The Story of Nikola Tesla at Niagara Falls, New York


1882 - 1884 Living in France

Tesla's career included working in France for the Continental Edison Company.In 1882, Tesla began designing and making improvements to electrical equipment. Nikola worked for about a year for the French branch of the Edison Electric Light Co. At the beginning of 1884, after successfully performed tasks in Strasbourg, Tesla returned to the headquarters of the Edison Continental Company in Paris.

The early years before America

Nikola Tesla had dreamed of the natural power and energy of the great Niagara Falls as a child. In 1893 at the age of 37, this idea of harnessing the Niagara River, creating Hydro-power and turning it into ( AC ) Alternating Current electricity eventually came to be.

Nikola Tesla was born on July 10, 1856, in a small village called Smiljan, locatedin the Military Border zone of Austro-Hungarian Empire, now in the Republic of Croatia. He received his education in Austria i.e. Austro-Hungary: primary school at Smiljan and Gospic (1862-70), and secondary school (Realgymnasium) at Karlovac (1870-1873). From 1875 to 1878 studied at the Polytechnic at Graz, and in 1880 he enrolled in the studies of natural philosophy at the Charles' University in Prague.


Nikola Tesla Immigrates to the United States of America

Tesla departed for the United States in 1884 to work for the ( Edison Machine Works Company ) and he became one of the chief engineers and designers. Almost as soon as he arrived at the Goerck Street facility, Mr. Thomas Edison realized the genius of the younger man's work, however, Tesla only worked there for about six months and he met Edison maybe twice. After several disagreements with the Edison Company, Tesla formed his own lab and place of work in 1886. He was financially supported through the sale of corporate stocks with the heading of ( The Tesla Electric Light and Manufacturing Company ).   Success was not easily achieved, as his ideas to promote (AC) alternating current was difficult to finance. In 1887, Tesla worked on a form of X-Rays however, his work in this area of science gained little coverage, and much of his research was later lost in a fire at a New York warehouse.


TESLA QUOTE: ...Immediately thereafter some people approached me with the proposal of forming an arc light company under my name, to which I agreed. Here finally was an opportunity to develop the motor, but when I broached the subject to my new associates, they said: "No, we want the arc lamp. We don't care for this alternating current of yours."

In 1886 my system of arc lighting was perfected and adopted for factory and municipal lighting, and I was free, but with no other possession than a beautifully engraved certificate of stock of hypothetical value. Then followed a period of struggle in the new medium for which I was not fitted, but the reward came in the end and in April, 1887, the Tesla Electric Company was organized, providing a laboratory and facilities. The motors I built there were exactly as I had imagined them. I made no attempt to improve the design, but merely reproduced the pictures as they appeared to my vision and the operation was always as I expected.




The Original Hydro-electric power plants were based on ( DC ) designs

The ( Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power and Manufacturing Company  )  was located in the city in a designated area to be named " The New York State Reservation ". The company was founded in 1853 and initiated the original construction of canals for electricity generation. Construction of the canal began in 1860 and was completed one year later. This first  canal measured 35 feet wide and 8 feet deep; it carried water from the Niagara River to several mills below the Falls.

Jacob Schoellkopf  (1819-1903)  expanded on the preliminary efforts to utilize the hydraulic power. Schoellkopf was a prosperous businessman, owning and investing in several tanneries and mills in the Niagara area. He purchased the rights to Niagara Falls Hydraulic canal in 1877 to power his businesses and took over the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power and Manufacturing Company. Schoellkopf realized the potential of Niagara for generating electricity on a commercial scale and installed, in 1882, a small hydroelectric ( DC ) generation station which provided electricity directly to the nearby town of Niagara Falls, New York. At this point, the generator relied on direct current transmission, so the electricity could only be transmitted a few miles.

In 1889, Mr. William B. Rankine, a brilliant and successful lawyer became one of the incorporaters of the Cataract Construction Company and was the attorney for and secretary and treasurer of that company. He was also the attorney for the Niagara Falls Power Co.; the Niagara Development Co., and the Niagara Junction Railroad Co., as well as president of the Niagara Falls Water Works Co.; vice-president of the Niagara Falls and Suspension Bridge Railroad Co.; secretary and treasurer of the Canadian Niagara Power Co.; secretary and treasurer of the Cataract Power and Conduit Co.; and president of the Tonawanda Electric Light and Power Co.

Thomas Evershed has an idea for a large tunnel for the early power plants

The idea was for a vast number of hydro-power generating sites in a new industrial area to be developed on the reservation, and a huge water discharge tunnel. The New York State Reservation extended about a mile upstream of the falls and a distance of another mile and a half north along the gorge. A dozen water inlet canals would be constructed along the upper Niagara river shoreline. These would supply water to some 238 wheel pits and turbines that would provide hydro-power to the same number of mills or factories. Following power production, the spent water would empty into the very large discharge tunnel, two and a half miles long, to be constructed under the new industrial area and the village of Niagara Falls. The tunnel outlet would be at the base of the gorge just downstream of the falls. Power would be developed at heads of from 80 to 100 feet, and would be mechanical power, supplied to the adjacent factories by cables, belts, and pulleys. Each wheel pit would produce an estimated 500 horsepower, for a total for the project of about 120,000 horsepower.


$10,000 stock certificate made out to Edward D. Adams

COPY:  (  Niagara Power )  by E. D. Adams 1926 )

The consolidation of the Niagara Falls Power Company with the Cliff Electrical Distribution Company and the Hydraulic Power Company of Niagara Falls, was contracted by all parties in interest under date of September 20, 1918. The Advent of the Schoellkopf interest in ownership and management of the consolidated company, brought to a conclusion the financing of the enterprise, commenced in 1889.Adams went on to become president of the Niagara Development Co., and the Niagara Junction Railroad. He graced the cover of Time in 1929.

Edward Dean Adams a New York City banker, posed an unlikely figure in the war of currents between DC, championed by Thomas Edison, ( General Electric ) and Nikola Tesla’s with ( Westinghouse ) AC.

In 1890 as president of the Cataract Construction Co., in a period rife with hot debate between ( DC ) direct current and     ( AC ) alternating current, Adams formed the ( International Niagara Commission ) to develop a plan to harness the Falls for energy. Three years later, under his leadership, the company built a hydroelectric system in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

In 1893 Edward Dean Adams, who headed up the

Niagara Falls Cataract Construction Company

sought Tesla's opinion on what system would be best to transmit power generated at the falls. Over several years there had been an off again - on again series of proposals and open competitions on how best to utilize power generated by the falls with many systems being proposed by several US and European companies including two phase and three phase AC, high voltage DC, and even compressed air. Adams pumped Tesla for information about the current state of all the competing systems. Tesla advised Adams that a two phased system would be the most reliable, and that there was a Westinghouse system to light incandescent bulbs using two phase alternating current. Based on Tesla's advice and Westinghouse's demonstration that they could build a complete AC system at the Columbian Exposition, a contract for building a two phase AC generating system at the Niagara Falls was awarded to Westinghouse Electric.

A further contract to build the AC distribution system was awarded to Edison's General Electric Co.

The introduction of ( AC ) current changed everything at Niagara Falls

Edward Dean Adams owned the Niagara Falls Power Company;  this was the second enterprise to provide Niagara Falls with electricity. Mr. Adams also purchased Schoellkopf’s company at a later date in 1918 but, retained that name for the older power facility. Adams was the president of the Cataract Construction Company, which built the two large generator buildings and transformer house called the  ( Niagara Falls Power Company ), this was the first large-scale power station at Niagara Falls. The Cataract Construction Company also laid the future transmission lines from Niagara Falls Power Company to Buffalo, New York.

