Tesla – Lecture at Columbia University

The experiments which will prove most suggestive and of most interest to the investigator are probably those performed with exhausted tubes. As might be anticipated, a source of such rapidly alternating potentials is capable of exciting the tubes at a considerable distance, and the light effects produced are remarkable.
During my investigations in this line I endeavored to excite tubes, devoid of any electrodes, by electromagnetic induction, snaking the tube the secondary of the induction device, and passing through the primary the discharges of a Leyden jar. These tubes were made of many shapes, and I was able to obtain luminous effects which I then thought were due wholly to electromagnetic induction. But on carefully investigating the phenomena I found that the effects produced were more of an electrostatic nature. It may be attributed to this circumstance that this mode of exciting tubes is very wasteful, namely, the primary circuit being closed, the potential, and consequently the electrostatic inductive effect, is much diminished.
When an induction coil, operated as above described, is used, there is no doubt that the tubes are excited by electrostatic induction, and that electromagnetic induction has little, if anything, to do with the phenomena.
This is evident from many experiments. For instance, if a tube be taken in one hand, the observer being near the coil, it is brilliantly lighted and remains so no matter in what position it is held relatively to the observer’s body. Were the action electromagnetic, the tube could not be lighted when the observer’s body is interposed between it and the coil, or at least its luminosity should be considerably diminished. When the tube is held exactly over the centre of the coil—the latter being wound in sections and the primary placed symmetrically to the secondary—it may remain completely dark, whereas it is rendered intensely luminous by moving it slightly to the right or left from the centre of the coil. It does not light because in the middle both halves of the coil neutralize each other, and the electric potential is zero. If the action were electromagnetic, the tube should light best in the plane through the centre of the coil, since the electromagnetic effect there should be a maximum. When an arc is established between the terminals, the tubes and lamps in the vicinity of the coil go out, out light up again when the arc is broken, on account of the rise of potential. Yet the electromagnetic effect should be practically the same in both cases.
By placing a tube at some distance from the coil, and nearer to one terminal—preferably at a point on the axis of the coil—one may light it by touching the remote terminal with an insulated body of some size or with the hand, thereby raising the potential at that terminal nearer to, the tube. If the tube is shifted nearer to the coil so that it is lighted by the action of the nearer terminal, it may be made to go out by holding, on an insulated support, the end of a wire connected to the remote terminal, in the vicinity of the nearer terminal, by this means counteracting the action of the latter upon the tube. These effects are evidently electrostatic. Likewise, when a tube is placed it a considerable distance from the coil, the observer may, standing upon an insulated support between coil and tube, light the latter by approaching the hand to it; or he may even render it luminous by simply stepping between it and the coil. This would be impossible with electro-magnetic induction, for the body of the observer would act as a screen.