About David J. Kent

I have been a scientist for the last 30 years. First as a marine biologist (yep, even met Jacques Cousteau's son Jean-Michel once), then as an actual paid scientist for a series of consulting firms. During this time paying the bills I've also done a fair amount of traveling. I've lived in a few different countries, with the most recent being three years living in Brussels. Since I was very young I've had this thing about Abraham Lincoln and now own well over 600 books (i.e., titles...some of the titles are multiple volumes to the actual number of physical books straining my bookshelves is closer to 1000). I also like to visit aquariums, which is probably a psychological throwback to my marine biology days. In any case, I've seen dozens all around the world. I also like to write. I've written/edited/published several newsletters, contributed to many others, have a dozen or so peer-reviewed papers and a book chapter (or two if you count the second edition), and scads of other miscellaneous writing. [Note: "scads" is a technical writing term for, well, scads.] My latest endeavors are books - I have the one contract to write a book on Tesla and expect another for one on Lincoln. I hope you'll find this web site entertaining, and once I get all the features working, informative. I write about all the things I've mentioned above - Tesla, Lincoln, aquariums, and a whole lot about travel. If you have any requests, be sure to let me know.

How a Cat Helped Nikola Tesla Discover Electric Current

Nikola Tesla portraitOne of the most important events of Nikola Tesla’s youth relates to Tesla’s childhood cat Mačak. As Tesla writes in a letter to a friend’s daughter, at one point during a cold snowy day Tesla “felt impelled to stroke Mačak’s back.” He notes that what he saw “was a miracle which made me speechless…Mačak’s back was a sheet of light, and my hand produced a shower of crackling sparks loud enough to be heard all over the place.” Tesla’s father explained that this must be caused by electricity, like that of lightning, and this thought convinced Tesla that he wanted to pursue becoming an “electrician.”

This experience with Mačak kept Tesla wondering how to harness the amazing electrical power of nature. But first Tesla had to overcome the tradition that required him to enter a course of study for the clergy. After all, his father was a clergyman and with Dane gone the duty of following in his father’s footsteps fell to Nikola. Doing so was also “the fondest wishes” of the mother he so adored. But to Tesla the idea was abhorrent. “This prospect hung like a dark cloud on my mind,” he later wrote in his personal recollections. It simply had no appeal to him. His mind was just too inquisitive, too demanding of deep thought, too eager to explore the development of new ideas. No, the clergy was definitely not something to which Tesla aspired.

Then he got sick. And his life, while at first in danger of being extinguished, took a whole new turn.

Cholera was a deadly disease in the 1800s, especially in villages like those where Tesla grew up. An epidemic of cholera took off in Tesla’s native land and nothing could be done to battle it. “People knew nothing of the character of the disease,” Tesla would later relate, and sanitation was nearly nonexistent. Tesla lamented the lack of understanding of the causes of the epidemic. The townspeople “burned huge piles of odorous shrubbery to purify the air,” thinking that somehow the stench would stem the horrible tide of death. Or perhaps it was merely to cover up the stench of death itself. In any case, the real problem was the water, and the people “drank freely of the infected water and died in crowds like sheep.”

Tesla at the time was away from home, just finishing his eleven years of public education. Unfortunately, rather than staying away—and against “peremptory [sic] orders” from his father—Tesla rushed home to Gospić. Stricken down with cholera almost immediately upon his return Tesla spent the next nine months struggling to stay alive with “scarcely the ability to move” and exhausted of all vitality. Despite being given up for dead by the local physicians, who must have been right most of the time given the number of people who succumbed, Tesla survived the experience “on account of my intense desire to live.” His father still wanted Nikola to join the clergy, but in an effort to stimulate the life forces of his ailing son, promised to let Tesla study engineering should he recover.

After hearing this, Tesla’s recovery was miraculous. His desire to live restored, Tesla showed amazing vitality in less than a week, something quite unexpected after nearly nine months of constant illness. Perhaps as a result of having the onus of the priesthood lifted off his shoulders (or perhaps as a result of creative memory from a resourceful man decades later), Tesla returned to health quickly with the knowledge that he was to enter engineering school within only a few months.

