Podcasts Science

The story of Tesla: The spark of invention in Old New York

PODCAST The strange and wonderful life of Nikola Tesla in New York City.

The Serbian immigrant Nikola Tesla was among the Gilded Age’s brightest minds, a visionary thinker and inventor who gave the world innovations in electricity, radio and wireless communication.

So why has Tesla garnered the mantle of cult status among many?

Part of that has to do with his life in New York City, his shifting fortunes as he made his way (counting every step) along the city streets.

Tesla lived in Manhattan for more than 50 years, and although he hated it when he first arrived, he quickly understood its importance to the development of his inventions.

Engraving of Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943) ‘lecturing before the French Physical Society and The International Society of Electricians,’ 1880s. (Kean Collection/Getty Images)

Travel with us to the many places Tesla worked and lived in Manhattan — from the Little Italy roost where the Tesla Coil may have been invented to his doomed Greenwich Village laboratory.

From his first job in the Lower East Side to his final home in one of Midtown Manhattan‘s most famous hotels.

Nikola Tesla, thank you for bringing your genius to New York City.

PLUS: The marvelous demonstration at Madison Square Garden in 1898 that proves that Tesla invented the drone!

To get this week’s episode, just find our show on your favorite podcast streaming service. Or listen to it here:

Or listen to it straight from here:


The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every week. We’re also looking to improve and expand the show in other ways — publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media. But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a creator on Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.

If you’d like to help out, there are six different pledge levels. Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far.


A page from the 1942 comic book Real Heroes, illustrating the life of Nikola Tesla:

Courtesy Quality Comics
Courtesy Quality Comics

Young Tesla in 1885 while still in the employ of Thomas Edison.

Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution

Mark Twain and Joseph Jefferson in Tesla’s South Fifth Avenue Laboratory. That’s Tesla, blurry, in the background.

Courtesy the Tesla Society
Courtesy the Tesla Society

Tesla’s 1888 lecture at Columbia changed his life. His demonstration dazzled the room of distinguished scientists and professors and particularly grabbed the attention of journalists.

Courtesy Pictures of Infinity

Diagrams of Tesla’s inventions from the 1880s and 90s have an almost otherworldly quality that wouldn’t look out of place in a gallery of modern art.

Internet Archive Book Images
Internet Archive Book Images

The Not-so-mad Scientist: Tesla posing with perhaps his most famous prop — a large bulb which could generate light from the human body.


Tesla in Colorado Springs, 1899. From the caption: “A publicity photo of a participant sitting in the Colorado Springs experimental station with his “Magnifying Transmitter“. The arcs are about 22 feet (7 m) long. (Tesla’s notes identify this as a double exposure.)”

M0014782 Nikola Tesla, with his equipment Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Nikola Tesla, with his equipment for producing high-frequency alternating currents. Inscribed: 'To my illustrious friend Sir William Crookes of whom I always think and whose kind letters I never answer! Nikola Tesla June 17, 1901' Photograph 1901 Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0
M0014782 Nikola Tesla, with his equipment
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Nikola Tesla, with his equipment for
producing high-frequency alternating currents.
Inscribed: ‘To my illustrious friend Sir William Crookes of whom I always think and whose kind letters I never answer! Nikola Tesla June 17, 1901’
1901 Published: –

A view of Wardenclyffe Tower, Tesla’s grandest attempt of creating a wireless tranmission of electricity.

(From Electrical World and Engineer, 1904)

Internet Archive Book Images
Internet Archive Book Images

From the New York Sun, March 31, 1912: “Tesla’s wireless system for the transmission of intellegence and power involves a number of inventions, all of fundamental character.”


1916: Tesla poses in his West 40th Street laboratory, 1916.

Courtesy Everett Collection Inc., ALAMY
Courtesy Everett Collection Inc., ALAMY
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Nikola Tesla at the Hotel New Yorker with King Peter II of Yugoslavia. (Courtesy The New Yorker Hotel)

Bryant Park, near the spot of Tesla’s former laboratory and the place where he fed the pigeons.

Courtesy Flickr/Lidija Bondarenko
Courtesy Flickr/Lidija Bondarenko

The Nikola Tesla bust in front of St Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral. #boweryboys

A photo posted by Gregory Young (@boweryboysnyc) on

For more information

Visit the excellent blog by author Martin Hill Ortiz, deeply exploring the life of Tesla in New York City.

There are many societies devoted to the life and work of Nikola Tesla including the Tesla Memorial Society of New York.  The Oatmeal is behind the effort to turn Wardenclyffe into the Tesla Science Center. Go read up on Tesla at The Oatmeal first, then check out their efforts at the Tesla Science Center.

Wann learn more about Tesla? There’s a few great books on his life including the latest by W. Bernard Carlson — Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age. — and Sean Patrick’s Nikola Tesla: Imagination and the Man Who Invented the 20th Century.

Then there are Tesla’s own writings — My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla and The Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nicola Tesla

6 replies on “The story of Tesla: The spark of invention in Old New York”

Tesla truly loved the pigeons of NYC, feeding them every day & when he couldn’t, he hired people to do so. He rescued many injured birds, nursing them back to health, including his beloved “white pigeon” [no other name] Pigeons are also know as “Rock Doves.” The white bird, came to visit him most every day, he was terribly saddened the days she did not. He considered her the nearest thing he’d ever had to a wife or girlfriend, talking to her for hours. Of course she loved him as well. Please be kind to the wild pigeons of NYC, or any city. They struggle to live in the harshest of environmental & weather conditions. I have noticed those who hate these birds more often than not, hate homeless people, who also struggle to survive. Be kind & generous to both, God is testing your compassion.

Tesla was sending messages to others using pigeons. The New Yorker was going to be his giant “Tesla Tower”. Website needs to be updated to reflect the recent discoveries.

Another good video is the Drive By History episode on “Nikola Tesla’s Lab and The Trent House” 05/27/2020. Dr. Bryan J Field, assistant professor of physics at Farmingdale State College, meets Drive By history Host Ken Magos at Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Lab in at Shoreham, Long Island’s to discuss Tesla’s experiments here, and rivalry with Guglielmo Marconi.

Thanks for such an electrifying podcast chocked full of facts new to me! I have walked by the burned St Sava Cathedral and took photos after the fire. I was in that neighborhood frequently then. Fascinating to know its history as a satellite location of Trinity Church and Tweed’s daughter and Edith Wharton having been married there. The area was probably more green, way less built up and industrial and more elegant. One thing I’d like to say is that if I recall this correctly… that the New Yorker Hotel was once home to or owned by Rev. Sun Yung Moon and used by the “moonies” as a headquarters. (Maybe in the 1970’s)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *