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PBS Special on Nikola Tesla

PBS ran a special on Tesla in 2000, which took a comprehensive look at the life, work and legacy of this controversial electrical genius. Reprint of original press release.

Washington, D.C. - Nikola Tesla was one of the greatest inventors of the 20th century, with over 700 worldwide patents to his name. He was a visionary genius whose radical ideas created the technology that connects the world with power and information. One of history's most controversial and misunderstood people, his incredible story is finally being brought to the screen.

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), a Serbian immigrant to America, has become a cult hero. He is known and respected in scientific and engineering circles, but he also appeals to a youthful and general audience with no formal background in science. In addition to his work, his life is filled with intense personal drama, triumph and tragedy.

Tesla's most famous invention is his system of AC power generation and transmission that is used universally today. He also invented the Tesla coil to create high-frequency electricity. This led to the creation of neon and fluorescent lighting, radio transmission, remote control, and hundreds of other devices that are now an essential part of our everyday lives. The documentary finally sets the record straight on Tesla's inventions and accomplishments. Edison and Marconi are frequently credited for the invention of AC power transmission and radio. The program demonstrates that this is not the case.

TESLA, Master of Lightning, is a multi-media project that tells the comprehensive story of the life and work of Nikola Tesla for the very fist time. The program combines dramatizations with rare footage and photographs to weave a story filled with science, drama, and mystery. Included are many new and unknown details of of Tesla's life, including the influence he had on the Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense program. A great deal of the story is told in Tesla's own words, drawn from his autobiographical and scientific writings, and performed by Stacy Keach.

Mr. Keach has long had a personal interest in Tesla's work. Says Keach, "Without Nikola Tesla, the world, as we know it today, would not exist. Unlike Thomas Edison, who invented Direct Current (DC), Tesla was the man responsible for giving us Alternating Current (AC), which gives us electric power over long distances. Radio, television, and the world of wireless electronic transmission, are all direct results of Tesla's vision. Yes, he was also an eccentric, a germophobic, and something of a megalomaniac---human qualities which make a profile of his life all the more fascinating....for many years I entertained the notion of trying to mount a one-man show about his life. I am truly honored and thrilled to be a part of this exciting documentary."

Eight years in the making, the project includes the PBS documentary special; the companion book written by Margaret Cheney and Robert Uth, published by Barnes & Noble; and an extensive educational website at http://www.pbs.org/tesla/. The documentary and the book contain an extremely rare collection of photographs documenting Tesla's life and inventions. These photos are like lost pages of electrical history and an important resource for scholars. The website will contain other rare Tesla information, including correspondence, scientific papers and articles.

Today there is considerable and growing interest in Tesla, but most of the available information has been highly speculative, not based on the historical documentary evidence. Dr. David Goodstein, professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology, calls the program "gripping, informative and technically accurate".

This is not a dry story about circuits and capacitors. Tesla's life is an inspiring example of the power of one man to battle against the odds and change the world with his revolutionary ideas. TESLA, Master of Lightning will give long overdue recognition to a great and misunderstood man of science.

TESLA, Master of Lightning, premiered nationally on PBS, December 12, 2000, and was rebroadcast in April 2004. It is a production of New Voyage Communications, Inc., Washington, D.C. Producer/Director : Robert Uth. Written by: Robert Uth and Phylis Geller. Executive Producer : Phylis Geller. Senior Science Adviser: Leland I. Anderson. Funding is provided by PBS.