His childhood was over. And his long and eventful path toward becoming “the inventor of the 20th Century” was about to begin.

[Adapted from my book, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity]

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. 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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Should the 1864 Election be Postponed?

1864 ElectionA shocking poll conducted in June 2017 found that more than half of Republicans (52%) said they would support “a postponement of the next election if Trump called for it.” Such a postponement would be anti-American and unprecedented. Indeed, during the U.S. Civil War there were some who advised Abraham Lincoln to postpone the 1864 election. He refused to do so:

We cannot have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.

Lincoln forged ahead in 1864 despite his belief that he would lose the upcoming presidential election in November; he insisted the democratic process was what they were fighting for, and that the election would continue as planned.

Lincoln was so convinced he would lose reelection that on August 23, 1864, he wrote what has become known as the “blind memorandum:”

This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterward.

He folded the memorandum in half, asked each member of his perplexed cabinet to sign the back without reading it, then put it away for safekeeping.

Lincoln’s pessimism was justified, as the Democratic Party had selected Lincoln’s former General-in-Chief, George B. McClellan, as their nominee. While arrogantly ineffectual as a fighter, McClellan was beloved by his troops for the care he took to train and outfit them. Lincoln was afraid that too many of the troops, tired of war and eager to return home to the families, would leave the Republican Party to vote for their former commanding officer.

Republicans were so concerned they formed a coalition with some War Democrats and renamed themselves the National Union Party, which set as a primary platform position the continued pursuit of the war until unconditional Confederacy surrender. The platform also included a constitutional amendment for the abolition of slavery. In an effort to facilitate anticipated reassimilation of southern civilians into the Union, former Senator and current Military Governor of Tennessee—and staunch Unionist—Andrew Johnson was chosen to be Lincoln’s vice presidential running mate (a decision that would have significant postwar ramifications).

But the Democratic Party fragmented again. In 1860 it split between Northern and Southern Democrats, and now in 1864 it split between Peace and War Democrats. Some of the latter had joined with Republicans, but most remained in the Democratic Party. Peace Democrats drove the party platform, which proposed a negotiated peace with the South, the very scenario Lincoln warned of in his still-secret “blind memorandum.” Copperheads went even further, declaring the war a failure and demanding an immediate peace. Their own nominee, McClellan, rejected the peace platform, so the Democrats forced him to take on an avowed Copperhead, George Pendleton, as his vice presidential running mate.

In early September, Lincoln finally caught a break. Admiral David Farragut won the Battle of Mobile Bay, a quixotic Union campaign to capture the last harbor controlled by Confederates in the Gulf of Mexico. The harbor was protected by three onshore forts, three traditional wooden gunboats, and an imposing ironclad commanded by Roger Jones, the same man who had so impressively commanded the CSS Virginia against the USS Monitor in a battle of ironclads two years earlier. Mines (then called torpedoes) blocked the harbor entrance. Farragut became famous by being lashed to the rigging of the main mast and, according to legend, yelling, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

Soon afterward, William T. Sherman finally drew Confederate General John Bell Hood away from Atlanta, which allowed the Union to capture the Georgia capital. As northern newspapers praised the mighty successes at both Atlanta and Mobile Bay, Lincoln’s reelection chances suddenly looked more promising.

Indeed, by the time November arrived the election was not even close. The National Union Party received 55 percent of the popular vote (with only northern states voting, of course) to 45 percent for the Democratic Party. But the electoral vote was even more decisive: 212 for Lincoln and 21 for McClellan. Lincoln won 22 of the 25 northern states and was reelected in a landslide.

[The above is adapted from my new book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America.]

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David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. 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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Chasing Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon-Tiki Raft

Today (August 7, 2017) marks the 70th anniversary of Thor Heyerdahl’s amazing 4300-mile, 101-day sailing of a balsa wood raft named Kon-Tiki from Peru to an island near Tahiti. And I got to see Kon-Tiki in Oslo recently.

Heyerdahl was a Norwegian anthropologist. He and his wife spent a year living on the island of Fatu Hiva in the South Pacific. They noticed that the ocean waves always struck the eastern shore of the island, which got them wondering if the original inhabitants had settled from the east, not the western lands that were closer. After 11 years of getting no support for his theory, Thor decided the best way was to prove it was possible that prehistoric South Americans could have colonized the Polynesian islands by drifting on ocean currents.

