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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Abraham Lincoln, Joseph Henry, and Nikola Tesla – Connected by Fate

When Abraham Lincoln took the presidential oath on March 4, 1861, he would become the first president ever to have obtained a patent. Patent Number 6469 was awarded to Lincoln on May 22, 1849 for a device to lift boats over shoals and obstructions. Lincoln writes in his patent application:

Be it known that I, Abraham Lincoln, of Springfield, in the county of Sangamon, in the state of Illinois, have invented a new and improved manner of combining adjustable buoyant air chambers with a steam boat or other vessel for the purpose of enabling their draught of water to be readily lessened to enable them to pass over bars, or through shallow water, without discharging their cargoes and I do hereby declare the following to be a full, clear, and exact description thereof, reference being had to the accompanying drawings making a part of this specification.

It was the only patent Abraham Lincoln ever received, and the only patent ever given to a President, either before or after their presidency. In contrast, Nikola Tesla had around 300 patents to his name.

Tesla may have had more patents (after all, he was an inventor), but Lincoln always had an interest in invention. During his career as a lawyer he was routinely sought for patent and technologically-dependent legal cases, and during the Civil War he often took matters into his own hands and personally tested some of the biggest technological advances in weaponry. Since he was not classically trained as a scientist – he barely finished one year of formal schooling – Lincoln called on experts to advise him. His biggest scientific adviser during the Civil War was Joseph Henry.

Calling Joseph Henry

Most people likely do not know it, but Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Samuel F.B. Morse, Michael Faraday, and others owe their fame, at least in part, to Joseph Henry.

As the Civil War loomed, with Washington D.C. a critical centrality in both the conflict and the potential solution, Joseph Henry was still getting settled into the red sandstone “Castle” that we have all come to know as the symbol of the Smithsonian Institution. The building itself, like the Institution, was relatively new, completed only about six years before Lincoln’s arrival. As the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, and later also as chair of the Permanent Commission to advise the Navy on scientific matters, Henry was one of Abraham Lincoln’s most trusted science advisers. Henry and Lincoln became good friends and worked together to address a wide variety of technological and scientific issues during the Civil War.

So what does Joseph Henry have to do with Nikola Tesla? It turns out, a lot, even though Henry died a few years before Tesla first set foot on American soil.

A precocious child with little interest in formal education, the young Henry stumbled across a book called Lectures on Experimental Philosophy, Astronomy and Chemistry; the book changed his life. Eagerly devouring the scientific principles it contained, Henry began a largely self-taught course in the sciences. Eventually he was taken in by a mentor at the Albany Academy and focused on the nascent field of electricity. Henry excelled in his studies and one day decided to improve upon a weak electromagnet design by William Sturgeon. While the original design used loosely coiled uninsulated wire, Henry wrapped the coils tightly with silk for insulation. The result was four hundred times the original strength. Further improvements led to the powerful electromagnet that became the standard in modern times. This was in 1827, more than fifty years before Tesla came to America.

A few years later, in 1831, Joseph Henry’s innovations led to the first machine to use electromagnetism for motion, effectively, the precursor to the modern direct current motor. It was a simple design, the linear rocking from side to side of a standard electromagnet, but it was the basis for the rotating motion motors eventually designed by Nikola Tesla for his alternating current system. Henry’s simple apparatus allowed him to discover the principle of self-inductance (electromagnetic inductance).

Henry did not stop there. His experiments demonstrated that using an electromagnet in which two electrodes are attached to a battery, winding several coils of wire in parallel worked best. In contrast, if multiple batteries were used, a single long coil was best. This discovery is what made the telegraph feasible.

So why is it we do not hear about Joseph Henry as the father of the electromagnet, or father of the telegraph, or father of self-inductance? In short, Henry was always hesitant to publish any of his work. While he delayed writing up his discoveries, and there were many, others were quick to publish, sometimes after hearing about Henry’s work and “borrowing” it for their own. Famed scientist Michael Faraday, who most credit as the father of self-inductance, actually got at least some of his ideas from a meeting with Joseph Henry; while Henry hesitated, Faraday rushed to publish first. Similarly, Samuel F.B. Morse gets credit for being the father of the telegraph even though it was Joseph Henry’s key discoveries that made it possible; again, after meeting with Henry, Morse took advantage of Henry’s hesitation to publish.

That gets us to Nikola Tesla. Like Thomas Edison and others who developed electric lighting and power in the 1880s and beyond, it was Joseph Henry (and Faraday and others) who had discovered the principles on which the later inventions were based.

In fact, Joseph Henry and Nikola Tesla share yet another claim to fame – both of them have been honored with an international scientific unit (SI). Based on his work with electromagnetic energy, the tesla (T), an SI unit of magnetic flux density and equal to “one weber per square meter,” was named in Tesla’s honor. His forerunner, Joseph Henry, was honored with the SI unit of inductance, the henry (H), for his earlier discoveries in electromagnetic induction.

There are many other connections between Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla, which I discuss in the e-book from which the above is excerpted, Connected by Fate. Joseph Henry, whose early discoveries with electromagnetism, electricity, and the telegraph, became the key principles upon which Nikola Tesla and others made names for themselves years later, was just one connection. Check out the book for more.

Also, look for my new book coming out summer 2017: Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America [Click for Prologue]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (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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Now Live! Lincoln and Tesla – Connected by Fate

What do our 16th President and a Serbian-born inventor have in common? It turns out, a lot. Abraham Lincoln lived from 1809 to 1865 and led the United States through its darkest years, saving the Union and ending slavery. Nikola Tesla lived from 1856 to 1943 and invented the alternating current induction motor that revolutionized electricity generation. And yet, there are many overlaps in their influences and friends.

