the general public.

What is the Greenhouse Effect, and What Does it have to Do with Global Warming?: The greenhouse effect doesn’t exactly work like an actual greenhouse, but it’s a good approximation of the concept. This explains why.

So What Are the Greenhouse Gases…And What are Not Greenhouse Gases: The atmosphere is 99% Oxygen and Nitrogen (with a teeny amount of Argon), which aren’t really important to the greenhouse effect. This post explains which gases (in even teenier amounts than Argon) do all the heavy lifting of keeping the planet the temperature it is.

CO2 and Other Radiative Forcings of Global Warming: There are “forcings” (i.e., drivers) of warming, and there are “feedbacks” (i.e., that either amplify or diminish the effect of forcings). Some forcings are natural, some man-made.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – The Smoking Gun of Climate Change: This is why we know that CO2 is the primary driver of the greenhouse effect, both the natural and the man-made.

There will be more in the above series coming. New posts usually go up on Thursday mornings.

War on SceinceIn addition, The Dake Page posts reviews of relevant science policy books. Recent reviews include Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil; The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why it Matters, and What We Can Do About It by Shawn Otto; and The Story of Western Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory by Susan Wise Bauer. Another post provides an additional list of books that can be used as resources for communicating climate change.

trollThree posts deal with specific aspects of communication climate change, including Common Tactics of Climate Change Deniers on the Internet, the challenges of communication when we don’t hit a new heat record, and some tips for How to Talk to People About Climate Change.

Finally, two posts look at the need for having a Science Debate between the two presidential nominees and the signing into law of a new bipartisan (essentially unanimous) Chemical Safety Law updating the nearly 40-year-old (and horribly outdated) TSCA.

New TSCA signing

Now that I’m caught up, it’s back to science traveling for the next post, I promise.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (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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Catching Up – Part 2 (Hot White Snow)

On Friday I did some long overdue catching up on my Science Traveler posts. Today I’ll catch up Hot White Snow.


Hot White Snow

Hot White Snow is all about creativity. Here I respond to writing prompts, experiment with new forms of writing, and offer up some memoir items. I also sometimes ruminate on the meaning of life and the writing process.

Articles on writing include Elusive Focus and A Struggle to Write.

Thoughts on life include Layers of Life, The Radical and the Republican, The Day, and Carry on Keeping Calm.

Memoir (and memoir-ish) posts: Prescience, or the Daring Boy, the Bike, and the Pond; A Sugary Feast; Water, Water, Everywhere; and You Don’t Know Jack.  A special subset of memoir, There’s a Fly in My Eye, include two posts about my Dad’s jokes: Profound Child, and The Joke.

In the mood for romance, or mystery (or both)? Check out Hello Silence, My Old Friend.


I also read a lot, so one post was my Reading List Halfway Point – 2016. At that time (end of June) I had read 55 books so far in the year. I’m now up to 84.

Feel free to read any that sound interesting, or click on the Hot White Snow header and scroll down in reverse order. There is also a category listing on the left side of the page if you have a particular genre interest.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (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]

Long Overdue Catching Up

It’s been a while since I did a catch-up post, in part because I was recovering from surgery and in part because of travel before and after surgery. Since a lot of posts have built up I’ll handle the three blogs in separate posts. Today, Science Traveler. Rather than go back in order, the posts can be broken down into categories.


James JoyceThis is Science Traveler, right. So let’s begin with some recent travel posts. I recently returned from a tour of “Lincoln’s Illinois” where I visited Lincoln’s home in Springfield, his earlier village of New Salem, and several other Lincoln related venues. I even got to hear songs Lincoln listened to on the very piano on which he heard them played. Here are Part I and Part II.

Earlier in the summer I visited Nikola Tesla’s homeland, got to meet the Prince and Princess of Serbia, and toured the beauty of Montenegro.

Back here in the States, I also recalled my journey through the glidepath at Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach.

More travel posts here.



Thomas EdisonAnother major event this year was the release of my new book, Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World. This set up a competition, of sorts, between Edison and Nikola Tesla, the subject of my first book plus two subsequent e-books.

I posted some previews to Edison, including Thomas Edison the Movie Mogul and Thomas Edison and the Talking Doll.



