Tesla’s initial time at Continental Edison was spent as a kind of traveling repairman sent to fix some of the tougher problems with the direct current system. Moving about mainly in France and Germany he would “cure the ills” and return to Paris. This experience led him to propose improvements to the dynamos, which he implemented. “My success was complete,” Tesla would write, “and the delighted directors accorded me the privilege of developing automatic regulators which were much desired.” Having quickly built a reputation as someone who could save the day, not to mention his proficiency in the German language, Tesla was the obvious choice to send to Strassburg, Alsace (part of Germany at the time, now Strasbourg, France). A catastrophic event had occurred during the opening ceremony of the new lighting plant at the railroad station, and help was needed fast.
The Strasbourg rail station, originally built in 1846, had just been remodeled in the current year of 1883. Dignitaries, including the aging Emperor William I of Germany, were gathered to watch the newly installed direct current electric lighting system showcase the station. The flip of the switch turned out to be more dramatic than expected, however, and a large part of a wall was collapsed by a huge explosion, nearly taking William with it. Following this major malfunction and a series of other quality control issues – light bulbs were burning out as fast as they could be replaced – the talented Tesla was dispatched to see what he could do to repair the damage, both to the direct current system and the sensitivities of the Alsace people.
Tesla took on the task of correcting the problem and spent nearly a year redesigning the generators and reinstalling the lighting system. Then, with the Strasbourg rail station now fully lit and accepted by the Alsace government, Tesla “returned to Paris with pleasing anticipations.”
David J. Kent has been a scientist for over thirty years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the e-book Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time. He is currently writing a book on Thomas Edison.