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KENNETH M. SWEZEY PAPERS, 1891-1982
#47

(8.6 cubic feet: 24 DB, 1 F/O, 1 metal card box)

by: Robert S. Harding, 1988

Biography

Kenneth M. Swezey (1905-1972) wrote for the New York Sun in his late teens and early twenties. At this time he met and became friends with Nikola Tesla. Swezey regarded him as an unsung electrical genius and collected Tesla materials from 1921-1972. In his capacity as writer for various publications he frequently wrote about Tesla and his scientific advancements. Privately he spent a large part of his time memorializing him, eg. he started the Tesla Society. He also organized anniversary celebrations commemorating Tesla, etc.

Swezey also wrote science books, among them: Formulas, Methods, Tips and Data for Home and Workshop, 1969; Science Shows You How, 1964 and After Dinner Science. When Mr. Swezey died in 1972, the Smithsonian Institution acquired his collection.

Kenneth Swezey felt that the United States should honor Tesla and spent most of his life trying to memorialize him. He was instrumental in organizing a celebration of Tesla's 75th anniversary with the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, soliciting admiring statements from both individuals and corporations, for the unpublished pamphlet, "Tribute to Nikola Tesla." Some of Mr. Swezey's other Tesla related activities included: forming the Tesla Society, organizing and designing the 100th anniversary celebration, successfully lobbying for the naming of ships, schools, and a unit of measurement after Tesla, and the striking of a stamp commemorating Tesla.

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) was born in Smiljan, Lika, now Yugoslavia and emigrated to America in 1884. He went to work at the Edison Machine Works as a dynamo designer. He was promised a salary of $18.00 a week, with a completion bonus of $50,000. He realized at the end of the year the bonus had been a practical joke and he resigned.

By 1887, he accumulated enough money to build a laboratory and start working on models of motors. Shortly thereafter, he developed his famous polyphase, alternating current motor, using an alternating current instead of the direct current used up until this point. Tesla's motor kept "exact step with the rotations of the field, regardless of load; this was the first polyphase synchronous motor." ("Science", Swezey, vol. 127 p.1149) The induction motor which he later invented developed a high torque in starting, built up speed, and could maintain speed with varying loads. In 1888, Tesla received his first patents from the U.S. Patent Office.

George Westinghouse quickly recognized Tesla's lucrative ideas, and hired him. Westinghouse was awarded the important Niagara Falls Power contract using Tesla's patents for his turbine engine utilizing the polyphase system. After a year, despite his very high salary with Westinghouse, Tesla decided to go back to working in his private lab in New York. He experimented with high-frequency currents which led to many discoveries, including the famous Tesla coil the forerunner of fluorescent and neon lighting.

At the same time he started delving in the new field of science, telautomatics, now called automation. He built and demonstrated model boats controlled by wireless radio impulses and the first radio controlled torpedo (the forerunner of the guided missile)

One of Tesla's dreams was to transmit electric signals all over the world without using wires . In 1899, he began building a demonstration plant for wireless transmission at his Shoreham, Long Island laboratory. Despite never completing the plant due to lack of funds, his vision earned him the name "father of radio".

In Tesla's latter years he worked on inventions and ideas which he could not afford to develop and became more eccentric and withdrawn from society. He died in January of 1943 at the age of 87.

Although Tesla was well regarded in his time, he was never revered in this country as he was in Yugoslavia. Most of Tesla's original documents and correspondence are in Belgrade, Yugoslavia at the Nikola Tesla Museum. The Library of Congress Manuscript Division holds 7 reels of microfilm of these materials.

Scope and Content

The Swezey papers are divided into four series.  Series 1: CORRESPONDENCE & SUBJECT FILES (boxes 2-18) contains subject files in alphabetical order and comprises the main body of the collection. It is composed of correspondence, copies of patents, articles, pamphlets, brochures, stamps, newsletters and manuscripts from 1891 to 1972. The folders within this series are titled and include a diverse combination of correspondence between Swezey and Tesla, and between Swezey and his colleagues, companies, government officials, museum curators, and Tesla's admirers. Series 2: TESLA PHOTOGRAPHS (box 19) contains photographs of Tesla, his inventions, his laboratories and personal photographs. Series 3:  PUBLICATIONS (boxes 20-26) includes articles, bibliographies, and biographies.  Series 4: RESEARCH NOTES housed in a small metal box, contains Swezey's research notes presumably for his incomplete biography of Tesla.

The collection is strong in articles from magazines such as "Electrical Experimentor," newspaper clippings, articles regarding electricity, power, radio, pamphlets, brochures, etc.

The collection generally follows Swezey's original arrangement and is somewhat inconsistent in terms of organization. However, the folder titles are fairly specific and should give the researcher direction. The materials within the folders are arranged chronologically. While some photo prints have been placed together in Series 2, there are also a large number of photo prints distributed throughout the collection, according to Swezey's original arrangement.

The collection gives one a good idea of Tesla's unusual personality and Swezey's intense preoccupation with Tesla. The collection also can give the researcher a good sense of Tesla's way of life, philosophies, personality and a general overview of his inventions and how society reacted to this prolific and unusual inventor.

Provenance

After Mr. Swezey died in 1972, the Smithsonian Institution acquired his collection and organized it into 26 document boxes. In 1983 the Division of Electricity, which had been holding the papers, transferred them to the Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

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Revised: January 4, 2001