Lincoln and Tesla Connected by Fate

Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate examines these overlaps. With Lincoln’s interest in science and technology it’s not surprising that the first area of overlap is in the sciences. But there are also connections in the arts, the environment, a World’s Fair or two, and even in the assassination of one of our greatest presidents.

With color photos to highlight the connections, you’ll see how Lincoln’s closest scientific adviser discovered the principles of induction that allowed Tesla to create his greatest invention. You’ll see how Tesla harnessed the power of Niagara Falls, and Lincoln calculated it. You’ll see how Lincoln and Tesla are connected through Mark Twain, and John Muir, and Robert Underwood Johnson. You’ll see how Lincoln’s son Robert was saved by a Booth but became somewhat of an assassination jinx in his own right. And you’ll see much more.

Download the book now on Amazon.

While you’re there check out my other e-book Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time.

After you read the books please leave ratings and feedback on Goodreads and Amazon. Help spread the word!

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 (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in spring 2016.

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Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla – Connected by Fate [Now Available on Amazon]

Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla are somehow connected? Tell me more!

Yes, these two great men actually have many surprising connections. While they never met, their interests and circles of friends and colleagues greatly overlapped. So much so that I wrote an e-book about it. Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate is now available for pre-order on Amazon!

Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate

Given Lincoln’s interest in science and technology and Tesla’s life as an inventor, these incredible connections begin with science. But they don’t stop there. Connections between Lincoln and Tesla also exist in the arts, the environment, a great World’s Fair, and yes, even in the assassination of one of our greatest presidents.

Pre-order now and the e-book will be delivered to your Kindle on Monday when it is released to the general public. You can also download it to your Kindle-app on any other smart device (I read mine on my iPhone).

While you’re there check out my other e-book Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time.

After you read the books please leave ratings and feedback on Goodreads and Amazon. Help spread the word!

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 (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in spring 2016.

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Nikola Tesla and Abraham Lincoln – Connected at the Players Club

Lincoln and Tesla Connected by Fate coverAs I’ve mentioned before, Nikola Tesla and Abraham Lincoln have a surprising number of connections between them. I’m currently writing about them in my new ebook called (unsurprisingly) Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla – Connected by Fate, due out this summer on Amazon.com.

One unexpected, and somewhat ironic, connection revolved around key players in Lincoln’s assassination, at a club called The Players.

During his most socially-active period Nikola Tesla hung out with some of the more famous personages of the time. Among his friends were Samuel Clemens (aka, Mark Twain), John Muir, Robert Underwood Johnson, Sarah Bernhardt, and others. One of his favorite places to relax was The Players, a social club established to “bring actors into contact with men of different professions such as industrialists, writers and other creative artists.” Nikola Tesla was one of those men.

The Players, by the way, was started by famous Shakesperean actor, Edwin Booth. Yes, that Edwin Booth, older brother of the more infamous John Wilkes Booth, assassin of Abraham Lincoln.

Illegitimate son of the world-renowned actor, Junius Brutus Booth, Edwin went on to establish himself as a superior actor on his own. His two brothers, Junius Jr. and John Wilkes, equally illegitimate, also became actors, though one not as famous and the other more infamous. After the assassination, Edwin disowned John Wilkes and eventually resumed acting, making the title role in Hamlet his signature.

Edwin established The Players in 1888 and died in 1893 just as Nikola Tesla was lighting up the “White City” at the Chicago World’s Fair.

There is much more to the story, of course, and I’ll have that in Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla – Connected by Fate. Watch for it on Amazon later this summer.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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.

 

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Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla – Connected by Fate

Nikola TeslaAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky in 1809, lived in Indiana and Illinois, and was assassinated in Washington, DC in 1865 without ever having left the country. Nikola Tesla was born in 1856 of Serbian heritage in an Austro-Hungarian military outpost in land now part of Croatia. He moved to the United States decades after Lincoln’s assassination and lived for many years in New York City before dying in 1943. Their lives barely overlapped.

Or did they?

I’ve enjoyed a long career as a scientist, during which time I’ve also diligently studied Abraham Lincoln. In 2013 I wrote a book about Nikola Tesla that was published by Fall River Press, an imprint of Sterling Publishing in New York. Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity continues to be a great success, with multiple printings totaling 50,000 copies as of the publication of this e-book you’re reading now. This was followed in 2014 by an e-book, Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time, that explores in greater depth Tesla’s early interests and promotion of “energy from nature.” While researching both Tesla books I kept seeing unexpected connections between Tesla and Abraham Lincoln. Intrigued, I began a list of separate connections that kept growing beyond my expectations. How could this be?

In fact, it turns out there are surprisingly many connections between these two men. While they understandably never met, their interests and circles of friends and colleagues greatly overlapped. The concept was so intriguing that I put together an e-book exploring many of these connections – friends, acquaintances, professions, and fate. The e-book will be available on Amazon by early summer. I hope you’ll find it as interesting to read as I did to write.

Given Lincoln’s interest in science and technology and Tesla’s life as an inventor, these connections begin with science. But they don’t stop there. Connections between Lincoln and Tesla also exist in the arts, the environment, a great World’s Fair, and yes, even in the assassination of one of our greatest presidents.

So check out Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla – Connected by Fate. While you’re waiting, check out my previous e-book, Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time on Amazon.com. [If you’ve read it already, please leave a ranking on Goodreads and Amazon]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (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.

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