Tesla – Lecture at Columbia University

The ideal way of lighting a hall or room would, however, be to produce such a condition in it that an illuminating device could be moved and put anywhere, and that it is lighted, no matter where it is put and without being electrically connected to anything. I have been able to produce such a condition by creating in the room a powerful, rapidly alternating electrostatic field. For this purpose I suspend a sheet of metal a distance from the ceiling on insulating cords and connect it to one terminal of the induction coil, the other terminal being preferably connected to the ground. Or else I suspend two sheets as illustrated in Fig. 29 / 125, each sheet being connected with one of the terminals of the coil, and their size being carefully determined. An exhausted tube may then be carried in the hand anywhere between the sheets or placed anywhere, even a certain distance beyond them; it remains always luminous.
In such an electrostatic field interesting phenomena may be observed, especially if the alternations are kept low and the potentials excessively high. In addition to the luminous phenomena mentioned, one may observe that any insulated conductor gives sparks when the hand or another object is approached to it, and the sparks may often be powerful. When a large conducting object is fastened on an insulating support, and the hand approached to it, a vibration, due to the rythmical motion of the air molecules is felt, and luminous streams may be perceived when the hand is held rear a pointcd projection. When a telephone receiver is made to touch with one or both of its terminals art insulated conductor of some size, the telephone emits a loud sound; it also emits a sound when a length of wire is attached to one or both terminals, and with very powerful fields a sound may be perceived even without any wire.
How far this principle is capable of practical application, the future will tell. It might be thought that electrostatic effects are unsuited for such action at a distance. Electromagnetic inductive effects, if available for the production of light, might be thought better suited. It is true the electrostatic effects diminish nearly with the cube of the distance from the coil, whereas the electromagnetic inductive effects diminish simply with the distance. But when we establish an electrostatic field of force, the condition is very different, for then, instead of the differential effect of both the terminals, we get their conjoint effect. Besides, I would call attention to the effect that in an alternating electrostatic field, a conductor, such as an exhausted tube, for instance, tends to take up most of the energy, whereas in an electromagnetic alternating field the conductor tends to take up the least energy, the waves being reflected with but little loss. This is one reason why it is difficult to excite an exhausted tube, at a distance, by electromagnetic induction. I have wound coils of very large diameter and of many turns of wire, and connected a Geissler tube to the ends of the coil with the object of exciting the tube at a distance; but even with the powerful inductive effects producible by Leyden jar discharges, the tube could not be excited unless at a very small distance, although some judgment was used as to the dimensions of the coil. I have also found that even the most powerful Leyden jar discharges are capable of exciting only feeble luminous effects in a closed exhausted tube, and even these effects upon thorough examination I have been forced to consider of an electrostatic nature.