Portrayed by Ian Ruskin

Nikola Tesla has been called many things: wizard, showman, prophet, charlatan, magician, and Father of the 20th Century – perhaps even of the 21st. He was a prophet dishonored in his own time, but revered in ours. Now he’s a rock star icon for billionaires, cyberpunks, and inventors who are still fiddling with everyday machines in their basements and garages. A car, a rock band, and a unit of magnetic measurement have been named after him.

Tesla sparked the electrical revolution that transformed daily life at the turn of the 20th century. This lone genius inventor is credited with inventing everything from radar to the microwave oven – including alternating current, the Tesla coil, and wireless transmission.

Called a madman by his enemies, a genius by others, and an enigma by nearly everyone, Nikola Tesla was a trailblazer who created astonishing, sometimes world-transforming devices that were virtually without theoretical precedent. He is now seen as a visionary who sparked the electrical revolution and wanted technology to be used for world peace.


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Ian Ruskin trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and then worked for the next 15 years in England in repertory companies, London’s West End, and in television and film. Highlights included working in the Laurence Olivier “King Lear” for Granada Television and playing Jack in “Jack the Ripper” at the Players Theatre, London.

He came to Los Angeles in 1985. A pattern developed of guest star roles, usually playing the intelligent bad guy, in shows such as “Murder She Wrote”, “Scarecrow and Mrs. King”, and “MacGyver.” While this work paid the rent, it did not in any way fulfill his dream as a student at RADA – to be involved in great plays that could not only move audiences but could shine a light on their shared humanity, not happening on “MacGyver.”

In 1994 he was cast to play a real-life character by the name of Harry Bridges and his life changed. He discovered that Bridges was a man whose beliefs and values inspired him. The cast performed a reading for Bridges’ union, the ILWU, and received a ten-minute standing ovation. Ian realized that he had found a way to “shine a light” again.

So Ian wrote “From Wharf Rats to Lords of the Docks”, which had its world premieres at the University of Washington, Seattle and at the Warner Grand Theatre, San Pedro. He has since performed it over 250 times to approximately 50,000 people. This led to a film of a live performance, directed by legendary filmmaker Haskell Wexler, which aired across America on PBS for four years, making it available to 150 million Americans. Then he discovered Thomas Paine. Now, with “To Begin the World Over Again: the Life of Thomas Paine” complete, filmed and airing on public television stations, he has turned to his most challenging project to date, getting into the mind of Nikola Tesla.

To visit Ian Ruskin’s personal website, please go to: www.ianruskin.org

Nikola Tesla by Ian Ruskin

Nikola Tesla has been called many things – Wizard, Showman, Prophet, Charlatan, Magician and Father of the 20th Century. Perhaps even of the 21st…

He created three-dimensional machines in his mind that would change the course of the world, had an eidetic memory, spoke nine languages and often worked for days on end with little sleep. He loved pigeons, but detested germs. He had dinner every night at Delmonico’s or the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, at exactly 8:10 PM, always served by the headwaiter and always with 18 napkins (the power of three – “If you only knew the magnificence of the 3, 6 and 9, then you would have the key to the universe”) on the table to polish the cutlery. He had to calculate the volume of each dish of food before he ate it. He usually dined alone. He also lived alone, in hotels, until he was repeatedly expelled for not paying his bills…and then on to the next one.

He worked on technologies that would have given the world free power, but his labs were burnt down, sold for $180 worth of lumber or dynamited. He was a strange and obsessive man thought to be far down the Autism spectrum, with some of the most radical ideas the world has ever known. He died largely ignored and forgotten, but today is recognized by physicists, electrical engineers, inventors, steam punks and academics as one of history’s greatest geniuses.

Tesla was born in the village of Smiljan in what is now Croatia to a Serbian family. Both countries now claim him as theirs. He arrived in New York in 1884 with four pennies in his pocket, and within four years was lecturing to the prestigious American Institute of Electrical Engineers. In labs financed by Peck and Brown he worked on arc lamps, neon and fluorescent lighting, x-rays, and transmitting energy through the air. He also built his alternating current induction motor, considered one of the most important inventions in history. It powers almost everything that moves today.