Abraham LincolnIn addition to the travel out to Illinois, I’m currently working on a new book for the same publisher as Edison and Tesla on, you guessed it, Abraham Lincoln. That book will be released some time in the summer of 2017. Recently I wrote about the progression from Tesla to Edison to Lincoln. I also took a photo of all my books written to date, including the e-book I wrote called Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Finally, I wrote about a special event on the Election of 1860 sponsored by the Lincoln Group of DC, of which I am a Vice President. You can check out our upcoming events on the Lincoln Group website.



Candied hawthorns in Olympic Park, Beijing

Candied hawthorns in Olympic Park, Beijing

September 2016 marked my third year anniversary from when I decided to ditch the successful career job I no longer enjoyed and start a new career as an author and science traveler. It’s still the best decision ever.

Okay, that’s all for now. I’ll post catching up posts for Hot White Snow and The Dake Page in the next few days. Or simply click on the links to scroll down the most recent offerings. Thanks to all for helping to make this new career such a success.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (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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Visiting Abraham Lincoln’s Illinois – Part II

Last week I traveled to Lincoln’s Illinois to visit many of the places Abraham Lincoln lived and worked. Mid-week I posted the highlight summaries I had prepared for the Lincoln Group of DC. Today I’m posting Part II – the highlights for the rest of the week. See Part I for the first few days of the trip.

Day 3

Springfield, Illinois. Home of Abraham Lincoln for most of his professional career. And today was mostly (but not exclusively) about the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, one of the most visited Presidential Museums ever. Not bad for a guy who has been dead for 151 years.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

The morning was spent at the Museum portion. Those who have seen museum after museum and think they’ve seen it all are in for a treat because this was like no museum I’ve ever been in. We started with a multimedia video presentation of “Ghosts in the Library” that highlighted the preservation and collections process. A “curator” told us about the discoveries while “ghosts’ of Lincoln, soldiers, and others floated into and out of the action. In the end we were left with both an appreciation of what historians do, and confusion as to whether the curator was real or a holographic image. We still don’t know.

This was followed by a second video-esque presentation of the history of the war and of Lincoln’s actions. Then we started on the main exhibits. Beginning with Lincoln in his log cabin, we experienced the cramped quarters of a one-room log cabin with Lincoln reading against the firelight while one of his kinsman snores in the loft above. From here we followed through his early life up to the time he runs for president. Entering the White House section (with a certain John Wilkes Booth lurking in the shadows), we pass by Mary Lincoln’s dresses and Lincoln’s road to the presidency, including what appears to be a modern day newscast with Tim Russert (of Meet the Press) reporting on the “four way race” for the presidency (replete with campaign ads). The museum did a fantastic job of presenting the material in a fresh and interesting way.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

After a quick lunch at the Feed Store (where Lincoln used to pop in from his law office next door), we met at the Presidential Library where curator James Cornelius gave us all a once in a lifetime, up close and personal, look at some first hand artifacts. Among them were handwritten letters by Lincoln, Mary, Elizabeth Keckly, and Edward Everett, plus a compass and sundial that belonged to Lincoln’s grandfather, and several other one of a kind artifacts. The most intriguing to all of us was the “Everett copy” of the Gettysburg Address in Lincoln’s handwriting as presented to Everett to be sold (along with his handwritten 2-hour Gettysburg speech) as a fundraiser for the U.S. Sanitary Commission.

But our day wasn’t over. Our next stop was the Vachel Lindsay Home. Lindsay was a poet whose most famous poem was called “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight,” which was marvelously orated by our very own LGDC President John Elliff. From here we walked to the Elijah Iles House. Iles was probably most responsible for the development of Springfield. It was here that LGDC members enjoyed a reception with ALA President Kathryn Harris and many other ALA, Illinois State Archives, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and ALA Journal Editors.

We ended the day on our own for dinner, during which some of us enjoyed the local brews at the locally famous Obed & Isaac’s, followed by some fantastic guitar and fiddle playing at, of all places, a local antique shop called “Abe’s Old Hat.”

For those following along, yes, this was yet another amazing day on our tour of Lincoln’s Illinois. And we have two more days to go.

Day 4

Mary Todd courted both Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas on a couch in the home of her sister, Elizabeth Edwards (Note: Not at the same time). That “courting couch” is now in the Benjamin Edwards house in Springfield – and our esteemed traveling Lincoln Group of DC members got to see it today. The incredibly knowledgeable curator of Edwards Place, Erika Holst, guided us through the amazing history of the Edwards family. The Lincoln’s were regular visitors to the house, often listening to Mary’s sister play the piano; in fact, it turns out our LGDC President was closely guarding a secret. After our tour we all gathered back in the parlor where Jane Hartman Irwin sat down and played several tunes that Lincoln likely heard, and on the very same piano on which he heard them.


