When studying famous geeks, it is interesting to see how some inventors and scientists rise to the level of cult heroes, while others are totally forgotten. There are times where it appears that the Internet has given birth to the World Wide Weird with all the myths and legends.
I started frequenting Quora about a year ago to get ideas for my Geek History website. The question and answer website Quora allows users to ask questions that are answered by its community of users. I wanted to see what kind of questions were typically being asked. There is so much hype and misinformation there, especially on topics like inventor Nikola Tesla, who is worshiped there like a god.
The cult hero status of Tesla on Quora is amazing. I recently asked someone who was not a regular on Quora to visit Quora specifically to look at all the questions on Tesla, and he was amazed with all the questions, as well as all the mis-information being presented.
The fascination with Nikola Tesla may appear to be a more recent event on the internet because of sites like Quora, but that is in the context of the internet itself being a relatively new vehicle to discuss mysteries and conspiracy theories. Many of the myths and legends that many websites now present as new discoveries of lost information have been around awhile.
The history of strange science
I have been interested in science and science fiction since the 1970s. Different topics seem to rise and fall from time to time over the years. Topics such as UFOs and conspiracy theories that I remember from various popular books and magazines in the 1970s and 1980s, are now being created as websites on the internet.
In the 1970s and 1980s Erich von Däniken wrote several best-selling books on ancient aliens in his "Chariots of the Gods" series. They were very popular with the geeks of my generation. The people who followed von Däniken's theories usually followed the overall genre of UFOs and conspiracy theories. In the same section of the bookstore I would pick up a few books by writer and broadcaster Frank Edwards on strange scientists and paranormal phenomena.
Leonard Nimoy hosted a "In Search of" television show from 1976 to 1982 that investigated various mysteries. According to IMDB the "In Search of" television show was inspired by von Däniken's work. "This series was created after two successful television documentaries: In Search of Ancient Astronauts (1973) based on the book Chariots of the Gods, and In Search of Ancient Mysteries (1973)."
In the 1990s the television show the X-files took topics like UFOs and conspiracy theories and carried them from themes followed by a few special interests into popular culture. The tagline "The Truth Is Out There" has become a popular theme thanks to shows like the X-files.
Cult Heroes Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison
Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison were both very influential during their lifetimes.
Thomas Edison became a hero in popular culture during his lifetime, dubbed the Wizard of Menlo Park. Edison effectively used the popular media of his time, newspapers and magazines, to promote himself and his inventions. Hanging out with famous friend like automotive giant Henry Ford and tire maker Harvey Firestone helped to keep Edison in the spotlight as well.
Nikola Tesla was as much a hero during his lifetime as Edison. Tesla managed to maintain his super genius celebrity status in New York social circles. A thin well dressed man, Tesla could often been found in New York's finest restaurants rubbing shoulders with the local movers and shakers. Tesla also became friends with Mark Twain who became a big fan of Tesla's party tricks with electricity. Tesla was interviewed often for magazine articles during his lifetime. He was also a bit of a rebel. He poked fun at the scientists of his day, even dared to call Einstein names.
The popularity of Nikola Tesla
It would appear that Tesla was equally popular in books and television shows, the things we amused ourselves with before the internet, by those who followed conspiracy theories and UFOs since at least the 1980s when I can personally reference the fascination with Tesla.
As far as I can tell Tesla's name never came up on the Leonard Nimoy "In Search of" television show, but Tesla's name was used in a book pitched at the same crowd who followed the UFOs and conspiracy theories. The book "In Search of Nikola Tesla" was originally published in 1983 by F. David Peat. It was reprinted again in 1997.
In 1998 the television show "Phenomenon: The Lost Archives " another show similar to "In Search of" aired two episodes related to Nikola Tesla. The show only aired 14 episodes in total.
If you search for videos about Tesla on the internet you will also run across " Tesla - The Eye Of The Storm" produced around 1983. Many of the Tesla fanboy websites have links to calling it a "rare documentary" on U.S. Government conspiracies. It is rare only in the sense that you can't find any first hand information on it.
"Tesla - The Eye Of The Storm" is hosted by Stan Deyo, a host of similar shows on Australian television over the years on UFOs and what he calls "flying saucer technology." Unfortunately, every blog that talks about The Eye Of The Storm video references the Website of Stan Deyo, which currently looks like he is selling supplies and advice to prepare you for Armageddon.
I am cynical about a lot of the claims, I would love to see some references and resources for the origin of much of the so-called "facts" about Tesla's secrets. It appears that Tesla's story has been promoted by the same crowd who follows the UFOs and conspiracy theories for many years.
The majority of books and movies made about Tesla are created by people who have a preconceived notion of Tesla, and are trying to prove their point. I am not condemning everyone who believes in conspiracy theories and the possibility of life on other planets, but the information that many of these sites provide is more in the quality of supermarket tabloids rather than non bias documentary journalism.
Reflections on cult heroes and forgotten geeks
Many websites promote the myths that Tesla is a God, Edison is the Devil, and everyone seems to forget about Westinghouse.
I think Tesla was a very cool and interesting individual. He was as much a show man and personality as Edison in his day. I respect Tesla for his visions and passion to see his ideas work. Edison was also blinded by his ambition in the War of Currents, but he admitted his errors later in life and moved on. Telsa seemed to get more bitter and angrier as he got older. IMHO some of the "weirdness" Tesla developed later in life probably damaged his reputation a bit.
The internet loves a good story, and the battle of good versus evil makes for a good story with Tesla representing the good, the misunderstood geek, and Edison representing the evil man who took advantage of the innocent Tesla. It is very sad that to make someone a cult hero, you need to tear someone down as well. Some of the remarks made about Edison are very disrespectful of his contributions to the world of technology. Likewise, men like George Westinghouse who worked with Tesla, as a partner not an adversary, are equally disrespected.
The internet does not always record history, sometimes it creates it. Much of what is written about Edison being the Devil, and Tesla being a God, is based on myths and legends, not facts. Both men also had a wide variety of personality issues, both men were obsessive compulsive inventors who deserved to be respected, but not necessarily worshiped.
The more I have studied Nikola Tesla, the more I have come to admire and respect George Westinghouse. He truly is the most forgotten geek. It's really a shame the legacy of George Westinghouse is getting forgotten.
"The Truth Is Out There"