In 1893, George Westinghouse outbid Edison to light up the Chicago World Fair. He asked Tesla to install 160,000 phosphorescent lights powered by his A/C electricity. In 1897, his A/C generators harnessed the power of Niagara Falls, something that he had foreseen as an 8-year-old boy, and he astounded people by sending the power all the way to Buffalo, New York. Soon it would arrive in New York City, then on to the entire world. The “War of the Currents” with Edison had been won.

Next, he presented remote control to the world at Madison Square Gardens with a 4-foot boat, looking like an overweight submarine, that answered the audience’s questions by turn left or right in a large pool. It was, of course, Tesla turning a switch behind a podium, perhaps the inspiration for The Wizard of Oz. It was certainly Tesla the showman playing with the audience, many of whom thought it was witchcraft or a tiny monkey inside the boat. Tesla had introduced the world to robotics; it just didn’t know it yet!

With all this, he still spent much of his time alone. He was considered one of the most dashing and desirable bachelors in town yet appears to have remained celibate all his life. There certainly is no evidence of any physical relationships with women. His strange obsessions and habits, added to his Serbian upbringing and “otherness,” kept him on the outer edge of New York’s Electrical circles. His genius demanded that people pay attention to him, but he rarely stepped outside his comfort zone.

In 1899 he set up a lab in Colorado Springs. Inspired by the infinite space of the Rocky Mountains, he envisioned infinite possibilities for wireless transmission of electricity and electric power. He searched to identify the resonance of the earth to use it as a giant conductor of power. He electrified the ground and sparks leapt from people’s water taps. He sent 135-foot lightning bolts 12 miles away and blew a nearby town’s generator, plunging it into darkness. Then, because he couldn’t pay his electric bill, the lab was torn down and sold as $180 worth of scrap lumber. Undeterred, Tesla turned to fulfilling his greatest dream.

In 1901, with financing from Westinghouse and a mortgage held by the Waldorf Astoria, he built Wardenclyffe Tower, a giant coil 187 feet tall, located on Long Island, NY. This, he believed, could send messages to Europe through the air. It could finally harness the electrical power in the ground and the ionosphere and send it anywhere on earth – without cost. No more need for oil or coal or gas, but rather the power of the sun, the wind, and the tides. The tower was struck by lightning 8,4000,000 times a day. He envisioned the electrical charge of this planet could be gathered and shared with all mankind.

For five years he worked on the project, digging five stories down into the earth below his coil for purposes still mysterious. Powered by generators from Westinghouse, he imagined a city of scientists and workers. But Westinghouse had given his generators to Tesla for a communication system that would allow the world to receive up to the moment stock prices and other “important” information – not free power with nowhere to put the meters! As a result, Westinghouse took back his generators, and the Waldorf Astoria (to whom Tesla owed so much money) eventually tore the tower down.

Tesla lived for 40 more years, developing ideas that, to most people, became more outlandish and impractical. However, for those five years from 1901 to 1906, he seemed so close to one of the most extraordinary feats ever attempted. Could it have succeeded?

1856 – Born into a Serbian family in the village of Smiljan in what is now Croatia.

1873 – Lies near death from cholera, but convinces his Orthodox Priest father to allow him, if he lives, to go to engineering school. He lives.

1882 – Suffers a mental breakdown but recovers and draws his mental vision of an alternating current induction motor in the sand of the City Park in Budapest.

1884 – Arrives in America and works for Edison until he resigns over a money dispute.

1888 – Lectures to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and develops arc lamps, neon and fluorescent lighting, x-rays, works on alternating current, and begins to transmit energy through the air.

1893 – Working together with George Westinghouse lights up the Chicago World’s Fair with 160,000 phosphorescent lights using alternating current electricity, and the “War of the Currents” with Edison’s direct current electricity is over.