After many LGDC members purchased books and CDs of our experience there, we headed off to the Old State Capitol building (where, incidentally, Barack Obama held both his initial announcement of running for president and his introduction of running-mate Joe Biden). We received an amazing tour of the Capitol building from Stephanie, including the office where the newly elected Lincoln began his search for cabinet members. This was followed by a working lunch/meeting with Sarah Watson, Director of the “Looking for Lincoln” National Heritage Area project. Sarah was instrumental in helping for the planning of this trip.

Lincoln Tomb

And then it was to the Lincoln Tomb, which was a somber thrill for all of us. The tomb, obelisk, and statuary dominates the Oak Ridge Cemetery, and rightfully so. Our guide provided a great deal of history of the tomb and its inhabitants, the entire Lincoln family with the exception of Robert, who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA. The tomb is imposing by all definitions of the word. Only a short walk away we visited the African American History Museum (AAHM), where we once again met up with Kathryn Harris, President of ALA, in her other role as Board member of AAHM.

Abraham Lincoln (Randy Duncan)But our day still wasn’t over. Our next stop was a whistle stop, or more accurately, the Great Western Depot where President-Elect Lincoln gave his farewell address to the people of Springfield, or those of whom had come out in a misty rain to see him off on his long journey to Washington and his first inauguration. Abraham Lincoln himself (Randy Duncan to his friends) was there to recite his goodbye address. A few hours later (trains must have run a lot faster in those days), Mr. Lincoln joined us on the eve of his inauguration at local eatery Maldaner’s and gave us some insights into “tomorrow’s” speech. He also took questions, as well as interviewed many of us for potential cabinet positions and patronage jobs (I asked to be named environmental minister).

It was a long day, but a productive one. Tomorrow includes our visit to New Salem.

Day 5

Our final day on the Looking for Lincoln tour. It has been a fantastic experience all week, and the last day was more of the same…plus some surprises.

We started at the Illinois State Capitol. Yesterday we were at the Old State Capitol where Lincoln (more or less) was a state legislator. Today was the “New” Capitol building where the current Governor, Attorney General, and legislature meets (in keeping with Washington DC precedent, no one seemed to be working today). David Joens, who is both Director of the Illinois State Archives and Vice President of the Abraham Lincoln Association, gave us a wonderful tour of a truly magnificent building. As might be expected, there were many representations of Lincoln (and that other famous Illinois guy, Stephen A. Douglas) throughout the building. Paintings of the two overlook their respective Republican and Democratic sides of the House chambers.

LGDC at Illinois State Capitol

From there we visited the Dana Thomas House, and we found our first (minor) surprise. We chose the house solely because it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, not because of any connection to Lincoln, and it was there. Well, it turns out the house often hosted musicians, writers, and poets. Two common guests were Vachel Lindsay, author of the poem “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight” (where we visited on Wednesday), and Carl Sandburg, another poet but probably best known for his multivolume series on Lincoln, “The Prairie Years” and “The War Years.”

Up next was lunch and a tour of New Salem, the village where Lincoln lived when he first started out on his own. Our guide was Jim Patton, who was lead interpreter of New Salem for many years but came out of his comfortable retirement to personally take us around. Being able to immerse ourselves in village life, seeing the kind of one-room log cabins everyone lived and work in, and checking out the saw and grist mill where Lincoln sometimes worked was an exhilarating experience.

Lincoln the Surveryor at New Salem

Then we received our first huge surprise. Driving into Athens (pronounced AY-thens) we expected only to wave at the Long Nine Museum that we thought was closed. As the bus pulled up to the side of the building, out comes running (okay, walking) 84 year old John Eaton, the owner of the museum. Seems he was just there to check some things out and suddenly our bus pulls alongside. This was an unexpected treat. “The Long Nine,” for those who don’t know, was the nickname given to the nine Representatives from Sangamon County, all of whom were over 6 feet tall. The museum had many artifacts related to Lincoln’s time there, plus a series of dioramas denoting aspects of Lincoln’s life in the area. When we left, John Eaton (who was as surprised as we were) told us we “made his day.” He most certainly made ours.

