Drum Tower of Beijing – Ancient Time Keeper

I recently visited the famous Drum Tower (鼓楼, Gulou) in Beijing, China. I was surprised to learn that it was also a clock, or at least a timekeeper. The tower, which faces its Bell Tower counterpart, was originally built when Kublai Khan was Emperor of China during the Yuan Dynasty (13th century). Originally used as a musical center, it later became a way for the reigning government to announce the time. The two towers maintained this official role up until 1924, when western style clockwork was adopted to keep time.

Beijing Drum Tower

Climbing the long, steep stairway to the top gets you into the main room, one side of which holds a line of humongous drums. The one remaining original drum (of 25) sits to one side, its calfskin head slashed during the Eight Power Allied Forces’ invasion in 1900. We’re here to see the demonstration of the drums. While we wait we take in the panoramic view of Beijing from the outside walkway high above the streets.

Beijing Drum Tower

We also check out the displays of ancient timekeeping equipment. With our modern astronomically-linked smart phones and digital watches, it is interesting to see that much of time was monitored through the burning of incense and candles. Others used water or metal balls.

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In one timepiece called a Bronze Kelou, time is measured by the flow of water through four copper clepsydras. A mechanical device would trigger the attached God of Cymbals to strike his cymbals together eight times for each quarter hour. Another timepiece called a Beilou contained several metal balls that would roll along copper pipe in a 2 meter tall cabinet. A ball would clang a cymbal every 24 seconds, thus it would take 14.4 minutes (an ancient quarter) for 36 metal balls to complete a cycle. It would take 24 hours for 3,600 metal balls to complete rolling, which gave relatively accurate time measurement.

It’s time. Four drummers march in and line up in front of the huge drums. They pound with such brute force it’s hard to imagine the drum heads lasting for very long. After only a few minutes you start to realize the power and strength of the drummers. Check out the video below.

After the demonstration we slowly descend the stairs, which somehow seem steeper going down than going up. This won’t be the last stairs – the even taller Bell Tower is next!

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David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release in summer 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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If It’s Tuesday – Networking, Networking, Networking

Brussels, Belgium, TuesdayNetworking is your best friend!

In real estate they say “location, location, location.”

When moving to another country they say “network, network, network.”

In the continuing saga of my three-year long working life in Brussels (based on the movie, If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium), one of my first concerns was the fact that I would not know anyone. How would I find a place to live? How would I deal with the foreign language? Buying groceries? The foreboding bureaucracy?

Who could I call on to help? After much thought and a whole lot of asking around, this is what I came up with to give me a hand as I prepared my international adventure.

1) The company office in Brussels: The obvious first stop was the European office of the company I worked for at the time. After all, company business was the reason I was getting this opportunity. I had met a few of my soon-to-be office mates when I attended a conference the year before, so had high hopes that they would be dragging me along to pubs and parties. That didn’t quite work out the way I anticipated (most had families and the requisite attention to those families), but they became a great resource for me.

2) Ex-Pat connections: No, these are not people who are no longer Patriot fans, but expatriates, who are people who live outside their native countries. Because Brussels is the capital of the European Union, there are networks of Americans (and Canadians and Aussies and Brits, etc) living and working in the city. While in the end I spent less time with native-English speakers than with other expats, it was nice to be able to sit in an Irish pub occasionally and hear mostly English-ish. A useful website to help locate expats is expat.com. [More below the photo]

Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday

3) Friends who have friends: Because of the global nature of many businesses these days, I’ve had a chance to meet people who work for multinational companies, international government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. These groups were a great help in linking me with colleagues and friends in Brussels in particular or in Europe in general. Added to my own European friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, I started off this venture in pretty good shape. Or at least that’s what I thought.

4) Colleagues who have lived there: The firm I worked for had several partners who temporarily relocated from the Washington, DC to the Brussels office. Each of them in succession stayed only one year (I was there for three) and lived in a company-rented apartment (I needed to find and pay for my own apartment), but their experiences did give them wonderful insights, which they happily passed along to me.

5) Scientific organizations: I belong to, and have been active in, two major international scientific organizations. Both have European divisions, and the Executive Directors have helped introduce me to key folks in Europe. I had also been president of the regional chapters of both organizations, which helped my build a network of contacts, many of whom offered advice and strategies. [Others were simply envious of my opportunity and promptly invited themselves to stay with me at their earliest convenience.]

