Nikola Tesla, a Serbian physicist, engineer, and inventor, was penniless and living in a small New York City hotel room at the end of his brilliant and tortured life. But did you know how he got around to paying his overdue bill?
Nikola Tesla, a physicist, once paid an overdue hotel bill with a box containing a working model of his ‘death beam,’ warning employees not to open it due to the danger. They hid the box, and when it was discovered and opened years later, it was discovered to contain old harmless electrical parts.
How Did Nikola Tesla Use Science to Pay the Hotel Bill?
The defunct Wardenclyffe lab was eventually turned over to the Waldorf-Astoria as part of the payment for Tesla’s debts. Decades later, the managers of the Governor Clinton Hotel received a similar piece of Tesla memorabilia: a wooden case containing what the inventor claimed was a working model of his potentially world-ending particle weapon.
Tesla’s death beam, which he was adamant that it was not, as the press reported, a death ray, would be capable of stopping any invading army, effectively rendering warfare obsolete. When Tesla turned over the box containing the model, he warned the hotel’s employees not to open it. They complied fearfully, concealing the box in a storeroom. After he died in 1943, the box was pried open and discovered to contain only innocuous old electrical components. (Source: History)
The Life of the Hermit Scientist
Despite having been a member of New York’s high society for decades, Tesla’s age and poverty caused him to become increasingly isolated. He lived alone in a series of ever-cheaper hotels, preferring the company of pigeons to that of people.
Nonetheless, he retained one aspect of his days as a famous showman-inventor in the form of popular press conferences he held every July 10 to commemorate his birthday. He announced his invention of a pocket-sized oscillator capable of destroying the Empire State Building when he was 79. A year later, he revealed his longevity secret: toe-wriggling. (Source: History)
Why Did Nikola Tesla Have to Beg for Funding?
In 1901, Tesla persuaded financier J.P. Morgan will invest $150,000 in a new venture: a powerful laboratory at Wardenclyffe, on Long Island’s northern shore, that will serve as the new home for Tesla’s work on long-distance radio and electric power transmission. Stanford White, the country’s leading architect and a longtime friend of Tesla’s, designed a single-story lab with classical proportions, backed by a massive 185-foot tower.
When funds ran out before the Wardenclyffe tower could be finished, Tesla begged Morgan for more money but was turned down. Although some biographers speculate that Morgan cut off funds once he realized Tesla’s plan to provide wireless power was unlikely to be profitable, the key factor for Morgan was most likely his fear of becoming entangled in a flurry of market speculation surrounding radio projects.
After a particularly harsh rejection from Morgan in July 1903, Tesla cranked up his equipment, sending lightning streaking from the Wardenclyffe tower until midnight. A year later, after another heartfelt request for funding was met with a one-word response from Morgan, Tesla responded by accusing the pious Episcopal Morgan of being a Muslim fanatic. (Source: History)
Image from Biography