On 10th July, 1931, Nikola Tesla celebrated his 75th birthday. On this occasion, his acquaintances, admirers and a New York Sun journalist, Kenneth Sweezy decided to make a special gift for him.
Sweezy invited 75 of Tesla’s contemporaries – reputable scientists, artists, journalists, politicians, industrialists, inventors, friends, followers and students- to write him a greeting card that he put in a scrapbook. This scrapbook can be viewed at the Museum of Nikola Tesla in Belgrade today and will be exhibited at the Night of Museums on 19th May, from 5 pm to 1 am.
“We are going to exhibit the scrapbook on five panels that will also showcase birthday cards from Uros Predic, Milutin Milankovic and Albert Einstein”, says Milica Kesler, archivist at the Museum of Nikola Tesla and the exhibition author.
In the end, the scrapbook contained only 73 birthday cards, instead of the envisaged 75, because Serbian scientist Mihajlo Pupin and the maitre d’ of the Delmonico Restaurant called Oscar refused to write one.
“Oscar was the head of the Delmonico restaurant at Waldorf Astoria in New York. He said he did not want to talk about his living guests out of principle. Nevertheless, Sweezy says that Tesla was always well-mannered, a gentleman in every respect, who knew and appreciated good food.” On the other hand, Pupin openly said that he had been in conflict with Tesla for over 30 years and that he considered it improper to congratulate him his birthday”, Milica Kesler reveals.
“They (Tesla and Pupin) argued on various issues, and had different approach to scientific work and life in general. By the way, I think that this perfectly summed up the relations within the Yugoslav emigrant circles in America, where it was very evident who was calling the shots. But that is a whole different story! They were probably both somewhat vain, which is only natural. Their lives were quite different too – Pupin was a university professor and had an academic career, while Tesla was not overly concerned with some sort of established practice of professorship or scientific work. He was engaged in research and was an inventor rather than a scientist. However, his discoveries were scientifically corroborated, but he did not have a scientific apparatus to support his work”, Kesler adds.
In 2016, the museum released the book “Congratulations to Nikola Tesla for His 75th birthday”, where all the birthday cards were translated into Serbian, along with the biographies of the senders, including Kenneth Sweezy, as well as the additional eight birthday cards which arrived late and were not included in the scrapbook.
Apart from Predic, Milankovic and Einstein, four Nobel Prize winners (English physicists Sir William Henry Bragg and Sir Edward Victor Appleton and American physicists Robert Millikan and Arthur Holly Compton), as well as a number of brilliant French, German, English, Swedish, Australian, Russian, American and Serbian professors, engineers, industrialists, politicians, artists and soldiers.
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