( HISTORY ):  The Niagara Falls Power Company was in need of a method that would enable the transmission of electricity over long distances. Thomas Edison promoted his direct current (DC) method, but it was Nikola Tesla’s alternating current (AC) transmission system that won the contract to illuminate Niagara Falls and ultimately allowed for the large-scale use of hydroelectric power. In the late 1800s, there was a huge debate over which system was better ...AC or DC. Thomas Edison, having invented the DC system, opposed Tesla’s inventions. AC eventually won the battle because it proved to be more efficient; it could be transmitted over long distances while DC systems could not, thus requiring numerous power plants to be built. George Westinghouse, a productive inventor and strategic businessman, purchased the patent rights of Tesla’s poly-phase system (an AC system that provides electricity in overlapping phases) in 1888 and offered Tesla a job at Westinghouse Electric Company as a consultant. Westinghouse expanded on Tesla’s development and the eventual widespread adoption of the AC transmission system laid the foundation for the beginning of the electrical age.

Nikola Tesla works at the Westinghouse plant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

     In 1888, George Westinghouse hired Nikola Tesla for one year for the large fee of $2,000 per month to be a consultant at the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company's Pittsburgh labs. During that year, Tesla worked in Pittsburgh, helping to create an ( AC ) alternating current system to power the city's streetcars. He found the time there very frustrating because of design conflicts between him and the other Westinghouse engineers over how best to implement AC power. Tesla and Westinghouse's engineers finally settled on a 60-cycle AC current system that Tesla proposed  ( to match the working frequency of Tesla's motor ),  however, they soon found that, since Tesla's induction motor could only run at a constant speed, it would not work for street cars. ...They ended up using a DC " TRACTION MOTOR " instead.


Books on the subject of Nikola Tesla and ( AC ) Alternating Current

BOOK-REPRINT : of Tesla's 1892 London Lecture


Nikola Tesla's 1892 Lecture in London

Mr. Tesla is only 35 years of age. He is tall and spare with a clean-cut, thin, refined face, and eyes that recall all the stories one has read of keenness of vision and phenomenal ability to see through things. He is an omnivorous reader, who never forgets; and he possesses the peculiar facility in languages that enables the least educated native of eastern Europe to talk and write in at least half a dozen tongues. A more congenial companion cannot be desired for the hours when one "pours out heart affluence in discursive talk," and when the conversation, dealing at first with things near at hand and next to us, reaches out and rises to the greater questions of life, duty and destiny.

In the year 1890 he severed his connection with the Westinghouse Company, since which time he has devoted himself entirely to the study of alternating currents of high frequencies and very high potentials, with which study he is at present engaged. No comment is necessary on his interesting achievements in this field; the famous 1892 London lecture published in this book is a proof in itself.

Tesla was taking his ( AC ) power in a new direction in 1894

     That experiment, which was marvelous at the time it was performed, was shown for the first time in 1894.  I remember the incident perfectly.  I called Mr. Edward Adams, the banker, to come and see it, and he was the first man to observe it and to hear my explanation of what it meant.

     You see, the apparatus which I have devised was an apparatus enabling one to produce tremendous differences of potential and currents in an antenna circuit.  These requirements must be fulfilled, whether you transmit by currents of conduction, or whether you transmit by electromagnetic waves.  You want high potential currents, you want a great amount of vibratory energy; but you can graduate this vibratory energy.  By proper design and choice of wave lengths, you can arrange it so that you get, for instance, 5 percent in these electromagnetic waves and 95 percent in the current that goes through the earth.  That is what I am doing. 

NOTE : ...Nikola Tesla had just become an American citizen in 1891 and was experimenting with ways to generate and use electric motors and other inventions with alternating current. ( SEE: Chicago Columbian Exposition ) He had also made advancements in wireless technology. In 1892 construction of the Niagara Falls power plant and extensive tunnel systems began at ground level and below ground level. Nikola Tesla consulted with engineers ( Oliver B. Shallenberger ) at Westinghouse on the installation of the larger ( AC ) generators, transformers and other related scientific equipment for this herculean endeavor. Westinghouse and J.P. Morgan, John Jacob Astor, and the Vanderbilt family were the major financing resources for funding the project.


Adams and the Cataract Construction Company began constructing a central power station before the problem of long distance transmission of electricity was solved. The Cataract Construction Company sponsored the ( International Niagara Commission ) which met in London in June 1890. The commissioners offered a monetary prize for a solution to the problem.

Top left to right …1. William Cawthorne Unwin, Professor of Engineering, Central Institution of the City and Guilds of London 2. Coleman Sellers, Professor of Engineering, Steven's Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey 3. Eleuthere-Elie-Nicolas Mascart, Professor au College de France 4. Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), President of the Commission 5. Theodore Turrettini, President de la Ville de Geneva

The International Niagara Commission


  It was important for the Niagara Falls power project to create a team of formed and capable engineers to share their knowledge and their achievements to transform all those ideas into a reality:

There was water-power engineer Thomas Evershed at age 69 years old who had directed the construction of the Erie Canal, his last major project would involve a canal way and a massive tunnel built through the bedrock under the city of Niagara Falls, New York. The electrical engineer Benjamin G. Lamme designed various generators, motors, rotary converters and other apparatus. He worked to improve the machinery based on Tesla’s generator designs, which he then created with communications and instructions from Nikola Tesla and Oliver B. Shallenberger.

Mr. George Westinghouse employed other engineers to investigating the practical uses for this new AC electricity: Other contributors were the pioneer electrical inventor William Stanley Jr., Paul M. Lincoln, Lewis B. Stillwell and mechanical and electrical engineer Albert Schmid.

All these inventors and even more were involved in the beginning of the electrical age and they created the basis for the modern poly-phase system to provide the electrical power services.

The exhibits & demonstrations of Tesla at the 1893 Chicago Exposition were crucial to (AC) power development


    Mr. Tesla was introduced by Dr. Elisha Gray at the 1893 Chicago Exposition. Tesla, began by stating that the problem he had set out to solve was to construct, first, a mechanism which would produce oscillations of a perfectly constant period independent of the pressure of steam or air applied, within the widest limits, and also independent of frictional losses and load. Secondly, to produce electric currents of a perfectly constant period independently of the working conditions, and to produce these currents with mechanism which should be reliable and positive in its action without resorting to spark gaps and breaks. This he successfully accomplished in his apparatus, and with this apparatus, now, scientific men will be provided with the necessaries for carrying on investigations with alternating currents with great precision. These two inventions Mr. Tesla called, quite appropriately, a mechanical and an electrical oscillator, respectively.

In 1893, Westinghouse won the contract to light World’s Fair in Chicago using Tesla’s system. His success at the Chicago World's Fair helped Westinghouse obtain a contract from the Cataract Construction Company in Buffalo, New York for the building of generators that would harness the energy of Niagara Falls' water resource. Westinghouse’s company built several two-phase generators, 5,000 horsepower each.


( AUGUST 1895 ) The Edward Dean Adams Power Plant goes operational

On April, 15th, 1895 the first Niagara Generator was tested which bore Tesla's name and patent numbers, it was run at full speed, 250 revolutions per minute, and proved quite satisfactory.

This "Niagara Falls, N.Y. " power plant went into operation on August 25-26, 1895. The Adams Power buildings would see extended building expansion and equipment added continuously for the next 7 years. The current and still remaining  ( Adams Transformer House ) building was designed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White, who also designed other important architecture such as the Brooklyn Museum in New York City and the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.. This massive project used locally quarried limestone from near by Queenston, Ontario, Canada. The Cataract Construction Company and architectural firm made the decision to employed mostly tradesman and stonemasons from Italy who could provide the expert craftsmanship for the beautiful architectural designs by Mr. Stanford White. The power generator and transformer houses were built near to the upper Niagara river, Power house number one was designed for twenty-one generating units. A channel brought water from the river to the generators which then passed into a 7000-ft tunnel having the earths gravity move the water downward beneath the city, eventually making its way to the lower Niagara river below the falls and ending near the present-day site of the Rainbow Bridge. This 16 million brick tunnel measured 18-ft by 21-ft and required over 3 years to build.

