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Egg of Columbus

Egg of Columbus
1887
Tesla’s Egg of Columbus on display at the Columbian Exposition at the Chicago World Fair in 1893.

After Tesla is forced out of Tesla Electric Light Company with nothing but worthless stock, he endures a difficult winter from 1886 to 1887 working as a ditch digger. He manages to persevere, determined to develop his concept of generating electricity through rotating magnetic fields, However, Tesla knows that he must find a way to help investors and supporters understand the potential of his invention. Tesla devises a machine to illustrate the concept: an electromagnetic motor that generates the force needed to spin a brass egg and stand it upright. Tesla names the device the “”Egg of Columbus”” after the famous story in which Christopher Columbus challenged the Spanish court and investors to stand an egg upright. When they failed, Columbus took an egg and crushed the bottom flat, so it would remain upright. They accused him of playing a cheap trick, but Columbus overcame their objections by explaining that an idea can seem impossible until a clever solution is found, at which point it suddenly becomes easy.

Tesla incorporates this logic in his Egg of Columbus and uses it to present his concept of alternating current electricity to investors. It is a stroke of brilliance that results in funding from investors Alfred S. Brown, director of Western Union, and Charles F. Peck, an attorney from New York City. In April 1887 Tesla is able to open a laboratory at 89 Liberty Street where he begins to develop his designs for the A/C induction motor. It was an opportunity to make his ideas a reality, and Tesla writes in his autobiography of this time in his life when he goes from ditch digger to laboratory owner where he finally builds the first models of his induction motor concept: “”Then followed a period of struggle in the new medium for which I was not fitted, but the reward came in the end and in April, 1887, the Tesla Electric Company was organized, providing a laboratory and facilities. The motors I built there were exactly as I had imagined them. I made no attempt to improve the design, but merely reproduced the pictures as they appeared to my vision and the operation was always as I expected.

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