The Fictitious 1899 Interview with Tesla

The internet is abuzz with re-posts of a supposed 1899 interview with Nikola Tesla, by a journalist ‘John Smith’.

As much as we may like this to be real, it is not. Rather, it is a poorly translated excerpt from a play, ‘Tesla: Or Customisation of an Angel’ (meaning, Tesla) by Stevan Pešić, a Serbian playwright.

Nikola Tesla_stolen idea
Although I understand that people are hungry for Tesla’s words, I am dismayed that so many people, and supposedly credible sites, have not seen it reasonable to check their sources.
The interview text was appropriated and misrepresented by someone who wanted to feed on people’s hopes and adoration of the genius that Tesla was. Unethical, and against the law, given that the original is copyrighted material.
The play started out as a radio drama in Serbia. It became very popular and was made into a theatre play, first performed in Belgrade in 1995. Since then, the play has been performed 270 times (as at writing this article) at the National Theatre in Belgrade, as well as on tour in the cities of Serbia and abroad. In 2014, the play was made into a film twice – In 2001 by director Slobodana Ž. Jovanović, an by Dušan Mihailović in 2014, both of which aired on RTV NS.
The creative liberty of the play takes this ‘interview’ way beyond facts, and the many inconsistencies attest to that. For instance, Einstein was only 20 years old during this supposed interview. His Theory of Relativity didn’t begin development until 1905, and he published his theory of general relativity in 1915. Tesla didn’t begin criticising the theory until later in his life. The word “radar” was not coined until the late 1930s. Black holes were not yet dreamt of. Mark Twain had not yet completed the ‘Mysterious Stranger’. Also, Tesla did not meet and care for his beloved pigeon until far later in his years. And there has never existed a publication called ‘Immortality’ in Colorado, in the US – the title was chosen as a symbol of Tesla’s legacy. Oh, and Tesla was not on his death bed in 1899 – He died in 1943.
This story, as poignant as it is, does not represent the truth. It’s a philosophical fairy-tale of man and hope, of the soul, the light, and the universe.
Sadly, misrepresentation/misquotation seems to be the way of the internet. Ironically, this blind perpetuation not only discredits the message, but serves to diminish – in this instance – the genius of Nikola Tesla by reducing him to a New Age Guru. Tesla was so much more than that.
  • Watch the 2001 recording of the play here – with English subtitles.
  • Tesla’s timeline in 1899
  • An actual interview with Nikola Tesla with Samuel Cohen, published in the Electrical Experimenter in June 1915. Vol. III Whole No. 26, pages 39 & 45 (continued).
  • FBI archive hold 354 pages of Tesla’s papers, in 3 parts, much of which are blacked out for reasons of “national security.”
  • The National Theatre in Belgrade’s play entry (although the play is not currently on their repertoire).

©2016-2017 Lilyana Millutin, All rights reserved.   Reprinted here under the Creative Commons License by which author grants permission to copy, distribute and transmit this particular work under the conditions that use be non-commercial, that the work be used in its entirety word for word, and not altered in any way, or added to, not subtracted from, and that it carry the author’s name, link to the original article, and this full copyright notice. For other Permissions contact the copyright holder.

Lilyana Millutin is an Australian screenwriter and author. Be social with Lilyana on Twitter or on Facebook.