6) Social media: You guys! The assistance, support, and insights I received from online connections was invaluable. At the time I was active on a now-defunct posting and comment site called Gather, and the online friendships I had built all offered amazing support and suggestions. That site is gone but a large number of the people I formerly interacted with on Gather are now active connections on Facebook. I felt truly privileged to have “met” so many people who were willing to offer their experiences, travels, and passions to this project.

[Click and scroll for more in the If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium series. More coming soon.]

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David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release in summer 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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Creating an Abraham Lincoln Library

Lincoln: The Man Who Saved AmericaMy Abraham Lincoln library began with a few books years ago and grew slowly into several shelves, then leapfrogged into several bookcases, and in seemingly one big bang expanded exponentially into several rooms. This week I took steps to consolidate the space (somewhat) and provide adequate space for new arrivals (at least temporarily).

My basement library/office/reading room began with two glass-front barrister bookcases full of books about Abraham Lincoln. I added four short (2-shelf) bookcases, which formed a nice wall between my office area and the library/reading area. A few years ago I commandeered a room upstairs as a library annex, installing four tall bookcases of five and six shelves each. Those quickly filled up and three more tall bookcases squeezed themselves into the guest bedroom, though I admit two of them hold non-Lincoln books. And yet all this wasn’t enough; books stacked themselves onto my computer desk, my writing desk, my floors, and edges of couches. Stairways became queues of books in the process of being read. Something had to change.

Abraham Lincoln library shelves

Ikea to the rescue. The four short bookcases have been re-purposed upstairs and replaced with four 7-shelf bookcases along one side of the room. I definitely like the look of a library wall. Ah, but the shelves didn’t stay empty long. They quickly looked like this.

Abraham Lincoln library shelves

The short shelf books are in their new home along with background books on Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison (research for past book projects) and some random files, magazines, and books previously piled randomly throughout the room. The best part is that I now have room to display some of my artwork, including the Lincoln bust in the center. How long it will take to fill the remaining space is anyone’s guess, but probably less time than I think.

Now that I have some space to play around with, I am reconsidering my organizational system, which can best be described as “in the order the books arrived.” I have a spreadsheet in which the shelf location of each book is listed so I can easily locate a particular resource for research. That works well enough, but I’m thinking about categorizing books by subtopics such as “assassination,” “full biography,” “childhood,” etc. A lot of books don’t fit nicely into this type of classification scheme, but it might be useful if I’m looking for a reference on his legal career, for example, without having to run all over the house to grab related books.

These are exciting times in Lincoln library land. My own Lincoln book will be put on the shelf within a few weeks and I’m already working on the next Lincoln book. I do have one favor to ask. My Facebook author page is sitting at 999 Likes, so if anyone reading hasn’t already liked it, can you run over and push me over 1000? Thanks in advance!

Meanwhile, 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 in summer 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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[Daily Post]

Walking a Fine Line at the Korean DMZ

Korean DMZRecently, while North Korea was firing test missiles into the surrounding sea and China/South Korea tensions were heightened due to the THAAD controversy, I took a walk along the fine line that is the DMZ – the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.

The area near the DMZ is anything but demilitarized, with armed guards stand at close firing distance from each other. Indeed, shortly after my visit South Korean soldiers fired upon what appeared to be North Korean drone flying over the border. Razor-wire fences line the road and river as you approach the DMZ, ostensibly to keep out invading forces, but in practice more to keep out spies and refugees floating down the river from the northern side of the border. The DMZ itself is a buffer zone, a strip of land extending 2 kilometers north and south of the border. Less than an hour from Seoul, we were able to get inside of the South Korean limits of the DMZ and go right up to the border itself.

Korean DMZ

Our first stop was at Imjingak Tourist Resort, which was a weird combination of remnants from the war (shot up rusty steam locomotive engine, Freedom Bridge, monuments, etc.) and carnival rides and miniature golf course. It was designed as a sort of consolation to those who couldn’t return to their hometowns, friends, and families because of the split between North and South Korea.

From there we went to the “3rd tunnel of aggression,” one of four tunnels the North Koreans had built as potential attack routes. To reach this point we needed to go through a South Korean military checkpoint where soldiers checked our passports individually before we ran a gauntlet of zigzagged barriers, spiked blockades, and even more razor wire. On the way back out of the DMZ more soldiers checked our passports again to make sure we hadn’t left anyone behind.

