By Michael R. Weekes
On Thursday, Nikola Tesla would have been 154 years old. We have good reason to spend some time that day remembering the man who gave so much, not just to Niagara Falls or New York State, but the world. His alternating current motor, which facilitated the explosive growth of hydroelectric power, led thousands of companies to the Niagara Frontier.
This is not a time for greed, self-promotion or any of the sins that presented obstacle after obstacle to Tesla, and remain very present in our 21st century Niagara Region. This is a time to celebrate dreamers, inventors, innovators and everyone who sees the long view, with open hearts and minds. This is the time to consider sharing, as Tesla did with his many gifts.
We struggle to retain and build community in today’s Niagara Region, but we forget that men and women like Tesla took a seemingly benign resource – already representing a natural wonder and source of tranquility, befuddlement and amazement – and reconstituted it into a new kind of energy, one we remain dependent on today more than ever.
It might make Tesla cry to see our state of affairs today. We argue about everything. Here in the place that Tesla, in 1902, said would always be where his heart is, we are far from the hotbed of growth and change that he helped create. He reinvented the world and we can’t even come to a consensus about a statue of him.
Life was very simple back in Tesla’s day. You didn’t have to submit an environmental impact statement to send something as revolutionary as electricity to power trolley cars and street lights in Buffalo. In his day, with the right sponsor, you could go to a world’s fair and transform how the world thought about things.
Today’s inventions include the transformation of history and heritage into tourism and dollars. We fight for green spaces and sustainability now. In Tesla’s day there was room for progress and preservation. Can we find a balance?
There is no better place to celebrate Tesla’s birthday than Niagara Falls. Perhaps a speech he gave on Jan. 12, 1897, at the opening ceremony of the Adams Power Plant at 1501 Buffalo Ave. says it best:
“The momentum at Niagara has something of its own, more in accord with our present thoughts and tendencies. It is a momentum worthy of our scientific age, a true momentum of enlightenment and peace. It signifies the discontinuance of barbarous methods and the relieving of millions from want and suffering.”
Let’s focus on the momentum at Niagara Falls today and become part of it. Let’s remember Tesla not for industrial progress that resulted from his enlightenment, but for his vision, passion and dreams come true.
Michael R. Weekes is president of Tesla Experience proposed for the Adams Power Transformer House.