Tesla – Lecture at Columbia University

In the Hertz experiments, for instance, a high tension induction coil is short circuited by an arc, the resistance of which is very small, the smaller, the more capacity is attached to the terminals; and the difference of potential at these is enormously diminished: On the other hand, when the discharge is not passing between the terminals, the static effects may be considerable, but only qualitatively so, not quantitatively, since their rise and fall is very sudden, and since their frequency is small. In neither case, therefore, are powerful electrostatic effects perceivable. Similar conditions exist when, as in some interesting experiments of Dr. Lodge, Leyden jars are discharged disruptively. It has been thought—and I believe asserted—that in such cases most of the energy is radiated into space. In the light of the experiments which I have described above, it will now not be thought so. I feel safe in asserting that in such cases most of the energy is partly taken up and converted into heat. in the arc of the discharge and in the conducting and insulating material of the jar, some energy being, of course, given off by electrification of the air; but the amount of the directly radiated energy is very small.
When a high tension induction coil, operated by currents alternating only 20,000 times a second, has its terminals closed through even a very small jar, practically all the energy passes through the dielectric of the jar, which is heated, and the electrostatic effects manifest themselves outwardly only to a very weak degree. Now the external circuit of a Leyden jar, that is, the arc and the connections of the coatings, may be looked upon as a circuit generating alternating currents of excessively high frequency and fairly high potential, which is closed through the coatings and the dielectric between them, and from the above it is evident that the external electrostatic effects must be very small, even if a recoil circuit be used. These conditions make it appear that with the apparatus usually at hand, the observation of powerful electrostatic effects was impossible, and what experience has been gained in that direction is only due to the great ability of the investigators.
But powerful electrostatic effects are a sine qua non of light production on the lines indicated by theory. Electro-magnetic effects are primarily unavailable, for the reason that to produce the required effects we would have to pass current impulses through a conductor; which, long before the required frequency of the impulses could be reached, would cease to transmit them. On the other hand, electro-magnetic waves many times longer than those of light, and producible by sudden discharge of a condenser, could not be utilized, it would seem, except we avail ourselves of their effect upon conductors as in the present methods, which are wasteful. We could not affect by means of such waves the static molecular or atomic charges of a gas, cause them to vibrate and to emit light. Long transverse waves cannot, apparently, produce such effects, since excessively small electro-magnetic disturbances may pass readily through miles of air. Such dark waves, unless they are of the length of true light waves, cannot, it would seem, excite luminous radiation in a Geissler tube; and the luminous effects, which are producible by induction in a tube devoid of electrodes, I am inclined to consider as being of an electrostatic nature.
To produce such luminous effects, straight electrostatic thrusts are required; these, whatever be their frequency, may disturb the molecular charges and produce light. Since current impulses of the required frequency cannot pass through a conductor of measurable dimensions, we must work with a gas, and then the production of powerful electrostatic effects becomes an imperative necessity.