Korean DMZAfter seeing a video explaining the “3rd tunnel” and walking through a small museum, we donned hard hats for hike into the tunnel system. A long, steep access passage high enough to walk comfortably brought us steeply downward (358 meters long, 3 meters diameter, 11 degree angle) to a point where it intersected with the original tunnel of aggression. This “3rd tunnel” was very narrow (two people could barely squeeze sideways) with low ceilings (our hard hats dinged the ceiling routinely). Totaling 1,625 meters long, the 2 meter high and 2 meter wide tunnel sits 73 meters below the surface. About 1,200 meters of it is on the North Korean side of the demarcation (border) line, with 435 meters inside South Korea. We could walk hunched over about 265 meters, at which point a series of blockade walls keeps the two countries separated. Anthracite coal was painted on the walls and ceilings as a ruse; if discovered they could claim it was just a coal mine. Not a particularly credible feint given there is no coal in the region and the tunnel is cut through solid granite. While four tunnels have been discovered to date, it’s possible more exist. Photography was banned in the tunnels and everything but our clothes were required to be left in above ground lockers, so the photo above will have to suffice.

Korean DMZ

North (left) and South (right) Korean flags at DMZ

Our next stop was the Dora Observatory where we could see North Korea and its “propaganda village” and town and flag. Large binoculars give you a close up view. Both the North Koreans and South Koreans have placed their national flags on the tallest flag poles I’ve ever seen, dueling each other for psychological dominance while music plays over high-volume loudspeakers. The village looks like any other town from a distance, but the area just beyond the DMZ is flooded with thousands of artillery pieces. Experts believe about 60% of North Korea’s total artillery are positioned within a few kilometers of the DMZ. This is why it is so dangerous to American allies – any aggressive act by the US would within minutes result in thousands of shells raining down on Seoul, the capital and home to about half of South Korea’s 50 million citizens. In case you missed that, an attack on North Korea would immediately result in the deaths of up to 25 million South Koreans. Not a particularly strong bargaining position.

Korean DMZ

 

From there we went to the Dorasan Station, a Metro Subway Station that was built inside the DMZ just short of the North Korean border in the hopes that some day there would be a reuniting of the two countries (or at least a working relationship). Trains come this far only once a day. Here we put two inked stamps that look like passport visas onto the brochure for the DMZ (we were careful not to stamp our passports since 1) they aren’t official, and 2) we were headed to Beijing next. As it was, China only allowed me a one-entry, 30-day visa on this trip because we were going to South Korea first.

The DMZ offered a unique experience that gave me new insights into the conflict and the difficulties of resolving the issue even today. Critically, while an armistice was agreed to in 1953, no peace treaty was ever signed and the North and South are still technically at war. [Interestingly, after my return to the US I went to a lecture by Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H, set in Korea during the Korean war]

One other shocking experience occurred on this trip: on the way back to Seoul we saw a huge full size cruise ship high on the hill overlooking the road. But that is a story for another day.

Meanwhile, 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 in summer 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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Coming Soon! Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America

Lincoln: The Man Who Saved AmericaComing Soon! My newest book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release by Fall River Press on July 31, 2017. You’ll be able to pre-order it soon on the Barnes and Noble website and buy it in Barnes and Noble stores nationwide. As noted in the prologue:

Lincoln delivered his inaugural address, then was given the presidential oath of office by Chief Justice Roger Taney, whose Dred Scott decision a few years earlier had further divided the nation and enlarged the growing rift between free states and slave states. Lincoln pondered whether he would be able to keep the Union together.

We must not be enemies. We must be friends.

Lincoln tried to reassure the South:

The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict, without yourself being the aggressors.

He pleaded with them not to destroy the vision of the Founders, who established the Constitution “to form a more perfect union.” But he was also firm:

You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ it.

After being sworn into office, Lincoln traveled alone by carriage up muddy Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. Just over a month later, the Confederate army fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, beginning the Civil War. The conflict that followed over the next four years would be the bloodiest and most divisive struggle ever faced by America. The responsibility for saving the nation fell squarely on Lincoln.

Here is the Table of Contents to give you an indication of what is covered in the book; essentially, cradle to grave and more.