 The Edward Dean Adam's Power Plant as photographed in 1946,  ...the Transformer House located in middle-forefront.

            A brief history of the " Edward Dean Adams Power Plant "              Paul Gromosiak and Illustrations by Daniel Davis


Tesla finally visits Niagara Falls and the Adams Power Plant in 1896


Chicago, Vol XIX, No. 5, page 55, ...August 1, 1896

Nikola Tesla at Niagara Falls. by ORRIN E. DUNLAP.

Nikola Tesla paid his first visit to the great electrical power plant of the Niagara Falls Power company on Sunday, July 19th, 1896. In the party with Tesla were George Westinghouse, Jr., president of the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and his son, H. H. Westinghouse; Thomas N. Ely of Philadelphia, of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Commodore George W. Melville of the United States Navy; Edward Dean Adams, president, and William B. Rankine, secretary of the Cataract Construction Company; Paul D. Cravath, for the Westinghouse company, and George Urban, Jr., from the city of Buffalo, New York and president of the ( Cataract Power Construction company of Buffalo ) which was organized recently to distribute the electric power in Buffalo.     NOTE: ....Tesla was a guest of Mr. Rankine for this event.

Quite naturally, the event of Tesla's visit was one of importance, for never before had his eyes rested on this greatest of power plants. For four ( 4 ) years he had refused to leave his work and visit the Falls, preferring to work out his theories and await the proper time to see them put into practical use and operation. Tesla was delighted with the manner in which his discoveries had been adapted to practical use by the engineers, and he unhesitatingly declared that there was no doubt of the success of the gigantic undertaking and that power would be transmitted to Buffalo without the least semblance of failure in any important detail. He was greatly interested in the working of the transformers invented by him, and the great electrician declared that they solved one of the most difficult and important problems in electrical science. It is a well-known fact that Tesla does not like to speak of himself. He will talk freely about electrical discoveries or inventions, but when his own are breached he modestly says that he prefers to say little about them. “I do not like to speak of what I am doing or what I hope to do," said he. "It is enough to let others do that. When what I have done is before the world. I am content to be in my workshop and to work day and night to discover something which we are looking for and which will assist the development of electricity as a great and universal power. The time will come when steam will not be used for commercial purposes. I am working to bring that about." This, then, is the present great ambition, He desires to see electricity fully occupy the power field. "I came to Niagara Falls," said he, "to inspect the great power plant and because I thought the change would bring me needed rest. I have been for some time in poor health, almost worn out, and I am now trying to get away from my work for a brief spell and at the same time see the great results of electrical development within the last half dozen years. Those results have been wonderful, have far surpassed the expectations of the people generally, but they are what those who have made electricity their study for years and their life work have expected and have labored so hard to bring about. Yet scientists are not content and great wonders in the future development of electric power for many purposes are anticipated and are confidently expected by the great men in all countries who are trying to discover nature’s secrets and to develop the things which God has placed within the reach of those who will seek that they may end." "What do you think of the Niagara power plant, Mr. Tesla? Is it fully up to your ideas and expectations?" It was this question that aroused the great electrician's enthusiasm. "Yes," said he; "it is all and more than I anticipated it would be. It is fully all that was promised. It is one of the wonders of this century. The power-producing plant of the Cataract Construction company is a marvel in its completeness and in its superiority of construction. When it shall be in full operation the results in many ways will be wonderful; will be surprising to those who have doubted that such things could be accomplished. In its entirety, in connection with the possibilities of the future, the plant and the prospect of future development in electrical science, and the more ordinary uses of electricity, are my ideals. They are what I have long anticipated and have labored, in an insignificant way, to contribute toward bringing about." “What, in your judgment, will be the effect on Niagara Falls?" "The first effects naturally will be to the advantage of Niagara Falls, and the falls will be the greatest August 1, 1896 55 reaper of benefits. The result of this great development of electric power will be that the falls and Buffalo will reach out their arms and will join each other and become one great city. United they will form the greatest city in the world." "This is your first visit to the plant?" “Yes, I came purposely to see it. I am somewhat interested in the working of some of the machinery. But, and it is a curious thing about me, I cannot stay about big machinery a great while. It effects me very much. The jar of the machinery curiously affects my spine and I cannot stand the strain." “It is Mr. Tesla’s two-phase system which is used,” put in Secretary Rankine, who was standing by. "It is the new and great system of the Two»phase alternating currents."

