Friendship between Nikola Tesla & Mark Twain
Dragoljub A. Cucić, Bratislav Stojiljković, Aleksandar S. Nikolić
Regional Center for Talents “Mihajlo Pupin”, Pancevo, Serbia, email@example.com; Nikola
Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Serbia, firstname.lastname@example.org; Faculty of Chemistry,
University of Belgrade, Serbia, email@example.com
Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain were friends and mutual admirers. Tesla – recognized as a
scentist, inventor and discoverer, Twain – famous writer, travel writer and a satirist – both
of them were real dreamers.
Two world famous and renowned figures lived and worked during the period that includes
century. Although their creative orientation was different, it wasn’t
impossible for them to be great friends, to socialize appreciate and deeply respect the work
and contribution of the other.
In Tesla's legacy, among many surviving archival documents, personal and technical
subjects, monographs and serials, several letters of correspondence that these two giants
exchanged, were found.
The aim of this study was to examine the character of their friendship, to present some
details of their friendship, which denominators were discovered between the two of them
and to offer new saved documents, less-known details from the life stories of two deserving
people, who through their knowledge and work were trying to create a new and better
Key words: Марк Тwain, Nikola Tesla, frendship, correspondence, Nikola Tesla
legacy, Nikola Tesla Museum.
"Thunder is good, thunder is impressive;
but it is lightning that does the work."
Nikola Tesla was born in 1856 in Austria (in Lika, today the area of Croatia) in the
Serbian priest’s family. He moved to the United States at 1884 with the idea that in the "New
World" was much easier to achieve and realize inventor's ideas which have already been
deeply inspiring. At that time, Mark Twain was already a respected and admired writer, well-
known author of short stories and novels.
In the years that followed, Tesla will achieve a number of inventions and discoveries
in the field of electric power, lighting techniques, radio technology, wireless management, to
a number of high-current applications in industry, medicine, and unusual, but the original
inventions in mechanical engineering and aviation. However, the topic of this paper are not
his inventions, but Tesla as a person, as a man, who, thanks to his gift of the innovator,
comprehensive education and special charisma, was able to meet, collaborate and socialize
with the greatest minds of his time - with scientists, politicians, artists and other "lifestyle
designers". One of these men was the famous American writer Samuel Langhorne Clemens
(1835-1910), at the time, better known under the pseudonym Mark Twain.
Acquaintance and friendship of Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain lasted nearly twenty
years since the beginning of the nineties of the 19
century to the writer's death in 1910.
Although at that time they both worked hard and created, changed their places of residence
and individual long-absents outside New York. That did not stop Mark Twain to invite Tesla
to the wedding of his daughter, Clara (Clara Clemens, 1874-1962) in the fall of 1909. That
call was a solemn unequivocal evidence of closeness and permanence of their mutual
In this study, the preserved historical documents of their mutual correspondence,
which are stored in Tesla’s legacy at the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade are studied. Also,
the authors are reconstructing the reasons for the occurrence of stored messages and letters, to
clarify the sequence of events that they initiated.
Correspondence between Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain
Exploring of mutual cooperation of Tesla and Twain, the authors reviewed the
available archives, met with a number of books, journals, technical and historical articles
which enabled them to document the common correspondence, and other certificates of their
informal friendly letters, and they systematized and presented them in Table no. 1.
Date of the letter By letter A person in a letter
Place of occurrence
15.02.1894. Mark Twain Olivia Clemens New York
04.03.1894.* Mark Twain Nikola Tesla New York
09.03.1894. Mark Twain Nikola Tesla New York
27.04.1894. Francis Marion
undated* Mark Twain Nikola Tesla New York
17.11.1898.* Mark Twain Nikola Tesla Vienna
06.10.1909.* Mark Twain Nikola Tesla Redding, Connecticut
Table no. 1
In Nikola Tesla's legacy there are four original documents (* - two messages, letters
and formal invitations) which Mark Twain sent to Nikola Tesla. Two short messages, which
were hand written by Twain on the original paper of Player's Club and probably forwarded by
courier to Tesla. Short letter with interesting content, written in the original paper from
Viennese hotel Krantz,
Twain sent at the 1898 during his stay in the Austrian capital. The
fourth document was a formal invitation for a wedding ceremony of his daughter Clare, and
was sent to Tesla in September 1909.
