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 wanted to marry technology with 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

    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.)