Tesla's Biggest Fan
"I thought, 'This was a great story, I could tell my students and it will inspire them to do writing.' We introduce cursive writing in the third grade, and I told them about Tesla, and they wanted to tell their parents and relatives and friends. And they began to write letters, first to their families and then ... to corporate CEOs about Tesla.
"Then one Saturday morning in 1986, a former student of mine came to my door with her father," Wagner continues. "He was a sculptor, and he offered to make a bust of Tesla for our classroom if I paid for the materials." When it was done, the bronze bust on a granite base was valued at $6,000, "much too nice for a third-grade classroom. I asked the Henry Ford Museum if they were interested, and they refused to take the bust. I was dumbfounded. Then I remembered that Henry Ford was good friends with Thomas Edison, and it all fell into place. They didn't want anything to challenge the idea that Edison was the king of electricity!"
That didn't stop Wagner. "I offered it to the Smithsonian, and they wrote back, 'We don't have any use for your bust.' My wife and I went down to see what they had, and our bust was a lot nicer than a lot of their busts. Then I saw that they had a bust of Edison right next to a Tesla poly-phase alternating current generator! So I decided to circumvent the Smithsonian and gave the U-M the bust in the fall of 1989. It's out on North Campus in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences Building in a beautiful spot in the atrium."