Nikola Tesla: What happened to his papers after his death?


They say that in order to know where you are going, you must first know from where you came. I really believe that and have applied it in my genealogy hobby. I think maybe the time has come to apply it to my ham radio hobby, as well.

While I haven’t been a ham for very many years, I worked as an electronics tech for about 18 years –much of it in the Air Force, on radar and radar guided missiles on a fighter jet, but later working Civil Service for the Army, then Air Force as well. Many times I started to get my FCC license, but I had nobody to elmer me, and some of what I was studying was for a license for career use.

While working in electronics repair in 1983, a copy of “Radio Electronics” came (as it normally did) in my mailbox as part of a monthly subscription. An article in that issue on Nikola Tesla touched me like no other before, or any other even to this day!

Who was this Nikola Tesla? After reading the article I had to question, with years of electronic education, an A.S. degree in electronics, and specialty schools galore, why had I never learned more about this guy that had almost EVERYTHING to do with my interests at the time! I was stunned that I could have gone so long without being educated on this man! Sure, I had heard of the coils named after him, but little on the man himself. Maybe in my youthfulness I didn’t pay attention to past history so much? But it shook my foundations and made me curious to know more about Mr. Tesla.

Recently, my wife and I moved back into a house we were in before I got into HF. As such, it had no HF antennas or tower. So I put in a request for help in my local club, DARA; the famous hosts of the Dayton Hamvention. The club is huge, so I hoped I might get some help. I did receive two offers of assistance.

One offer to help was a fellow vet that raised a son by himself due to a tragic loss of his wife and the son’s mother. The man and his son soon were over and helped me undo the mess I made, and started on a new plan to move forward. Another great guy also helped greatly, and before we knew it, we started over on my meager beginnings on a tower, and improved and added on.

We had several long days and late nights as well. The XYL is a GREAT cook and I suspected that the man and his son had few home cooked meals the caliber of which the wife could put together. So we had some nice late dinners and stuffed ourselves while talking all sorts of ham-related subjects.

The son of this man has a name similar to mine, and he did most of the climbing and hard work. As such he really impressed me. His father raised him well and taught him respect and service to others. It turns out he has a desire to one day purchase a radio similar to my ICOM IC 7000, which I use for a primary station radio. He had studied the manuals some and downloaded one to his cell phone and helped me use the features built in to the radio that I hadn’t yet figured out how to use!

After thinking about this tower and antenna outlasting me, I realized that one day I will take my turn to go silent key, and this young guy is one of the few that will be working to carry on this great hobby and service to our community. I have grandsons, but they are too young yet to know if they will show any interest later on in life.

When Tesla came back up to me recently, I remembered the old magazine article, and the book I later purchased by Margaret Cheney on Mr. Tesla’s biography. Did you ever have something happen to you that just said you were at the right place at the right time, and it was supposed to happen just the way it did? After a base closure in Sacramento, I found myself working at Wright-Patterson AFB just outside of Dayton, Ohio (and yeah, it’s that place that has long had a reputation of supposed aliens being brought there! In fact, the bowling alley on base makes fun of it and has special “Alien Bowl” events and signs posted at the back above the pins showing aliens in cartoon form).

The place I was assigned was the Air Force Institute of Technology. I was working in computer support as a LAN Admin, and establishing and maintaining accounts, adding new equipment, maintenance on servers and more. I had changed my career, but not lost interest in electronics. I read something somewhere that indicated that the biography on Tesla written by Margaret Cheney was a pretty good read and fairly accurate! I ordered the book and to this day is one of the few books I have actually finished. It was that interesting!

At the end of the book she claims that the Department of Defense went into Tesla’s home and lab after his death, and confiscated many of his papers and research notes. She claimed they were taken to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. If this is true, the most likely places for these records to go would be the Air Force Research Labs, and the Air Force Institute of Technology. They shared a common library. I was careful to not jeopardize my career, so my curiosity remained mostly in check. But still, not a day went by when I wasn’t thinking about Tesla and his work being studied and possibly carried on where I was working.

So becoming friends with this young man who helped me greatly, I feel a sense of responsibility to help him succeed. To make sure he knows about some of the roots of this hobby so that he is better “grounded” in basic facts, to help him move forward. As I write this, I am not yet sure if he is already familiar with Tesla or not. But maybe, just maybe, I can pass on some of the history, to help a young man continue on in this great hobby and service of ours.

Maybe one day I can do the same with my grandsons, but for now, I feel an obligation to “pass it forward” and make sure a new generation was aware of a man I knew little about, but had a great contribution to my career and daily life.

Steve Martin, KD8QZT, is a special contributor to and writes from Ohio, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

3 Responses to “Nikola Tesla: What happened to his papers after his death?”

  • Richard KWøU:

    Well since Tesla died in 1943 and the Department of Defense wasn’t created until 1947 that puts the story in some doubt. Perhaps the author of the book meant the “Department of War.” The way I heard it his papers eventually ended up back in Serbia. But frankly I’m always a bit leery of talk about vast conspiracies and secret cover-ups. Too many people have to be involved in them for too long a time.

  • Harry K7ZOV:

    I remembering seeing a special on TV and thought it was the FBI who came in, so I did some checking… Read on:
    On 7 January 1943, at the age of 86, Tesla died alone in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel. His body was later found by maid Alice Monaghan after she had entered Tesla’s room, ignoring the “do not disturb” sign that Tesla had placed on his door two days earlier. Assistant medical examiner H.W. Wembly examined the body and ruled that the cause of death had been coronary thrombosis.[25] Tesla’s remains were taken to the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home at Madison Ave. and 81st St. A long-time friend and supporter of Tesla, Hugo Gernsback, commissioned a sculptor to create a death mask, now displayed in the Nikola Tesla Museum.[25]

    Two days later, the FBI ordered the Alien Property Custodian to seize Tesla’s belongings,[25] even though Tesla was an American citizen.[80] Tesla’s entire estate from the Hotel New Yorker and other New York City hotels was transported to the Manhattan Storage and Warehouse Company under the Office of Alien Property (OAP) seal.[25] John G. Trump, a professor at M.I.T. and a well-known electrical engineer serving as a technical aide to the National Defense Research Committee, was called in to analyze the Tesla items in OAP custody.[25] After a three-day investigation, Trump’s report concluded that there was nothing which would constitute a hazard in unfriendly hands, stating:

    [Tesla’s] thoughts and efforts during at least the past 15 years were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character often concerned with the production and wireless transmission of power; but did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.[155]

    In a box purported to contain a part of Tesla’s “death ray”, Trump found a 45-year-old multidecade resistance box.[156]

    On 10 January 1943, New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia read a eulogy written by Slovene-American author Louis Adamic live over the WNYC radio while violin pieces “Ave Maria” and “Tamo daleko” were played in the background.[25] On 12 January, two thousand people attended a state funeral for Tesla at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. After the funeral, Tesla’s body was taken to the Ferncliff Cemetery in Ardsley, New York, where it was later cremated. The following day, a second service was conducted by prominent priests in the Trinity Chapel (today’s Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sava) in New York City

  • Matt W1MST:

    Harry, thanks for the additional information.

    As a side note, John G. Trump is Donald Trump’s uncle.

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