January 9, 2018, my article Troubling the Future: the Remaking of Nikola Tesla appear at the HuffPo. An except appears below–read on!
There are two great myths about Nikola Tesla. The first is that his greatest rival was Thomas Edison (a point I’ve addressed elsewhere). But the second is perhaps even more intriguing. Today, a google search of the inventor’s name will pull thousands and thousands of hits, nearly all of them describing his genius, his lost inventions, his ability to predict the future. And yet, for most of modern history, Tesla was not an accepted visionary and genius, but a mere footnote. His biggest contribution to our modern age of power, the practical use of AC electricity, had been subsumed in patent disputes between Westinghouse and General Electric, and Tesla’s name had been scrubbed from history. GE employed Charles Proteus Steinmetz to write a comprehensive textbook, bankrolled and supported by the company, for young engineers: Theory and Calculation of Alternating Current Phenomena. Generations of young people working with Tesla’s invention would never even learned his name. [i] It should have crippled his reputation. But it didn’t. What we see in Tesla is a man made, unmade, and made again in our present era—it’s a resurrection, and that’s the most interesting story of all.