Tesla Shrugged? Was John Galt Based on Nikola Tesla?

Nikola TeslaWho was John Galt? A particularly interesting idea is that Ayn Rand’s fictional character from Atlas Shrugged was at least partially patterned after Nikola Tesla. After all, Galt had studied physics and became an engineer, then designed a “revolutionary new motor powered by ambient static electricity.” Galt became frustrated when the company he worked at embraced collectivism and he walked out, leaving his new motor behind.

This story plays well with Nikola Tesla’s actual history, at least when it is infused with some speculation that perhaps extends well beyond actual fact. Tesla obviously studied physics and became an electrical engineer. He designed a revolutionary new motor powered by alternating current and experimented with electrostatic electricity. And like Galt, Tesla became frustrated with the corporatism of working for Edison.

Rand even alludes to Tesla coils—“It was the coil that I noticed first…Those men, long ago, tried to invent a motor that would draw static electricity from the atmosphere, convert it and create its own power as it went along.” While there are clear departures from Tesla in the Galt character, these changes are certainly within the normal realm of creative writing. Atlas Shrugged is, after all, a novel.

The key to the thread is that John Galt, like Nikola Tesla, was interested in the production of what effectively would be “free energy.” Virtually all costs associated with electrical power generation, transmission, and use would be eliminated. Tesla had discovered what he called “terrestrial stationary waves” in his laboratory in Colorado Springs. The Earth could transmit power—acting as a conductor that would be as responsive, and controllable, as a tuning fork. With this knowledge Tesla was able to light two hundred lamps without the use of wires. Returning to New York, Tesla planned to develop not only wireless communication in his new facility at Wardenclyffe, but wireless power freely distributed to all through the Earth’s surface.

With this as a base, the John Galt connection—creating free energy from static electricity—is sometimes extended to include Wilhelm Reich. Reich claimed to have discovered what he called “orgone,” which was a physical energy contained in all living matter as well as in the atmosphere. He believed that this orgone could generate “free, useable energy.” Galt, Reich, and Tesla all discovered “free energy.” So where is it? Why do we have to pay the electrical utility for our power and wait for them to get power back on after a storm? Well, according to the conspiracy theorist, it is because the few people with political and corporate power do not want the rest of us to take away their profits by having access to energy that is “free.”

What do you think?

[Adapted from Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity]

Watch for Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, due in Barnes and Noble stores July 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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10 thoughts on “Tesla Shrugged? Was John Galt Based on Nikola Tesla?

  1. not same what they tought about electricy and their private life. Tesla is abnormaly inocent, nonmaterialistic and had something what west world rarely know, it is ortodox beleved. They call him mad scientist because not understand our viewpoint of trans human communication. That is from parent-his dady was ortodox prist and dozen of them. Probebly there is similarity, but not total…..

  2. Well, I read Atlas Shrugged a very long time ago, but as I remember it, John Galt was a metallurgist and his main invention was a more resistant alliage for railways.

    Also, their motivations are at the exact opposite : in the book John Galt aimed for personal wealth, whereas in reality Nikola Tesla aimed for service to humanity.

    • Galt came up with the static electricity motor (in the book) and later worked in railroads. As a character he was fairly two-dimensional.

      I agree that Tesla was the polar opposite of Galt in terms of personal philosophy. Galt was self-serving whereas, as you note, Tesla was more interested in inventing things that helped mankind. Largely he did that without much concern for financial reward, which is one of the reasons he lived out his final years in poverty.

      Thanks for the great comment.

    • It’s likely not so bifurcated; there is much overlap in practice. But it does show a major contrast in philosophy.

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