Prologue

Chapter 1: Kentucky Born, Indiana Raised

Chapter 2: Coming of Age in Illinois

Chapter 3: Beginning a Life in Politics

Chapter 4: Lincoln’s Loves and Family

Chapter 5: Life as a Lawyer

Chapter 6: A House Divided—Slavery on the Rise

Chapter 7: Running for President

Chapter 8: President—The Union Must be Preserved

Chapter 9: From Gettysburg to Reelection

Chapter 10: Of Martyrdom and Legacy

Appendix 1:  Timeline

Appendix 2:  Selected Resources and Further Reading

Like my Tesla and Edison books, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America is chock full of period photos, drawings, and other highlights that make the book visually appealing. Reviewers of my previous books have described them as “beautifully illustrated” with “clear, accessible writing.” They have been called “quick to read” and “a fun book” that “appeals to general readers with a wide range of interests” and makes “a perfect gift.” The presentation is designed to make the story of Lincoln come alive for all ages.

Here is a preview.

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Look for the book in stores later in the summer! Meanwhile, 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 in summer 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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Nikola Tesla and Science Fiction

Nikola Tesla once suggested that “the possibility of beckoning Martians was the extreme application of [my] principle of propagation of electric waves.” While dropping the “talking with planets” idea once he returned to New York from Colorado Springs, he did maintain a belief that “there would be no insurmountable obstacle in constructing a machine capable of conveying a message to Mars, nor would there be any great difficulty in recording signals transmitted to us by the inhabitants of that planet.” Assuming, Tesla noted, that “they be skilled electricians.”

Interest in the theory was heightened by a Margaret Storm book called Return of the Dove. Later, another book by Arthur Matthews (Wall of Light: Nikola Tesla and the Venusian Spaceship) suggested that Tesla not only talked with extraterrestrials—he was one! Science and science fiction publisher Hugo Gernsback often used his friend Tesla’s ideas as seeds for science fiction stories, thus forever linking Tesla’s name with science fiction.

Which gets me to two new science fiction books wherein Nikola Tesla battles extraterrestrials invading the Earth. Author L. Woodswalker has taken many aspects of Tesla’s real life and woven them into two thrilling science fiction books that I highly recommend. Click on the book titles to get to the Amazon pages. Here are my reviews on Goodreads:

Tesla's Signal

 

 

Tesla’s Signal

Marvelous science fiction. L. Woodswalker authors a cleverly written exploration of alien invasion that masterly weaves real history with fantasy and surreality in a series of intricately woven story lines. Those who are familiar with Nikola Tesla will recognize the deft intertwining of Tesla’s real inventions, quirks, and personality traits with extrapolations to what they have become in the minds of many a Tesla aficionado. Those unfamiliar with Tesla will still find themselves rabidly engaged in the requisite alien races, the fight between good and evil, and some surprising romantic tension spliced into exciting action. All together here are the makings of a great SF novel. Well done!

 

 

Tesla’s Frequency

I loved this book even more than the first one (Tesla’s Signal). A must-read for anyone interested in Tesla and/or historical science fiction. L. Woodswalker once again constructs a marvelous story line, deep and interesting characters, and beautifully written dialogue. Woodswalker deftly weaves reality (Tesla’s actual inventions, Hitler’s actual plans) with fantasy (rumors of Tesla inventions that never came to fruition, fictional characters) and science fiction (space aliens). The resulting fast-paced, exciting ride pitting good versus evil keeps the pages turning as the famous inventor, his white pigeon side-kick, and an intriguing young girl battle the bad guys to save the world from both Hitler and aliens.

Great writing, great story, and Nikola Tesla. What more could you ask for? I highly recommend both this book and Woodswalker’s earlier Tesla thriller, Tesla’s Signal.

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David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release in summer 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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From these honored dead – Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a federal holiday set aside to remember the people who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. Whereas Armed Forces Day pays tribute to those currently in service and Veterans Day celebrates those who have served in the past, Memorial Day honors those who died in military service.

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery, across the bridge from the Lincoln Memorial, was established late in the Civil War on land that had previously belonged to Robert E. Lee. It is the most famous and largest national cemetery, but it is only one of 147 official national cemeteries designated to hold the remains of our nation’s military departed. Another in the national capital region is the Annapolis National Cemetery. Illinois hosts the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.

I recently visited the Arlington National Cemetery where I met up with an old friend of sorts. Abraham Lincoln’s eldest son Robert Todd Lincoln is buried in a large above ground tomb. He is the only one of the Lincoln family not buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. Robert had served as a Captain under General Ulysses Grant’s command at the end of the Civil War and was present at Appomattox and met General Robert E. Lee during the surrender. Robert would later serve as Secretary of War under President James Garfield (continuing under President Chester A. Arthur after Garfield’s assassination).