“What do you think of the transmission of electric power to Buffalo? Is it an assured undertaking?" Tesla was asked. ` "Its success is certain. The transmission of electricity is one of the simplest of propositions. It is but the application of pronounced and accepted rules which are as firmly established as the air itself." ' "Do you think the cost of electric power in Buffalo will be half, or lower, than the present cost of steam?" “I do not know what is the cost of steam power in Buffalo." "About $6o to $7o," said Mr. Rankine “Well," continued Mr. Tesla, "the cost certainly will be much less than the cost of steam. The beauty of using electricity for industrial purposes is that you can use it without any loss. When you get done with your work you just shut it off until you want it again; therefore, there is no appreciable percentage of loss except that in transmission. On the other hand you cannot use steam without loss. Steam must be kept up. That involves a loss of some percent at the start, which is continuous and must be counted as a fixed loss. No matter if steam were cheaper than electricity there would be a great saving in favor of electricity because of its adaptability, its freedom from smoke and dust and the fact that it may be shut off when it is not needed." At this point Secretary Rankine advanced a piece of news. “Buffalo," said he, "will have its first installment of electric power by November ( 1896 ). You may say that without fear of making any mistake. The first delivery will be about 1,000 horse power, all that we can give this fall. It will be the initial installment of the 10,000 horse power which we must furnish under our franchise within the ensuing year, The contract for the construction of the pole line will soon be let. The work will be pushed rapidly and Buffalo will find that the company will be faithful to all of its agreements." In regard to the transmission of power Tesla continued: "It is cheaper to transmit electricity in large quantities than in small. The larger the force, the less the loss in transmission. The loss in transmission of power to Buffalo, for instance, will be comparatively small because of the large quantity which Buffalo will receive." ' Tesla was averse to speaking of his recent investigations of the vacuum electric lamp and telegraphy with- out the use of wires. "I am not prepared to say anything now about those little schemes of mine," said Mr. Tesla. "They must stand aside for awhile. Just now, I am devoting my time to the study and development of the transmission and insulation of electricity. Until I get these matters well worked out and obtain satisfactory results, I shall do little else. I shall return to my laboratory in New York and continue my work, I am delighted with my trip to the Falls. I have been from top to bottom of the power plant. You may say it is the greatest and the best, the most thoroughly equipped in the world."

MARCH 13, 1895

Felled by a great tragedy( Tesla's Laboratory Burned ) 

Electrical Review (New York ) - March 20, 1895 - p 145 ).

The six story building in which his laboratory was located burned down. The fourth floor, where his equipment was, collapsed down to the second floor and all his machinery was destroyed. None of it was insured. His lecture equipment, notes, photographs, and his famous Worlds Fair exhibit were all lost. This, however, was not the greatest loss. Tesla possessed a phenomenal memory and could easily rebuild, and many of his photos were copied.


( Nikola Tesla speaks in BUFFALO )

 The Address On the Occasion of the Commemoration of the Introduction of Niagara Falls Power In Buffalo At the Ellicot Club, January 12, 1897



The Edward Dean Adam's Power Plant, gallery of photos photo to enlarge


 A Collection of Niagara Falls Area images from Old Post Cards 1890 -1910

Designated by Congress in 2008, the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area stretches from the western boundary of Wheatfield, New York to the mouth of the Niagara River on Lake Ontario, including the communities of Niagara Falls, Youngstown, and Lewiston. The region is home to natural wonders, rich cultural traditions, and nationally significant historical sites.

( The Niagara Falls National Heritage Area )

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( Extensive detailed HISTORY of the City of Niagara Falls, New York )











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