How are Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla Connected?

I’ve been a part time scholar of Abraham Lincoln for most of my life. And I’ve written a book on Nikola Tesla. Now it seems the two men are connected in many ways.

How can that be? After all, Nikola Tesla was born in 1856, so he was only 9-years-old when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Oh, and Tesla was born of Serbian heritage in an area that is now part of Croatia. He didn’t even make it to the United States until 1884 – almost a score years after “now he belongs to the ages” was uttered. So how could they possibly be connected?

I’ve actually come across at least a half dozen connections. I’ve already mentioned one of them on this site before. Thomas Edison, Tesla’s archrival in the war of the currents, was a big fan of “the life and character of Abraham Lincoln.”

My most recent discovery happened when I was the Library of Congress (LOC) obtaining my “Readers ID,” which is required of all scholarly researchers who want to actually touch the old letters and manuscripts. In the Thomas Jefferson building, one of three massive edifices that make up the Library of Congress, is a mural by Edwin Howland Blashfield. Circling the main reading room way up in the dome, the mural depicts about a dozen countries or regions and contributions they have made to society. Gazing upward you see this:

Abraham Lincoln LOC main reading room

Zooming in to the “one o’clock” position of the above you can see someone very familiar:

Abraham Lincoln LOC close up

According to the LOC’s Lincoln and Civil War expert Michelle Krowl, and quoting from the book On These Walls: Inscriptions & Quotations in the Library of Congress:

“America is represented by the field of science. The figure, an engineer whose face was modeled on that of Abraham Lincoln, sits pondering a problem. In front of him is an electric dynamo, representing the American contribution to advances in harnessing electricity.”

Well how about that? The visage of Abraham Lincoln is used to epitomize America, and our contribution to society is science, depicted by an electric dynamo harnessing electricity, something that Nikola Tesla was in the forefront of bringing to the American public.

How cool is that?

These are just two of several connections between Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla. I’m compiling these for an article I plan to submit this fall. Keep coming back for updates and more connections.

Meanwhile, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity continues to sell out the remainder of the stock in Barnes and Noble stores. Be sure to ask for it if you don’t see it on the shelves (some stores are down to their last copy). Of course, you can always buy a signed and inscribed copy directly from me on this website.

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5 thoughts on “How are Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla Connected?

  1. Was Tesla a Serbian or an American engineer? Was Albert Einstein American? If we put aside Thomas Edison, who, to my mind, was rather a businessman than inventor, is American contribution to science that strong? How does it compare with other associations (England – literature, France – emancipation, etc.)?

    • Tesla was born to Serbian heritage in an AustoHungarian military outpost region, but became an American citizen. Most of his substantial work was done in the USA (though clearly it built on what he did before he got here). Einstein had a lot of different citizenships as his German origination morphed into various versions, plus Switzerland, then eventually US citizenship. He did important things in each location.

      As to whether “American contribution to science is that strong,” well, that’s always a debatable question with no answer. Certainly the above named and others came to the US after being born elsewhere, but perhaps at least being here didn’t hurt. And I’m sure someone could come up with a list of American-born scientists who contributed significantly. The same goes for other fields, “strong” is always going to be subjective, not to mention subject to nationalistic bias. In any case, perhaps it doesn’t really matter any more in our global community.

  2. Pingback: Abraham Lincoln and Yosemite National Park | Science Traveler

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