In these current troubling times, it is critical that we use this Memorial Day to honor “those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.” Furthermore, as Lincoln noted in his dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release in summer 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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[Daily Post]

A Little Bit of Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan, South Korea

Like fish? You better if you travel to Busan, South Korea. And the place to be is the Jagalchi Fish Market, the biggest fish market in all of Korea. When I say big, I mean huge. Do not miss it.

Busan (as it has been named officially since 2000 to avoid the unpleasant sound of its original name, Pusan) is South Korea’s second biggest city, weighing in at about 3.6 million people. Sitting on the southeast coastline, Busan is know for its grand beaches, mountainous parks, ancient temples, and, of course, an aquarium.

One of Busan’s biggest attractions is the fish market. Located in the Nampo-dong neighborhood along the waterfront, the rather surprising main building takes up several floors behind a wall of glass. The first floor is lined with row after row of fresh seafood, much of it still alive and waiting to be chosen for tonight’s dinner. The second floor has a restaurant and a dried fish market. Upper floors hold an exhibition room, another restaurant and seafood buffets, and oddly enough, a guesthouse and sky park.

Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan, South Korea

But to me the much more interesting part of the fish market is the one outdoors. Stretching down a narrow lane from the front doors of the building are hundreds of small vendors selling every kind of seafood you can imagine. Some of it is mobile like this octopus (above) that almost made a getaway before being snagged up by the vendor and returned to his not-so-private temporary swimming pool.

Not to be outdone, each vendor tries to lure you into their stand by hyping their specialties – live hagfish, clams, sea cucumbers, whelk, mackerel, pompano, belt fish, skate, lobster, several species of crabs, and some things that I still can’t identify despite my old marine biology training.

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If you don’t want live fish, or those freshly departed, you can find every variety of dried fish and squid to gnaw on. A few stalls sell precooked fish as well. Hungry now? Many of the outdoor stalls have mini-restaurants tucked in behind their display tables where they will be happy to whip up a freshly cooked (and killed) morsel of your choice on the ubiquitous compressed coal open stoves. Don’t know what to order? Choose the pre-made variety dishes for a delicious hot pot. Don’t forget the vegetables (you can buy those here too).

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You can get to Jagalchi by taking Line 1 of the Busan subway system to Jagalchi station. Take Exit 10 and head for the waterfront.

There is so much more to see in the Busan. Stay tuned.

David J. Kent is an avid science traveler and 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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Abraham Lincoln, Nikola Tesla, and Mark Twain Connected in the Arts

No one would mistake Abraham Lincoln for an artist, though scholars give him high marks on his writing. Long before there were speechwriters, politicians wrote their own material, and Lincoln is well known for such memorable speeches as the Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses. He was also a great letter writer, often crafting policy positions in the form of “private” letters that were, in fact, intended for public consumption. His response to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, for example, in which he states his position on emancipation of the slaves, thus preparing the public for the proclamation that he had already prepared but not yet revealed, is a classic of historical writing.

But did you know that our 16th President wrote poetry? Perhaps not on par with Robert Burns (one of his favorite poets), but clever and with great storytelling. Which reminds us that Lincoln is well known for his ability to tell a humorous story.

Nikola Tesla was also fond of poetry. He could recite long classic poems in their entirety, and could do so in several different languages. Tesla’s own writings were perhaps not as succinctly to the point as Lincoln’s but they were often entertaining and fanciful; not an easy task for an electrical engineer writing about cutting edge technical discoveries. Most of our knowledge of his childhood and early adult years come from Tesla’s own autobiographical accounts serialized in the scientific magazines of the day.

Tesla also was a big fan of the writings of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Which gets us to yet another connection between Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla.

Mark Twain in the House

Samuel Clemens, known to most of us by his pseudonym Mark Twain, was born in Hannibal, Missouri on November 30, 1835, shortly after Halley’s Comet had made its regular but rare pass by the Earth. The 26-year-old Abraham Lincoln – an amateur astronomy buff who two years earlier had marveled at the Leonid meteor showers – may very well have been gazing at the skies when Mark Twain came into this world. At that age Lincoln lived in New Salem, Illinois, just a stone’s throw across the Mississippi River from Hannibal. In 1859, Lincoln rode the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad to give a speech in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The railroad just happened to be formed in the office of Mark Twain’s father thirteen years before.

