Tesla's Biggest Fan
He may not. Tesla, the Serbian-American genius, more or less invented radio and essentially perfected electrical power, but his name is hardly recognized compared with those of his contemporaries, such as Thomas Edison and Gugli-elmo Marconi. For the last thirty years, the eighty-five-year-old Wagner has been on a quixotic quest to change that. He started in his own classroom in Dexter, moved up to nineteen universities, and is now working on elementary and middle school libraries. And he is making progress: his website ntesla.org --titled "Nikola Tesla --Forgotten American Scientist"--has recorded more than half a million hits.
Though he'd heard Tesla's name in high school, Wagner knew nothing about him save for the spark-shooting Tesla coils featured in Frankenstein movies. That changed in 1983 when he went to Allegheny College to pick up his daughter at spring break. "She wasn't ready yet, so I visited the library and plucked a book at random from the shelf. It was Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla by John J. O'Neill, and I started reading."
Discovering Tesla's achievements changed Wagner's life. "There have been only three great inventions in the history of the world," he says with a true believer's passion. "The first was the wheel, the second was the movable type printing press, and the third was the rotating magnetic field principle, the basis of alternating current, which is the basis of electrical systems used the world over. Nikola Tesla is responsible for one of the three most important inventions in the history of the world, the invention that made the second Industrial Revolution possible.