Nikola Tesla, Electrical Genius
The power of Niagara Falls is inseparably linked to one man. The potential energy in the moving water of the Falls might not have been harnessed if it wasn’t for the eccentric genius of a young Croatian, Nikola Tesla. The world of science is only belatedly coming to grips with one of its most captivating inventors. It was Nikola Tesla, not Marconi who invented the radio. It was Tesla, not Thomas Edison, who devised the system of power transmission used in Niagara Falls and throughout the world. While others around him were eking out an existence, Tesla looked into the future and envisioned radar, robots, satellite communications, microwaves and harnessing the energy of the sun. Arriving in New York City over a century ago with four pennies in his pocket, his patents for electrical transmission would later earn him over a million dollars, yet he died a penniless recluse in the company of his constant companions, the pigeons that he called his friends.
Born in 1856, Tesla, a prodigal genius, studied at the University of Prague and was always fascinated with electricity. To Tesla, electricity was more than just a force that could be controlled to produce light, heat and mechanical power; he described it as the energy of the universe to which all life pulses in rhythmic cycles. Something of a showman, Tesla enjoyed demonstrating his inventions like feats on a stage for all to watch in amazement. To view his laboratory, one would have surely thought they had entered the realm of a mad scientist.
Tesla’s connection to Niagara County came after he traveled to the United States to work for Thomas Edison who was convinced that electrical energy should be transmitted using direct current or DC. The problem with the Edison plan became evident in Niagara Falls in that electricity could be transmitted no more than one mile from the power source before the current dissipated and disappeared. Tesla had serious differences with Edison and eventually left his employ. Tesla concentrated on transmitting electricity using alternating current or AC power, a system that is used throughout the world even today.
The question of how to transmit the electrical power from Niagara Falls was solved in 1896 when the Tesla polyphase AC model was used to build the Edward Dean Adams Power Plant in Niagara Falls. Once completed, the Niagara County plant successfully sent electrical current soaring through power lines all the way to Buffalo. The Tesla inspired generators at the Adams plant worked well for over 65 years until the plant ceased operation, turning over the water rights to the New York State Power Authority. Today, a 9-foot granite statue of Nikola Tesla sits at the gates of the Niagara Reservation Park on Goat Island in the Power City, a silent sentinel to the genius of the man who harnessed the power of Niagara Falls.
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094