Nikola Tesla - Later Years (1918-1943)

Later Years (1918-1943)

In 1928, Tesla received his last patent, U.S. Patent 1,655,114, for a biplane capable of taking off vertically (VTOL aircraft) and then be "gradually tilted through manipulation of the elevator devices" in flight until it was flying like a conventional plane. Tesla stated it would weigh 800 pounds and would sell at $1,000 for both military and consumer uses. Although the aircraft was probably impractical, it may be the earliest known design for what became the tiltrotor/tilt-wing concept as well as the earliest proposal for the use of turbine engines in rotor aircraft.

Starting in 1934 the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company began paying Tesla US$125 per month as well paying his rent at the Hotel New Yorker, expenses the Company would pay for the rest of Tesla's life. Accounts on how this came about vary. Several sources say Westinghouse was worried about potential bad publicity surrounding the impoverished conditions their former star inventor was living under. It has been described as being couched in the form of a "consulting fee" to get around Tesla's aversion to accept charity, or by one biographer (Marc Seifer), as a type of unspecified settlement. Tesla's previous debt owed to Hotel Governor Clinton was never satisfied.

In 1934, Tesla wrote to Consul Janković of his homeland. The letter contained a message of gratitude to Mihajlo Pupin who had initiated a donation scheme by which American companies could support Tesla. Tesla refused the assistance, choosing instead to live on a modest pension received from Yugoslavia, and to continue his research.

In 1935, in an annual birthday celebration interview, Tesla announced a method of transmitting mechanical energy with minimal loss over any terrestrial distance, a related new means of communication, and a method of accurately determining the location of underground mineral deposits.

In 1936, Tesla replied to a birthday telegram from Vladko Maček, saying that he was "equally proud" of his "Serbian origin and Croatian homeland," a phrase often paraphrased in conciliatory context at modern-day joint Croatian-Serbian Tesla celebrations. In addition, in the same telegram, Tesla wrote "Long live all Yugoslavs." When others tried to co-opt him into ethnic and other conflicts in Yugoslavia, Tesla replied: "If your hate could be turned into electricity, it would light up the whole world."

In the fall of 1937, after midnight one night, Tesla left the Hotel New Yorker to make his regular commute to the cathedral and the library to feed the pigeons. While crossing a street a couple of blocks from the hotel, Tesla was unable to dodge a moving taxicab and was thrown heavily to the ground. Tesla's back was severely wrenched and three of his ribs were broken in the accident (the full extent of his injuries will never be known; Tesla refused to consult a doctor—an almost lifelong custom). Tesla didn't raise any question as to who was at fault and refused medical aid, only asking be taken to his hotel via cab. Tesla was bedridden for some months and was unable to continue feeding pigeons from his window; soon, they failed to come. In the spring of 1938, Tesla was able to get up. He at once resumed the pigeons—feeding walks on a much more limited scale, but frequently had a messenger act for him.

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