Kon-Tiki raft, Oslo

And the Kon-Tiki raft was born.

Using balsa wood and other indigenous materials from the Peruvian coast, Heyerdahl and a five-person crew built a 40-square foot raft and named it after a “mythical white chieftain.” Not surprisingly, the trip was rather eventful as they survived many storms, sharks, whales, and ambling men overboard. After leaving Peru on April 28, on August 7, 1947 they smashed into a reef on Raroia, an atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago that makes up part of French Polynesia. They had made it!

Heyerdahl went on to write a bestselling book about the expedition, which I eagerly read as a budding marine biologist in my youth. He also produced a documentary film that won an Academy Award. These widely publicized his theory and the adventure, which led to further exploits including sailing a reed raft named Ra from Morocco to Barbados. Ra was also in the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo.

Kon-Tiki, Oslo

It was thrilling for me to see in person both Ra and Kon-Tiki given they played a role in my youth inspiring me to marine biology. As for Heyerdahl’s theory that the Pacific islands were settled by drifting South Americans, that idea has never really gained favor. More recent studies relying on DNA and genome identification show clearly that the dominant genetic make up is Polynesian, meaning that the prevalent idea that Heyerdahl was trying to disprove is probably the right one after all.

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David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. 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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Last Two Days to Get Free Copy of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America

Lincoln: The Man Who Saved AmericaThe clock is ticking. My Goodreads Giveaway of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America is down to its last two days. Click here to enter for a chance to receive a free signed first edition hardcover copy of the book. The Giveaway ends August 6th.

Be sure to check the box for “Also Add this Book to My Book Shelf” so you will be automatically notified of the next free giveaway.

You can preview the book – check it out here.

It can also be purchased directly on the Barnes and Noble website as a hardcover book or a Nook e-book. If you don’t have a Nook e-reader, no problem; simply download the Nook App onto any smart device – iPhone, Android, Kindle Fire, and all tablets, laptops, desktops – wherever you read your books.

A new first edition hardcover can also be ordered directly from me on this website. I’ll sign and inscribe it to your wishes. Check out my “Buy the Books” page to order all five of my books.

Thanks for all your support. Be sure to enter the Goodreads Giveaway, and watch out for more Giveaways coming soon.

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David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. 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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First Box of Lincoln Books Has Arrived!

My first box of Lincoln books is here! More to arrive shortly. Order now.

Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America

If you haven’t yet, check out my preview of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. 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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Marvel Comics Touts Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America

Lincoln: The Man Who Saved AmericaLincoln: The Man Who Saved America is officially released today, July 31, 2017!

The book is now available online through BarnesandNoble.com in both Hardcover and Nook versions.

It should also be in all Barnes and Noble stores nationwide (if you don’t see it, ask for it)

And you can still enter my Goodreads Giveaway for a free, signed copy of the book.

 

A meme of Marvel Comics Presidents’ Day Special depicting Abraham Lincoln rolling up his sleeves to “Save America!” has been circulating around Facebook. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. Or maybe not.

Lincoln Saved America comic

So take advantage of the availability and order online at BarnesandNoble.com or visit a Barnes and Noble store near you.

Don’t forget to enter my Goodreads Giveaway. I’ll have a series of them so be sure to check the box to add it to your to-read shelf so you’ll be automatically notified when the next giveaway starts.

Or order a signed first edition from my Buy the Books page. You’ll see my previous books on Tesla and Edison there too, as well as my two e-books (including Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate).

If you haven’t yet, check out my preview of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. 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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Win a Free Copy of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America

Lincoln: The Man Who Saved AmericaYou can now win a free copy of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America on Goodreads. I’ll even sign it for you!

Entering is simple. Go to the Goodreads page, scroll down to the “Win a Copy of this Book” section, and click on the “Enter Giveaway” button.