This unexpected stop put us a bit behind schedule, but we moved on to see prairie grass as Lincoln saw it when he arrived, then drove on to the nearby Funk’s Grove. Since this final stop was supposedly going to replace the Long Nine we really didn’t have much of an expectation. They did have a small Lincoln document collection, but we were all absolutely delighted to find an even bigger connection to Lincoln. It turns out the patriarch, Isaac Funk, was a close friend not only of Abraham Lincoln but of David Davis, Jesse Fell, Asahel Gridley, and other key figures in Lincoln’s life on the circuit. In fact, Davis invited Isaac Funk up to the Wigwam in Chicago that nominated Lincoln to the presidency. Isaac also gave a hugely controversial (and blunt) anti-Copperhead speech during his wartime service in the Illinois legislature. The Funks were definitely ahead of their time as they founded the first land grant college in Illinois, electrified the house in 1910, long before anyone in the midwest knew anything about electricity (Isaac’s grandson Deloss had personal consultations with both Tesla and Edison), taught the latest in farming and agriculture, and were pioneers in the development of hybrid corn, wheat, and other better producing crops.

Phew. We had a week packed with activities, following Lincoln around central Illinois. Many thanks to John and Linda Elliff, Bob Willard, and others who helped plan a fantastic trip. Everyone heads back home to DC where we’ll begin planning the next experiences for the Lincoln Group of DC.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (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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Visiting Abraham Lincoln’s Illinois – Part I

I’m currently with the Lincoln Group of DC on a tour of Lincoln’s Illinois. I’ve been filing reports to LGDC members who didn’t make the trip, so here are some highlights of our first couple of days.

Day 0

Twenty-three Lincoln Group of DC members came by planes, trains, and automobiles from DC, California, and even the Pacific Northwest to Bloomington, Illinois. The reason? To experience Abraham Lincoln’s Illinois, from the towns that he practiced law on the circuit, to where he gave some of his most famous speeches, and to the tomb that holds his body. This first day was a day of gathering. Trickling in throughout the day, we met as a group for the first time Sunday evening and introduced ourselves. Former Abraham Lincoln Association (ALA) President Bob Lenz welcomed us to Bloomington, the home of David Davis, a Lincoln confidante on the circuit, campaign manager, and eventual Supreme Court Justice who would go on to write a famous decision declaring some of Lincoln’s acts unconstitutional. We’ll hear more about that tomorrow.

Each day we’ll provide an update on where we’ve been and some of the people we’ve met. As the week progresses we’ll spend time in riding the 8th circuit, seeing Lincoln (the city), Atlanta (the Illinois city, not the Georgia one), various sites around Springfield (including the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum), New Salem, and wave to the Long Nine Museum on our way to Funk’s Grove.

Day 1

Our first full day was spectacular. Starting in Bloomington, we were joined on our bus by Bob Lenz and Guy Fraker, author of Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit (http://www.lincolnsladder.com/) There is nothing better than having the expert on the eighth circuit giving a running commentary as we tour Lincoln’s life on that very same eighth circuit.

Our first stop was David Davis’s mansion. Davis was the Judge on the 8th Circuit, and along with Abraham Lincoln and other lawyers, twice per year rode on horseback (or by carriage for the hefty Davis) for three months, going from county to county taking care of trials. David Davis would later be instrumental in getting Lincoln the Republican nomination in 1860, and Lincoln the President named Davis a US Supreme Court Justice.

Davis Lincoln Fell

But Davis wasn’t the only 8th circuit colleague who was important in Lincoln’s life. One of our stops was the Jumonville statue of Lincoln, Davis, and Jesse Fell, called “The Convergence of Purpose.” Fell was a lawyer, banker, land owner, and editor of a key Republican paper that promoted Lincoln. It was to Fell that Lincoln sent his first handwritten biography that helped the eastern states know more about Lincoln. We also stopped at the McLean County Historical Museum where Bill Kemp regaled us with Lincoln’s connections to the area. Bob Lenz then gave us a great walking tour of the neighborhood. We also got an impromptu look at Guy Fraker’s office, filled with some amazing Lincoln artifacts and photos.

And that was just the morning. After lunch we boarded the bus and winded our way along the side roads following Lincoln’s horse beats on the circuit. We saw the small shed on the Hoblit Farm Lincoln slept in, checked out the county line markers, and visited in two of the courthouses on the circuit. At Mt. Pulaski we not only got a tour, we got jokes – Lincoln’s favorite jokes and stories – well told. Our group of Lincoln scholars got a lot of laughs along with a lot of information.