We didn’t find any more letters sent to Nikola Tesla by Mark Twain.
Photographing in Tesla's laboratory on South Fifth Avenue
Tesla's laboratory in South Fifth Avenue 33-35 (now West Broadway), was a special
place for companionship of a famous scientist and his friends Mark Twain, Thomas
Comerford Martin (1856-1924), Joseph Jefferson (1829-1905), Stanford White (1853-1906),
Johnson family and others. Visitors to the laboratory were able to learn about the incredible
inventions and fascinating experiments and wonderful devices which a scientist demonstrated
by explaining his latest research. A visit to Tesla's laboratory was always a kind of event for
Today, the hotel is called Ambassador.
all of his guests: scientists, engineers, journalists, financiers, partners and dear friends. The
presence to one of his exciting experiments, his close friend Robert Underwood Johnson
(1853-1937) records in the book of memoirs Remembered Yesterdays, published at 1925.
"When we first met him, his laboratory, in South Fifth Avenue, was a place of
absorbing interests. We were frequently invited to witness his experiments, which
included the demonstration of the rotating magnetic field, and the production of
electrical vibrations of an intensity not before achieved. Lighting-like flashes of
electrical fire of the length of fifteen feet were an every-day occurrence, and his
tubes of electric light were used to make photographs of many of his friends as
souvenir of their visits. He was the first person to make use of phosphorescent
light for photographic purposes – not a small item of invention in itself. I was one
of a group consisting of Mark Twain, Joseph Jefferson, Marion Crawford, and
others who had the unique experience of being thus photographed."
First two short messages, which Twain sent to Nikola Tesla at the beginning of 1894,
relate to their joint meeting on the occasion of shooting in the laboratory. Photography was
initiated by Robert Underwood Johnson, deputy editor of Century, wanting to present Tesla's
lab and his experiments with new revolutionary cold light. Fosforescentim light photography,
which were held on 4
March and 26
April 1894, was attended by Mark Twain, Joseph
Jefferson, Francis Marion Crawford (1854-1909), and Robert Underwood Johnson. In a
message dated 4
March 1894, Mark Twain addressed these words on the occasion of his dear
friend the common presence of photography in the laboratory:
Dear Mr. Tesla:
If I can possibly
manage it I'll be there
by 4 pm, but I am dreadfully
pushed for time, and you
mustn't depend on me.
S. L. Clemens"
It seems that the famous writer managed to complete his immediate responsibilities
and at the appointed time he came to Tesla's lab. Next taking photoes took place on 26 April
of that year, as confirmed by Francis Marion Crawford, in letter to his wife Elizabeth,
Johnson, R. U. (1925). p. 400.
Tesla's legacy: MNT, LXXXI, K81 - 522A
http://marktwaindaybyday.webs.com/addendavol2.htm (letter is probably in the library of Harvard
Another short note, Twain wrote one evening, at midnight, on the premises of Player's
club. Because of the urgent and unavoidable work he had to cancel his attendance at
scheduled social activities, so he has sent Tesla these words of apology:
Dear Mr. Tesla:
I am desperatеly
sorry, but a matter of
has intruded itself and
bars me from coming
down tomorrow afternoon.
I am very, very sorry.
Do forgive me.
However, Twain in his diary does not mention visit to Tesla's laboratory.
Photos of celebrities, photographed in Tesla's laboratory appear until a year later, in
April 1895, in an article titled "Tesla's Oscillator and Other Inventions" that Thomas
Commerford Martin published in the Century Magazine. The author of one of the photos
published with Mark Twain, dated in January of the 1894, which leads us to realize that there
may have been more than two, so far known of taking photoes in Tesla's laboratory.
Mark Twain in Tesla's laboratory in South Fifth Avenue, New York.