Lincoln floated flatboats down the Mississippi River to New Orleans as a young adult, then took steamboats back upriver. He often piloted steamboats around shoals near his New Salem home. Mark Twain had worked on steamboats on the river for much of his younger years, first as a deckhand and then as a pilot. Being a riverboat pilot gave him his pen name; “mark twain” is “the leadsman’s cry for a measured river depth of two fathoms (12 feet), which was safe water for a steamboat.” In 1883 Twain even titled his memoir, Life on the Mississippi. Lincoln’s time traveling on and piloting steamboats eventually inspired his patent for lifting boats over shoals and obstructions on the river.

Lincoln would not have read any of Mark Twain’s stories (his first, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, was published in 1865, about seven months after Lincoln had been assassinated). But Twain says his humorous writing style was strongly influenced by another pen named-humorist, Artemus Ward, and the Jumping Frog story was published in the New York Saturday Press only because he finished it too late to be included in a book Artemus Ward was compiling. This is the same Artemus Ward that was so often read by Abraham Lincoln to break the tensions of the Civil War.

In fact, Lincoln was so entranced by the humor of Ward that on September 22, 1862 he read snippets from one of Ward’s books to his cabinet secretaries before settling into the business of the day – the first reading of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

Ironically, Mark Twain’s piloting job ended when the Civil War started, as much of the Mississippi River became part of the war zone. So what is a writer/river-boatman to do? Well, join the Confederate army of course. His unpaid service lasted only two weeks in 1861 before disbanding. He then left for Nevada to work for his older brother, out of harm’s way for the rest of the war, though his brief service for the confederacy did give him material for another of his humorous sketches, The Private History of a Campaign That Failed.” Later, Mark Twain would publish the memoirs of Civil War hero and President, Ulysses S. Grant.

Like Lincoln, Mark Twain was very interested in science and technology. Twain actually had three patents of his own, for a type of alternative to suspenders, a history trivia game, and a self-pasting scrapbook. Many years after the Civil War he met and became close friends with Nikola Tesla. Often when he was in New York City Twain would hang out in Tesla’s laboratory. One photo taken only with the light produced by Tesla’s wireless lighting technology shows Mark Twain holding a ball of light.

Mark Twain in Tesla's Laboratory

They became such good friends that Tesla felt comfortable playing a practical joke on him. One day Mark Twain dropped by the lab and Tesla decided to have a little fun. He asked Twain to step onto a small platform and then set the thing vibrating with his oscillator. Twain was thrilled by the gentle sensations running through his body.

“This gives you vigor and vitality,” he exclaimed.

After a short time Tesla warned Twain that he better come down now or risk the consequences.

“Not by a jugfull,” insisted Twain, “I am enjoying myself.”

Continuing to extol on the wonderful feeling for several more minutes Twain suddenly stopped talking. Looking pleadingly at Tesla he yelled:

“Quick, Tesla! Where is it?”

“Right over there,” Tesla responded calmly. Off Twain rushed to the restroom, embarrassed by his suddenly urgent condition. Tesla smiled; the laxative effect of the vibrating platform was well known to the chuckling laboratory staff.

By the way, Mark Twain was also friends with Thomas Edison. And Edison filmed the only footage of Mark Twain currently in existence. The less-than-two-minute-long film would not win any Academy Awards for content or production value – its grainy images show Twain merely walking while smoking his cigar and eating lunch with his two daughters – but it has obvious cultural and historical significance. Mark Twain died the following year, the day after Halley’s Comet returned for the first time since Twain’s birth, in effect, seeing him both into this world and out of it.

[The above is adapted from my e-book, Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate, available for download on Amazon.com.]

Click here for more posts here on Science Traveler about the connections between Lincoln and Tesla.

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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Nikola Tesla and the Development of Hydroelectric Power at Niagara Falls

Nature has provided an abundant supply of energy in various forms which might be utilized if proper means and ways can be devised.” – Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its TimeOne of Nikola Tesla’s first professional forays into the power of nature was the development of hydroelectric power at Niagara Falls. The idea of exploiting flowing water to convert potential energy to kinetic energy to mechanical energy has been around for centuries, but during the 1800s it was combined with the new developments in electricity as a means to generate electrical power.