We wrapped up with dinner in Atlanta (the one in Illinois, not Georgia). Our long day started at 8 am and ended when we checked into our hotel in Lincoln, Illinois at 8 pm. Being able to follow Lincoln along the 8th circuit routes was a transcendental day for all of us. Book learning and lectures are great for learning facts, but traveling the places where Lincoln walked is best for experiencing the feeling of the era. Add the incomparable insights all day long from Bob Lenz and Guy Fraker. There is nothing better.

Day 2

Lincoln CollegeOur second full day began at the Lincoln Heritage Museum on the campus of Lincoln College in, Lincoln, Illinois, of course. We were greeted by Director Tom McLaughlin and Assistant Director and Curator Anne Mosely, who gave us a primer on the museum. The first floor was a standard museum format, with a series of displays showing artifacts and history of Lincoln’s life. The second floor gave us one of the most unique museum experiences we’ve ever seen. You begin by joining the Lincoln’s in their box at Ford’s Theatre watching as the assassination unfolds. Several LGDC members virtually reached out to grab Booth as the fatal shot was fired as the multimedia visuals unfolded. From there we moved room to room on a timed basis, with doors to the next room opening automatically as each vignette finished. Sophisticated choreographing in time with strategic lightly and voices from the skies provided a multimedia look at each aspect of Lincoln’s life. It truly was a unique presentation.

After a quick lunch at the locally famous Blue Dog Inn we walked across the street to a statue of a watermelon. Yes, watermelon. Because the town was named after Lincoln when he was still alive, and no where near famous, Lincoln was asked to christen the town, which he duly did by hacking open a watermelon and ceremonially spilling the watermelon juice onto the ground.

Lincoln House
Back on the road we stopped next at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. The Lincoln’s lived for 17 years at 413 S 8th Street in Springfield. Three of their sons were born there, and one of them died. Our group received a personal tour of the home, a house that receives as many as 900-1000 people on its busiest day. Along with the Lincoln house are four blocks of 1860-period restored buildings, each with their own story to tell.

Two doors down is the National Park Service Conference Center, where we gathered to hear from two of the greatest names in Springfield and Lincoln scholarship – Dick Hart and Wayne C. Temple. Hart is an expert on Springfield and talked a bit out his newest book, “Lincoln’s Springfield Neighborhood.” We were surprised to find that the neighborhood was incredibly diverse, with a vibrant African-American community as well as Irish, German, Portuguese, and others. Among the stories Dick told was the story of Jameson Jenkins, a free black man living 1/2 a block form the Lincoln’s and who became good friends with Abraham. Following Dick was the incomparable Wayne C. Temple. Retired from the Illinois State Archives earlier this year after 51 years of service – and at 92 years of age – Wayne is still a wonderful story teller, funny and insightful. A protege of J.G. Randall, Wayne Temple was the impetus for the Lincoln Day-by-Day project in 1959, which the Lincoln Group of DC helped bring to fruition. In fact, Wayne said he was incredibly proud to have worked with us and acknowledged that Day-by-Day never would have happened without the LGDC. He further suggested that there are plenty of gaps that perhaps we could work to fill in even today.

It continues to be a thrill to all of us on the trip to hear from some of the great Lincoln scholars in the area. And we’ve only just begun. Tomorrow – the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.


David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (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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Third Year Reflections of a Science Traveler

DominicaThis month marks the third year anniversary on the best decision ever made. In 2013 I made the decision to leave my long-time scientific career to become a science traveler. I didn’t leave the science, merely the part that paid well. I took up traveling and writing and in other ways bringing science and history to life. Last year I reflected again on reaching a second anniversary. And suddenly it has been three years. As they say, time flies.

It has been an amazing experience. I’ve seen places I had never thought I would see, met people I never knew existed, and written books I never thought I would write. Along the way I’ve grown as a writer, a traveler, and a person. At least I hope the latter is true.

One of the major uncertainties of a writing life is whether anyone will ever read what you write. I’ve been lucky. That first book on Nikola Tesla published just as I was embarking on this adventure is now into its 7th printing, has been translated into several foreign languages, and is a continuing success (figuratively) flying off the shelves at Barnes and Noble. Because of its success I now have a follow up book on Thomas Edison, which now sits side-by-side in Barnes and Noble with Tesla and has had strong initial sales. And now I’m working on a third book in the same style on my other major interest – Abraham Lincoln. That book should come out in 2017.

