The Rotating Brush

Tesla took an evacuated incandescent type lamp globe, suspended within it at dead center a conductive element, stimulated that element with high voltage currents from an induction coil, and thus created a beam-like emanation, a brush discharge that was so eerily sensitive to disturbances in its environs that it seemed to be endowed with an intelligent life of its own. The device works best if there is no lead-in wire. In the bulb shown, every measure has been taken to construct it so it is free from its own electrical influence. The bulb could be stimulated inductively by applying energy to metal foil wrapped around its neck. Thus excited, intense phosphorescence then spreads at first over the globe, but soon gives place to a white misty light, observes Tesla. The glow then resolves into a directional brush or beam that will spin around the central element. So responsive is it to any electrostatic or magnetic changes in its vicinity that the approach of an observer at a few paces from the bulb will cause the brush to fly to the opposite side. A small, inch-wide permanent magnet will affect it visibly at a distance of two meters, slowing down or accelerating the rotation according to how it is held relatively to the brush.

Tesla never patented the rotating brush or used it in any practical application, but he believed it could have practical applications. He saw one use in radio where the device could conceivably be adapted to being a most sensitive detector of disturbances in the medium. The rotating brush appears to be a precursor of the plasma globe toys now in fashion; these are sometimes called Tesla globes. Tesla's new lighting was famous in its time. Tesla, the promoter, saw to it. He conducted demonstrations at lectures before the electric industry associations, before large audiences in rented halls, and before select groups of influential New Yorkers in his Manhattan lab.

His articles about the new lighting were published in the popular scientific press and it was reported in the newspapers. Still, it did not catch on with the powers-that-be who no doubt saw in it Tesla's perennial pile-of scrap problem. But, I wonder, would the whole electric distribution system have to be scrapped to implement the efficiencies of Tesla lighting? Conceivably, the new lighting could be run off of local oscillators at the consumer end, the old power distribution system remaining intact. This is still a possibility, as it has been for about one hundred years.

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