I plan to do a series of Giveaways, so be sure to select:


Doing so will automatically let you know when the next Giveaway has started.
The current Giveaway ends on August 6th.
Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America tells the story of Abraham Lincoln’s life, from his meager beginnings on frontier farms in Kentucky, through his early years in New Salem and as a rising politician and lawyer, all the way to the White House and the Civil War. You can get a preview of the book here.
Available on the Barnes and Noble website as both a hardcover and Nook book. Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America should be in Barnes and Noble stores nationwide shortly. I’m also selling signed copies on this website here: Buy The Books, where you can also buy my earlier books on Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, plus my two e-books.
So head to the Goodreads page, scroll down to the “Win a Copy of this Book” section, and click on the “Enter Giveaway” button. Don’t forget to check “Also add this book to my to-read shelf” so you’ll be notified when the next Giveaway starts.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release July 31, 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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One Belt, One Road, and the Hutongs of Beijing

HutongWe thought we would try something different on this trip to Beijing. Rather than a western-style hotel we chose a small hotel in a traditional hutong. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

A hutong is an ancient alley dating back to the dynastic period of Beijing’s history. The word hutong is apparently derived from Mongolian, coined first during the Yuan Dynasty when Mongolian leader Kublai Khan controlled all of what is much of China, Korea, and parts of eastern Russian today. And alleys they are; narrow lanes with walls on both sides. Periodically you encounter a door, which leads to a central courtyard surrounded by tiny rooms in which various families live. These siheyuans line the hutong. Most of these siheyuans serve the poorer classes and lack toilets, which in modern times have been installed at points along the hutong and shared by all.

Our hutong hotel was on the upscale side, having been renovated to provide a larger than usual central courtyard and modern rooms (each with its own bathroom). Still, the rooms were tiny and the bathrooms were tinier. Late at night the locals just in from the outlying farms (in town to sell goods, perhaps) would arrive, their loud voices and arguments easily heard through the thin walls. Early morning risers added to the din, making sleeping an adventure.

For some reason we decided it would be a good idea to seek out our hotel in the darkened night of 10 pm. Ru’s sister met us at the nearby Ping’Anli Subway station and guided us to the hutong with her GPS. Without her we never would have found it, and the hutong entrance looked exactly like the kind of dark alley I would never (ever) have wandered down at night. After checking out the room she figured we were good for one night before changing our minds. We stayed five days, which shocked everyone, including us.

Hutong Beijing

The One Belt, One Road Summit fell in the middle of our 10 days in Beijing. Proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the One Belt, One Road initiative (OBOR for short) is a development project (call it a trade agreement) seeking cooperation between Eurasian countries. In town for the big meeting was Russian President Vladimir Putin and another 30 or so world leaders (nope, not the USA). Whenever bigwigs are in town the Chinese government shuts down factories and limits car driving in order to cleanse the normally thickly polluted air. We had beautiful clear blue sky for the entirety of our visit, a rarity. A few days after the OBOR meetings were over, the air had already started to get hazy again. It didn’t help that we had high 90 degree F temperatures for every day except two – and those two surpassed 100 degrees F.

After five days we decided that we had experienced enough of hutong life and got a room in a western hotel not far from the Beijing Book Building, a huge structure that makes the local Barnes and Noble stores look tiny. Down the road was Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, which was closed while the OBOR spouses toured. But that is a story for another time.

For those who want to experience a hutong without actually having to live in one, there are plenty of tours for foreigners offered by people roaming the usual tourist traps. One of the wider ones near the Bell and Drum Towers is called Nanluoguxiang and has been turned into a shopping street, but don’t mistake it for a real hutong. Wander off one of the side alleys to get a better flavor. Plan your walk to end up at Houhai, a beautiful lakefront road lined with plentiful bars and restaurants, all with live music.

Much more on Beijing and other travels on this page, so feel free to click around.

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David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release July 31, 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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Abraham Lincoln Now on Goodreads – Plus, Books in the Mail

Lincoln: The Man Who Saved AmericaMy Abraham Lincoln books are in the mail. And on Goodreads.

July has always been a good month. In July 2013, I received nine boxes of books containing my copies of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity. In July 2016, my second book, Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World was released. And now, on July 31, 2017, my third book for Fall River Press, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is officially published. I’ve ordered personal copies from the publisher and should have them by the end of the month.

