Storey County’s past with Tesla goes back to Mark Twain

In this historic photo from 1894, Mark Twain experiments with an invention in Nikola Tesla's lab. Tesla can be seen in the background.

In this historic photo from 1894, Mark Twain experiments with an invention in Nikola Tesla's lab. Tesla can be seen in the background.

There’s a lot of buzz right now about Nevada landing the bid for Tesla Motor’s gigafactory to build lithium ion batteries.

There are opinions on both sides as to what the benefits or drawbacks will be in the long run. I don’t pretend to know enough to predict that.

But what I have come to know is Tesla had a connection to this state — and more particularly, Storey County — long before CEO Elon Musk inked the final deal,

Nikola Tesla, for whom the electric car company was named, was fast friends with one of Nevada’s most acclaimed public figures, Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain.

In his autobiography, “My Inventions: the autobiography of Nikola Tesla,” the pioneer in electrical engineering and physics told of an illness he’d suffered earlier in his life from which he nearly did not recover.

“... my condition became so desperate that I was given up by physicians. During this period I was permitted to read constantly, obtaining books from the Public Library which had been neglected and entrusted to me for classification of the works and preparation of the catalogues. One day I was handed a few volumes of new literature unlike anything I had ever read before and so captivating as to make me utterly forget my hopeless state. They were the earlier works of Mark Twain and to them might have been due the miraculous recovery which followed. Twenty-five years later, when I met Mr. Clemens and we formed a friendship between us, I told him of the experience and was amazed to see that great man of laughter burst into tears.”

A description of their friendship appears on the website Tesla Tours, a service that provides car rentals in Napa Valley, Calif.

“In many ways the two lived in the world of imagination, just different aspects of it. Both could pull ideas out of thin air and make monumental changes to the world around them, one through words and the other through electricity. They admired this ability in each other and liked to hang out and talk for hours in Tesla’s lab.”

In honor of Tesla‘s 157th birthday, PBS compiled a list of interesting facts about him. It relied on interviews with W. Bernard Carlson, author of “Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age,” and Marc Seifer, author of “Wizard: Life and Times of Nikola Tesla.”

No. 5 on the list was titled, “He shook the poop out of Mark Twain.” It centered on one of Tesla’s inventions, “a high frequency oscillator. A piston set underneath a platform in the laboratory shook violently as it moved, another experiment in more efficient electricity.”

“Twain was known for having digestive problems, so Tesla, who knew Twain through their gentlemen’s club, invited him over. He instructed Twain to stand on the platform while he flipped on the oscillator. After about 90 seconds, Twain jumped off the platform and ran for the facilities.”

That’s a pretty intimate relationship between the two. And, I think, that helps explain why Tesla would want his namesake to continue in Twain territory.


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