The very first use of hydropower to generate electricity occurred in England in 1870. William George Armstrong created a series of artificial lakes at his estate, Cragside, which allowed him to power small incandescent lamps. By 1880, development of a brush arc light dynamo driven by a water turbine provided for the first use of hydroelectric power in the United States, lighting theater and storefronts in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The world’s first actual hydroelectric plant was small in scale and began operation on September 30, 1882 in Appleton, Wisconsin. Powered by the flow of the Fox River, the plant produced only enough electricity to light the home of Appleton paper manufacturer H.J. Rogers, along with the plant itself and a small nearby building. Not dramatic, but it was a beginning.

To this point, rudimentary hydroelectric power relied solely on direct current systems. But as discussed in Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity, direct current has significant limitations. In contrast, Tesla’s alternating current system was what allowed Niagara Falls to become the biggest and most fundamentally different producer of electricity at that time. Success there changed the future of electricity forever.

Niagara Falls

Tesla statue overlooking Niagara FallsNiagara Falls has been attracting attention since it was first discovered, and for good reason. The Niagara River drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, resulting in some of the most beautiful falls in the world. Niagara Falls actually encompasses three separate waterfalls: American and Bridal Veil Falls on the American side of the border; Horseshoe Falls generally considered to be on the Canadian side (though the actual demarcation is in dispute due to erosion over the years).

Taken together, and with a maximum vertical drop of more than 165 feet, the three falls provide the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world. Horseshoe Falls alone is considered to be the most powerful waterfall in North America as measured by vertical height and rate of flow.

It is not surprising that people were interested in using the Falls to make their lives easier. As far back as 1759 a man by the name of Daniel Joncairs had dug a ditch above the Falls on the American side and used the flowing water to turn a waterwheel that powered a small sawmill. Almost 50 years later, in 1805, two brothers bought the rights to American Falls and used the old ditch to feed water to a gristmill and tannery. They then tried to build a larger canal leading to a reservoir on the cliffs, which would be allowed to flow to the gorge through “turbines connected by belts to industrial machinery.” None of those ideas worked out, and several companies went bankrupt trying to finish the project.

In 1853 the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power & Manufacturing Company was chartered and by 1860 the company had begun construction of a 35-foot wide, 8-foot deep hydraulic canal to transport water from above the Falls to mill sites below the Falls. Delayed by the American Civil War, it would be take another 15 years before the canals were finished and the powerhouse was operational. Initially the plant ran only a single flour mill, but eventually a small generating station was producing enough electricity to light the first direct current lights in the village of Niagara Falls. Then the company went bankrupt.

In 1877, a successful tannery business owner, Jacob Schoellkopf, bought the canal and power rights at Niagara. While previous entrepreneurs had tried to harness the power of the falling water for mechanical energy (e.g., driving mill wheels), Schoellkopf realized the future was in generation of electrical energy. Modifying the existing systems, by 1881 Schoellkopf was providing power to Charles Brush to power “16 electric carbon arc lights” used to illuminate the Falls.

All of this was restricted by the limitations of direct current, which could not transmit more than a mile or two. Growing cities such as Buffalo, only 20 miles away, were unable to get electricity from the power of Niagara. While Schoellkopf’s efforts were a great step forward, something else needed to be done.

Enter Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse

Nikola TeslaThe Schoellkopf Company was eventually absorbed by the Niagara Falls Power Company run by New York financier, and former Edison Electric Company Board member, Edward Dean Adams. By 1889 a subsidiary called the Cataract Construction Corporation was incorporated and financed by heavyweights of the industrial world, including J. Pierpont Morgan, John Jacob Astor, William Vanderbilt, and the company’s president, Edward Dean Adams himself.

While Cataract began building the needed tunnels, Adams was researching the advantages and disadvantages of the well-known direct current vs the still untested alternating current. The company wanted to send electricity great distances, a major deficiency of direct current. Even the great Thomas Edison could not convince Cataract direct current would do the job, so in 1893 Adams opted for an alternating current system. The contract was awarded to the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company.

The key to Westinghouse’s win was none other than Nikola Tesla. In My Inventions, Tesla recalls that he first heard of Niagara Falls when still a boy in his backwoods school. Some mechanical models used by his instructors interested him in the idea of water turbines. After hearing a description of the great Niagara Falls, Tesla “pictured in my imagination a big wheel run by the Falls.” He proclaimed to his uncle that one day he would “go to America and carry out this scheme.”