Photos of celebrities recorded a new Tesla phosphorescent light in the laboratory
, will be again the subject of conversation, twenty years later, but that time between the
Robert U. Johnson and Nikola Tesla. In preparing his book Memoirs Remembered
Yesterdays, in which he wanted to represent people and events of his life, Johnson asked his
dear friend for help. In his letter dated 5
March 1923 Tesla was asked whether he had saved
Tesla's legacy: MNT, LXXXI, K81 - 525A
a group of photographs taken under the cold light in his laboratory, where there were Mark
Twain, Crawford, Tesla, Johnson and other friends. He asked Tesla to look for and select one
as an illustration in his memoir that should be completed by 1
May, the same year. From the
personal archive of Tesla, he chose two of more surviving photos from that period. The
presented photo shows Mark Twain and Marion Crawford in Tesla's laboratory. Johnson's
letter to the occasion Tesla was kept in Nikola Tesla Museum.
Twain's letter from Vienna, and wedding invitations
Mark Twain, along with his family traveled to Austria in September 1897. In Austria,
he stayed until May 1899 when he had returned to the United States.
During his travels in Austria Twain addressed another interesting letter to Tesla in
which he was convinced, that if he had the English and Austrian patents for its products,
allowing it to broker their sale in Austria and Germany. In the letter, written on 17
November 1898 in Vienna, Twain said to Tesla:
"Dear Mr. Tesla -
Have you Austrian and English patents on that
destructive terror which you have been inventing?-
and if so, won't you set a price upon them and concession
me to sell them? I know cabinet ministers of both
countries – and of Germany, too; likewise William II.
I shall be in Europe a year, yet.
Here in the hotel the other night when some interested
man discussing means to persuade the nations to
join with the Czar and disarm, I advised them to seek some-
thing more sure than disarmament by perishable paper-
contarct – invite the great inventors to contrive some-
thing against which fleets and armies would be helpless,
and thus make war thenceforth impossible. I did not suspect
that you were already attending to that, and getting ready to
introduce into the earth permanent peace and disarmament
in a practical and mandatory way.
I know you are a very busy man, but will you steal
time to drop me a line?
About Tesla's response to Mark Twain, as well as of their mutual cooperation in
realization of the writer’s suggesetion – there are no stored data.
True friendship and deep mutual respect between two great friends grew in every
moment of togetherness and mutual business cooperation. Perhaps this was best evidenced by
a formal invitation which Mark Twain sent to Nikola Tesla on the occasion of marriage of his
daughter Clare and scheduled wedding ceremony. There are not known facts that Tesla
showed honor to his friend Mark Twain and attended the wedding ceremony of his daughter
Clara and Osip Gabrilovič in Stormfildu, 6
Tesla's legacy: MNT, LXXXI, K81 - 523A
Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain were eminent and respected. It is clear from their
sincere mutual acceptance: Tesla’s to Twain, expressed in the text of autobiography, and
Twain’s to Tesla, written in letters and diary.
Tesla has kept four original documents of their correspondence, but in Twain's legacy
no letters from Nikola Tesla were found. It is believed that Tesla wrote to his friend, but
unfortunately there are no surviving documents. Tesla's meticulousness and diligence shown
during long correspondence with many correspondents and companies consolidate opinion
that he had to reply to Twain's letters and messages.
It is also known that the famous writer appeared in the Tesla's laboratory after their
messages on 4
March 1894. He managed to complete his responsibilities at that time and, at
the appointed time, to come for taking a photograph. Analyzing the text messages and other
social dates or days of joint photographing, it can be concluded that the saved document does
not refer to these events. The first common shooting was scheduled for Sunday, 4
1894, and another one on Thursday, 26
April of that year.
Short undated message posted on Friday, at midnight, with the explanation that the
writer can not come to the meeting tomorrow afternoon. It is evident, that the Saturday was a
day of the scheduled meeting and that the message refers to an encounter that does not
concern this picture.
We didn’t find any surviving Tesla’s response letter, at Twain's letter sent from
Vienna late 1898. It was realistic to expect answer for several reasons: Twain's written text
clearly expects the answer, Tesla was always interested in business cooperation, and in this
Twain, M. (1979).
case it was a presentation of his devices to prominent European states, as well as the
possibility of their commercialization in these areas.
In general, friendship between Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain, two famous and world
renowned personalities, reveals the breadth of their interests, mutual respect and sincere
appreciation of deep, but overt desire of both of them to work individually in their own
creative field,and thus contribute to a new, more beautiful and better world.
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