Flash! President Obama gives a shout out to Nikola Tesla
EDIT: the original article (below) wasn’t strong enough in my recognition of the acomplishments of Nikola Tesla. Some people interpreted it as making light of Tesla’s mainstream accomplishments, especially in improving on Thomas Edison’s delivery of electric power through the use of alternating current. I have written a more recent article to make that clearer. My thanks to readers who took the time and made the effort to let me know how they felt, and to defend an immigrant to the US who helped make our modern world possible.
President Obama gave a speech today at American University in Washington, speaking about immigration. One particular part of it really caught my attention:
“…it is this constant flow of immigrants that helped to make America what it is: the scientific breakthroughs of Albert Einstein; the inventions of Nikola Tesla; the great ventures of Andrew Carnegie’s US Steel and Sergey Brin’s Google Inc.”
I think I might have made a classic double-take…and if I’d been drinking something, it might have been a spit-take.
Tesla? The death ray guy? The scientific darling of the conspiracy set, touted right up there with Einstein and Carnegie (and Google)?
Look, let me say right away, Tesla is absolutely a recognized inventor who contributed in significant ways. He was also an immigrant…that part fits this speech.
But not only did he have some really out there ideas, how he was treated is not traditionally held up as a sterling example of immigrants to America!
Yes, he was working on a “death ray”, and it might have worked. He was working on wireless transmission of energy…and that might have worked. He was a competitor of Edison’s, and lost out in a debate they were having.
But he died poor. After he died, reportedly the “Alien Property Custodian” (an actual office of the US government at the time) confiscated his papers. Tesla was a naturalized citizen at the time of his death, and his family argued for the return of the papers (which potentially had a lot of commercial value).
So, Tesla was a brilliant immigrant, yes, but has been co-opted by UFO buffs, appears in science fiction novels, died in bad economic circumstances, and is seen by some as having been abused by the US government after his death.
He just seems like an odd choice to demonstrate how great immigration has been for the USA…although, he might serve as an object lesson to warn potential immigrants, if one chose to believe all the stories.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.