Suddenly he had that chance. Tesla and Westinghouse had teamed up to win the contract to light up the Chicago World’s Fair – also known as the World Columbian Exposition – which opened May 1, 1893. The success of lighting up “the white city” was so impressive that Cataract quickly awarded the Niagara contract to Westinghouse. Tesla’s patented polyphase alternating current system would power the generators and bring electric lights and power to Buffalo. As somewhat of a consolation prize, Thomas Edison’s General Electric Company was hired to construct the long-distance transmission lines. Edison likely found this demeaning, not to mention ironic, given that his preferred direct current system could not be transmitted long distances and was the reason he lost the coveted Niagara contract in the first place. Edison would largely abandon direct current power plants after Niagara, following along on Tesla’s alternating current success.

Let there be energy

The concept behind gaining energy from the Falls is relatively simple. Potential energy is stored at the top of the Falls and as it drops the energy becomes kinetic. To tap it, some of the water that would go over the Falls is displaced through a long tunnel to turn a series of turbines, which converts the energy into mechanical energy, and that generates electricity.

Completed in 1895, Tesla’s polyphase generator could produce 15,000 horsepower, an unprecedented amount of power at that time. The Westinghouse Company would add seven more generating units to raise that level to 50,000 horsepower. On November 15, 1896, Westinghouse Electric, powered by nine key patents comprising Tesla’s polyphase system, began providing alternating current electricity to the city of Buffalo, twenty miles from the Falls. This achievement…

“…was the first alternating current electrical generating plant built on a large scale in the world. Its success encouraged the international creation of hydroelectric stations, now the most widely used form of renewable energy.”

Courtesy of NMAH Smithsonian InstitutionTesla’s success changed the world, and soon many other power stations would be built at Niagara and elsewhere in the United States. Within ten years hydroelectric plants would provide 15 percent of all the electricity in the U.S.; by 1920 that had reached 25 percent.

Tesla himself only made his first visit to the plant on July 19, 1896. It was his transformers that solved one of the most difficult problems in electrical science, but he was too busy to visit the site. In fact, on March 13, 1895, just as the generators using his technology were about to become operational at Niagara, his New York City laboratory burned to the ground. Rebuilding his equipment, and extracting the theoretical knowledge stored in his head, would keep him occupied for many months. When Tesla did finally find time, he noted that he was “delighted” with his visit to Niagara Falls. After touring “from top to bottom of the power plant,” he added, “You may say it is the greatest and the best, the most thoroughly equipped in the world.” And Tesla was right.

Tesla noted that in addition to Niagara there were many waterfalls that could be tapped for their natural energy. While most people react with awe upon seeing Niagara and the other great waterfalls, Tesla dispassionately focused on the mechanics of how their awesome power could be exploited for the generation of electricity.

“Great waterfalls exist in many inaccessible regions of the globe and new ones are being discovered, all of which will be eventually harnessed when the wireless transmission of energy is commercialized.”

Much credit has to be given to George Westinghouse and his willingness to take the chance on new technologies. Tesla himself was positively effusive about Westinghouse. Thomas Edison, on the other hand, tried to discredit alternating current; he even suggested the wires might be better put to use drying laundry. Another renowned electrician of the time, Charles Proteus Steinmetz, “had a very poor opinion” of Tesla’s induction motor. To Tesla, George Westinghouse was “a genius of the first degree…a man truly great, of phenomenal powers,” and perhaps even more importantly, “undertook to wage a war [based on Tesla’s alternating current technology] against overwhelming odds.” Together, Tesla and Westinghouse’s alternating current won “the war of the currents” over Edison’s direct current. The world still benefits today from that victory each and every time we use the electricity transported long distances to our homes and businesses.

To honor his role in bringing hydroelectric power to Niagara Falls, the main power station would be named after Edward Dean Adams in 1927. Adams would make the cover of Time magazine on May 27, 1929. Nikola Tesla would do the same just over two years later, on July 20, 1931, in celebration of his 75th birthday and a lifetime of achievement. Tesla’s inventions had not only revolutionized electrical generation, they did what he always wanted to do – “harness the forces of nature for the service of mankind.”

[The above is adapted from my e-book, Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time, available on Amazon.com.]

Read other posts on Nikola Tesla here on Science Traveler.

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.

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.