I have now listed the book on Goodreads, so please drop by, read the preview, and add it to your “to-read” list. I’ll be hosting Goodreads book giveaways shortly, so make sure to come back to Goodreads soon for a chance to win a free signed copy.

The book is also listed on the Barnes and Noble website. You can pre-order the Nook version of the book now, and you should be able to pre-order/order the hard copy very soon. You can also order a signed and inscribed personal copy from me through my website. [While you’re there, check out my Tesla and Edison books, plus my two e-books]

Writing a book is a long experience – researching and writing a book takes a while, but then you have to wait for months before it finally sees the light of day. It’s July. It’s time. It’s exciting.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release July 31, 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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5 More Things You Didn’t Know About Nikola Tesla

Happy Birthday, Nikola TeslaNikola Tesla was one of the most famous inventors of his age, and then he was mostly forgotten, dying in near poverty. In recent years Tesla has seen a resurgence in popularity as Tesla Motors has brought the Serbian-American inventor back into the limelight. [And perhaps my book, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity, has played a small role in spreading the Tesla word to the masses.]

Previously I revealed 5 things you probably didn’t know about Nikola Tesla. In honor of his July 10th birthday, here are 5 more.

1) He was actually born on the cusp of July 9th and 10th. As I write in my book:

As though it had been ordered up by a filmmaker’s special effects department, the threatening storm arrived just as Djouka Tesla went into labor. As she prayed for an easy delivery of her fourth child, the roar of the thunder drowned out her stifled cries. Precisely at midnight the cries transferred from Djouka’s lips to those of the newly born Nikola. In an omen that could not have been scripted more prophetically, a lightning bolt crackled from the sky and lit up the small house just as Nikola entered this world.

Startled, the midwife turned to the young mother and said

“Your new son is a child of the storm.”

“No,” responded Djouka, “He is a child of the light.

And so it seems that, from the beginning, Nikola Tesla was destined to electrify the world.

2) He was fond of practical jokes. Though often reclusive and introverted, Tesla was in his element when it came to showing off his inventions. He would wave wireless light sabers in front of mystified scientists, regale party-goers with feats of memory, and if he could lure unsuspecting celebrities into his laboratory, play practical jokes on them. He once even got Mark Twain to nearly pee his pants [check out the full story here].

3) The sight of pearl earrings would make him nauseous. He admitted to several idiosyncrasies, once telling a friend:

I had a violent aversion against the earrings of women but other ornaments, as bracelets, pleased me more or less according to design. The sight of a pearl would almost give me a fit but I was fascinated with the glitter of crystals or objects with sharp edges and plane surfaces. I would not touch the hair of other people except, perhaps, at the point of a revolver. I would get a fever by looking at a peach and if a piece of camphor was anywhere in the house it caused me the keenest discomfort.

4) He invented robotics. Or at least, a wireless remote controlled boat. Setting up a tank in Madison Square Garden he slid a large odd-shaped boat into the water. Asking the gathered audience to tell the boat to turn this way and that way, Tesla secretly controlled its direction via radio waves. It was 1898 and the first time anyone had shown the ability to do such “magic.” [More on robot boats here.]

5) He was a science fiction star. Perhaps more accurately, he was the inspiration for science fiction stories. It all started when Tesla was experimenting with wireless radio signals in Colorado Springs. One night he recorded what he was convinced was directed messages from some far out source in space. He later was ridiculed for this, but a close friend and publisher Hugo Gernsback decided to take advantage of the idea and often used Tesla’s experiments as a basis for science fiction stories. It’s perhaps no surprise that in recent years Tesla has gained visibility as a popular science fiction figure in computer games, movies, and books.

Interestingly, one of Tesla’s rivals in the AC/DC wars, Thomas Edison, was also into science fiction. He even started writing a science fiction novel (though he never finished it).

One final note – while Tesla and Edison were rivals in the “war of the currents,” they were generally friendly with each other and mostly veered into separate careers that rarely overlapped. Both Tesla and Edison made marks in the world, but both would agree that that they were very different men of invention. [More on that here]

But today is all about Tesla.

Happy Birthday, Nikola Tesla!

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David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. 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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