World Columbian Expo - 2

1st of May 1893 marked the commencement of the World Columbian Exposition in a grand style and in full swing. There were almost hundred thousand (one lakh) people witnessing this great fair on the very first day. The spectators enjoyed the Exposition throughout the day visiting various places, buildings and special exhibits, and as the night fell, they were amazed as if a casting spell fell at the venue. Those who were present saw to their utter surprise and amazement the vast expense of the fair being magnificently lightened up by a multitude of lights running at full power on AC electricity that Dr. Nikola Tesla had designed. This was the most incredible display of lighting, the world had ever seen till then. This made the electricity building no less than a wonder of the world.


Tesla neon lights
Tesla neon lights


In the articles earlier, we have seen Dr. Nikola Tesla modifying the concept of gas filled tubes by passing electric currents of high-voltage and high-frequency through them. With this Dr. Tesla had crafted specially made gas filled tubes and had bent them in various shapes. Further, he had illuminated them by filling up various gases using high-frequency current. This spread of lights displayed spectacular coloring effects which amazed all the visitors who had come at the Expo. These lights were actual precursors to the neon tubes that we see today everywhere in form of advertising banners and displays.

However, it was only after the late 1980s that more efficient high-frequency ballasts (chokes) and gas-bulbs were developed. These bulbs bare great similarities to the bulbs and lamps developed by Dr. Tesla almost 100 years ago. It thus goes on to prove that Dr. Nikola Tesla laid the foundation for fluorescent lighting.

It was believed that Dr. Nikola Tesla developed and used florescent bulbs in his lab some 40 years before the industry actually so called ’invented’ them and started using them in general practice.

There was one more notable experiment performed by Dr. Tesla in this fair. It was widely known as ‘Tesla and the Egg of Columbus’.

Tesla and the Egg of Columbus


Tesla egg of columbus
Tesla egg of columbus


There is a famous legend which goes this way; after discovering the American continent, Christopher Columbus, was once dining with some Spanish gentlemen who were ridiculing him. Irritated with this he threw a challenge to them. He asked them to make an egg lying in a platter to stand on one of its tip, perfectly balancing itself without any external support. To his anticipation, nobody present there could perform this trick and they accepted defeat.

This apocryphal story dates somewhere back to the 16th century. 400 years later Dr. Nikola Tesla took this very challenge thrown by Christopher Columbus that too during the event organized to celebrate Columbus’s success. With his exquisite intelligence, made an egg to stand on its tip without any support. For this Dr. Tesla actually used an egg made of copper. Then with the principals of electricity and magnetism he made it to stand on one of its tip. Let us look at this very interesting event in a bit more detail.

Dr. Nikola Tesla arranged a wooden plate with circular boundaries and kept his copper egg on top of it. Below this table he arranged a rotating magnetic field motor (Alternating current generating motor). This was used to generate a rotating magnetic field. Copper being a good ferromagnetic material, the rotating magnetic field was continuously produced below the wooden table, constantly rotating (spinning) the copper egg. With increase in the frequency of magnetic field, the speed of rotation of the copper egg also used to increase and there came a point when the copper egg spun so rapidly around itself, like a spinning top that it appeared to be stationary and yet standing on its tip. Thus, Dr. Tesla demonstrated the power of electricity, magnetic field, and alternating current through this experiment. This was how the genius mind of Dr. Tesla did wonders. This all was possible as Dr. Tesla absolutely loved and enjoyed his work.


tesla with fluorescent lamp
Tesla with fluorescent lamp

 The World Columbian Expo turned out to be a huge success. In its six-month run, over 28 million (2.8 crore) people visited the fair. In the Great Hall of Electricity, Dr. Tesla's polyphase AC power system was on display for the whole world to see, and in the Hall of Machinery visitors could see the massive alternating current generators that actually powered the fair. The world was stunned in awe to see the effects and usefulness of Alternating Current system. People at large saw the beautiful lighting effects created by Dr. Tesla. It was like living an historical moment for them. People did understood that this was a commencement of a revolution. The best result of the Columbian Exposition of 1893 was that it removed the last serious doubts of the usefulness of Polyphase AC system from the minds of not only the technologists and industrialists but also the common people who were going to use it in their day-to-day lives.

In the crowds that throng the venue of the World Columbian Exposition was Lord Kelvin. When he visited the expo and he was absolutely awestruck and impressed by the power and the reach of the alternating current that he was actually seeing with this own eyes. Lord Kelvin was the President of International Niagara Commission at that time. Then, the Niagara Commission was thinking of ways to generate the electricity by using the power of Niagara falls. It was believed that initially, Lord Kelvin was against the use of AC power but after seeing the enormous reach and efficiency of Alternating current, he changed his mind on the spot and approached the Westinghouse Electric Company. Without wasting any time, Lord Kelvin finalized the contract for generation of electricity using the power of Niagara falls and immediately awarded it to Westinghouse and Dr. Nikola Tesla.

This was the second largest contract that Dr. Tesla had received in his lifetime till then. Prior to this it was all about the displays and exhibitions at which Dr. Tesla used to demonstrate his Alternating Currents. But, this contract made the real-life, actual implementation of the Alternating Current system possible. This contract was known as the one which signified the end of ’War of Currents’ and established Alternating Current as a standard for electricity generation and transmission. But it was not just these points or the geographic importance of Niagara that impressed Dr. Tesla but this event was indeed a dream come true for him which he had dreamt for years.

Everything was going wonderfully well for Dr. Nikola Tesla. But there were some people who were getting restless due to the increasing popularity of Alternating Current and of Dr. Nikola Tesla himself. The ball had now started rolling, and the things started to change.

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Published at Mumbai, Maharashtra - India