When I’m not writing (or reading), I’m traveling. This year saw two epic trips in the sense of adding to my “countries visited” list. Early in the year I took a sailing cruise to the Caribbean. Not one of those huge floating hotel ships, this was a smaller sailing cruise liner with only about 250 passengers. The second was to the Balkan countries of Serbia, Montenegro, and Croatia. While there I got to meet with the Prince and Princess of Serbia (technically they are King and Queen but go by the lower titles due to the politics of their former exile). There were other trips as well, including San Antonio/Carlsbad Caverns and a research visit at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. I’m going back out to Illinois next week to see other Lincoln sites in New Salem, Lincoln (the city), and Bloomington.

There were some glitches this year as well. After decades of generally good health I found myself in and out of hospitals and doctors offices for a variety of mostly unrelated issues. The biggest was eye surgery to remove a tumor (benign!) in my right orbit that had my eye bulging out like Marty Feldman’s Igor from Young Frankenstein. Because of I’m still officially in recovery (surgery was less than a month ago) it led to postponement of a planned October trip to China. No worries, I’ll do it next year.

Speaking of next year, the tentative travel plans include not only the aforementioned China (and South Korea), but hopefully Machu Picchu and one or two of a dozen other possibilities on my list. The Lincoln book I’m writing now should be in the stores next year. As soon as that manuscript is submitted I’ll return to my original Lincoln and science book project, which should put it on a schedule to come out in 2018. I already have the next book topic lined up; more on that when it gets closer.

So on to the fourth year of a Science Traveler life!

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (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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The Book Stack Photo

Recently I took a photo of a stack of my published books. The idea came from seeing a similar stack from my friend Chris DeRose, a multiple Abraham Lincoln author and currently running for City Council in Phoenix, Arizona. Now that I have multiple books myself (and another on the way), it seemed a good time to create this:


The books are shown in order of publication, with the newest on the top. Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) are both published by Fall River Press, an imprint of Sterling Publishing in New York. You can find them in Barnes and Noble stores and online now. Edison just came out and Tesla is now into its 7th printing, not to mention several foreign language editions.

In between there are two e-books published by Amazon for Kindle. Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate (2015) came about because as I researched both of these great mean I noticed some amazing connections between them in science, art, the environment, and more. Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time (2014) takes a deeper look into a topic I only touched on in Tesla, his desire to harness the forces of nature for the benefit of mankind.

The idea of writing books actually started with a photo book I published in 2010. Adventures in Europe documents some of my travels while I was living in Brussels, Belgium for three years. Of course, there has been much more travel since 2010, some of which I’ve talked about on this page. I’ll have many more Science Traveler stories so keep checking back for new ones.

The book stack photo joins my revolving cast of photos that serve as headers on this page. You can read more about the photos here.

Finally, the stack will get bigger next summer as my newest book for Fall River Press, Abraham Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is due to be released in 2017.

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Thomas Edison and the Talking Doll

Edison talking dollThomas Edison is well known as the inventor of the phonograph. But did you know he also marketed a talking doll? As I note in my book, Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World:

In bit of fancy, Edison and Batchelor made a reproducing mechanism small enough to fit into the torso of a child’s doll. Pulling a string would engage “a small phonograph…with an automatic return motion so that you simply turn always in one direction and it always says the same thing over and over again.”

What a great idea? Think of all the fun young children could have with a talking doll in their playroom in 1890. What a thrill! What an experience!

What a bomb!

Unfortunately, the mini-phonographs were easily damaged in transit and rarely remained in working order. This was perhaps for the best, as the high-pitched, tinny voice, when it worked, shrieked out creepy versions of child’s nursery rhymes.

Okay. Not such a thrill.

The talking dolls were one of many “failures” of Thomas Edison. Even his phonograph was left behind as competitors such as the Victor Talking Machine Company (producer of the Victrola) out-designed and out-competed Edison. The iconic Edison wax cylinders (which I heard in last year’s visit to Menlo Park) were replaced by flat disks featuring Enrico Caruso and other famed singers. Ironically, the nearly deaf Edison insisted on picking out all the music for his phonographs, then refused to put the names of the singers on the disks. In the end, people wanted to listen to famous artists, not famous arias.

What they did not want to listen to was the screechy sounds coming out of the dolls. Kids were more scared than entertained. Luckily, the dolls rarely worked at all, so Edison closed down production after only a few weeks. In addition to what I say in the book, you can read more on the dolls here and see one in person at a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (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.

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.