1897 – Tesla’s alternating current generators at Niagara Falls create the first hydroelectric plant. The power would soon be sent to New York and then on to light up the world.

1898 – Presents his remote controlled boat, the world’s first radio controlled device, in Madison Square Garden

1899 – Builds a laboratory in Colorado and continues his work on wireless transmission of electrical power, creating 10 million volt sparks and lighting up fields of light bulbs placed in the earth.

1901-1906 – Builds his 187 feet Tower at Wardenclyffe, Long Island, aiming to transmit messages across the Atlantic and wireless power around the world.

1906 – Wardenclyffe is abandoned and the attempts to give the world free power are over.

1943 – Dies with around 300 patents worldwide.

The desire that guides me in all I do is the desire to harness the forces of nature to the service of mankind.

Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have worked so hard, is mine.

If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration. 

I counted the steps in my walks and calculated the cubical contents of soup plates, coffee cups and pieces of food otherwise my meal was unenjoyable.

Inventors don’t have time for married life. 

I don’t care that they stole my idea. I care that they don’t have any of their own. 

Instinct is something which transcends knowledge. 

I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success . . . Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.

What one man calls God, another calls the laws of physics. 

We are held together like stars in the firmament with ties inseparable.

Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.

My method is different. I do not rush into actual work. When I get an idea I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements, and operate the device entirely in my mind. 

The desire that guides me in all I do is the desire to harness the forces of nature to the service of mankind.

Electric power is everywhere present in unlimited quantities. It can drive the world’s machinery without the need of coal, oil, gas, or any other fuels … this new power … will be derived from the energy which operates the Universe … the cosmic energy.

I was watching a gathering storm and saw that it was the lightening that burst open the clouds and led to the downpour. Clouds are a most delicate balance of moisture held above the earth. What if we could upset that balance at will, irrigate where it is dry, create lakes and reservoirs, bring water and food and life to all mankind. What if we could re-create lightening!

I am part of a light, and it is the music. The Light fills my six senses: I see it, hear, feel, smell, touch and think. Thinking of it means my sixth sense. Particles of Light are written note. A bolt of lightning can be an entire sonata. A thousand balls of lightening is a concert. For this concert I have created a Ball Lightning, which can be heard on the icy peaks of the Himalayas. 

I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success . . . Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything. 

* My Inventions: the Autobiography of Nikola Tesla by Nikola Tesla (1919, 2006) This is the only autobiography that I am aware of and a great place to start.

Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney (1981, 2001) Highly regarded and written in an easy-to-read style.

Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla: Biography of a Genius by Mark J. Seiffer (1998) Also highly regarded. I found it to be a bridge between Cheney and the next two books in terms of their more technical/scientific dryness.

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson (2013) Sheds new light on Tesla’s visionary approach to invention and the business strategies. Informative of the science behind his work but not easy to read unless you are so inclined!

 The Inventions, Researches, and Writings of Nikola Tesla complied by Thomas Commerford Martin (1893, 2014) – Tesla lectures, articles and discussions with forwards. Informative of the science behind his work but not easy to read unless you are so inclined!

* The Fantastic Inventions of Nikola Tesla by David Hatcher Childress (2014) The most accessible of the “technical” books with lots of illustrations and photos, but a little “out there.”

WARNING: Beware of articles on the internet, etc, where you can find many conspiracy theories about Tesla – that he came from Venus or Mars, for example – and that his work included doomsday machines and much time travel. Read these at your own discretion!

Edison and Tesla and the War of the Currents

* The Electric War: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Light the World by Mike Winchell (2019) Rousing account of one of the world’s defining scientific competitions.

Empires of Light by Jill Jones (2003) If you think History is just about good guys rising to the top, you should read this. Westinghouse, Tesla, and Edison battle for leadership in the light/power hungry world.

The Current War – Movie Release date Oct 25, 2019. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Edison.

(Starred items are available in the Greenville County Library System.)