Astonishing Victorian Selfies Promoted Nikola Tesla Inventions And Experiments

Nikola Tesla often invited investors, journalists, and friends to his labs. In his earlier years, he seemed to relish sharing his latest ideas and research. A visit to his lab was clearly a profound event at a time when electricity was still a disruptive technology. The following Victorian selfies promoted Nikola Tesla inventions and experiments.

Granted, these are not selfies as we know them today but they’re close. The spirit of friends recording an exciting moment for posterity obviously traverses time.

Victorian Selfies: Mark Twain In Tesla’s Lab

Nikola Tesla had many famous friends. Among them, Mark Twain was one of his dearest. Tesla read several of Twain’s books when he was recovering from an extensive illness and became a lifelong fan. Twain had been fascinated by electricity since the 1880s when he invested in an electrical motor that proved inferior to Tesla’s.

Mark Twain was also involved in the foundation of the Players Club in 1888. It was a private social club in New York City, started by Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth. Located at 16 Gramercy Park, it was not far from Tesla’s lab at 35 South Fifth Avenue. In 1894, Twain invited Tesla to join the club that brought actors together with industrialists, scientist and other creative minds.

Apparently, Twain had been invited to a photo session in Tesla’s lab on March 4, 1894. Robert Underwood Johnson, then deputy editor of Century Magazine, initiated the event. Tesla was already considered a genius in his time, with visions of a better world through his many inventions and papers on renewable energy. This particular article for the magazine was about Tesla’s experiments with the revolutionary cold light photography, his oscillator and other inventions.

March 4/94

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. In haste, Sincerely Yours S. L. Clemens.

Fortunately, Twain was able to make the photo session. He also visited Tesla’s labs on other occasions. During one visit, Tesla cured Twain of his constipation.

Victorian Selfies: Century Magazine Shoots In Tesla’s Lab For April 1895 Edition

Tesla remained a bachelor throughout his life. He did become close friends with Robert Underwood Johnson and his wife Katharine. Tesla met many of his friends and acquaintances at their home on Lexington Avenue in New York City during the 1890s.

In his memoirs, Remembered Yesterdays, published in 1925, Johnson recalled his experiences in Tesla’s lab in 1894. (p. 400) The photo sessions were for an article to be published in 1895, “Tesla’s Oscillator and Other Inventions.”

“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 rotating magnetic field, and the production of electrical vibrations of an intensity not before achieved.

Lightning-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 souvenirs 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.”

Victorian Selfies: Nikola Tesla Lights Up His Friends

This three-shot Victorian Selfie above  features Joseph Jefferson (left) and Mark Twain (right) with Tesla’s face blurred between them.

The Victorian Selfie below shows Marion Crawford  holding a loop of wire carrying a lamp.  Thomas Commerford Martin in Century Magazine article, “Tesla’s Oscillator and Other Inventions“, 1895, explains this experiment illustrates “the lighting of an incandescent lamp in free space by induction from coil below, energized by distant circuit around the room.”

The photo below shows Joseph Jefferson holding a loop of wire carrying two lamps.  This experiment illustrates the phenomenon of impedance.    (“Tesla’s Oscillator and Other Inventions“.)

Victorian Selfies: Nikola Tesla In The Spotlight

According to explains the above image from Tesla’s Houston street laboratory.  “The photo on electrical review, March 29, 1899 reads: ‘The operator’s body in this experiment is charged to a high potential by means of a coil responsive to the waves transmitted to it from a distant oscillator.'”

In this experiment, Tesla lights a disconnected vacuum bulb of 1,500 C.P. by high-frequency currents.  The photograph is taken by the light of the bulb itself with an exposure of approximately two seconds.  (

This is the first photograph ever taken by phosphorescent light.  The face is that of Mr. Tesla and the source of light is one of his phosphorescent bulbs.  The exposure was approximately eight minutes.  Photo taken January, 1894.   (“Tesla’s Oscillator and Other Inventions“.)

Victorian Selfies: Nikola Tesla At Colorado Springs

The photo above was taken in 1899-1900 in Colorado Springs. It is among Tesla’s most publicized photos and it was “trick photography.” According to, it was explained by Tesla as “trick photography.” It was a dual exposure.  Anyone sitting so close to electrical activity of this magnitude would be killed.

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