Manufactured by Weston Electrical Instrument Co., and Newark and Elliott Bros., Early DC Multimeter (made in early 20th century), 25.5 x 25.5 x 14.5 cm, currently in the Collection of Historic Physics Instruments (Birmingham). (http://mimsy.bham.ac.uk/detail.php?t=objects&type=browse&f=OPTION8&s=Collection+of+Historic+Physics+Instruments&record=45)
Object: Early DC Multimeter
Maker: Weston Electrical Instrument Co.
Date: Early 20th Century
Born in 1856, Nikola Tesla was an electrical engineer and physicist, who is today renowned for his numerous inventions, including the development of the induction motor. He was a prolific scientist, and his legacy lives on today in the unit of magnetic flux density, which is named after him. In addition, Tesla was one of the pioneers of alternating current (AC) electricity, which is the system our modern electrical supply systems use.
In his work in the development of AC electricity, he was part of the scientific and industrial competition against the direct current (DC) system of electricity, in what is called the War of Currents. It is from Tesla’s association with the War of Currents, and his position in opposition to DC, that I found my object.
Dating from the end of the War of Currents, my object is an early DC multimeter, designed to measure current and voltage. It relies upon systems patented no earlier than 1890, indicating that it was one of the first devices that ushered in a new age of electronics and measurement. However, by this point in time, the War of Currents had run its course, and AC power, with its vast applications and ease of transmission, had won out, making Tesla one of the founders of today’s system of electricity.
However, Tesla is also one amongst many famed scientists – including Isaac Newton and Paul Dirac – who was well-known amongst his contemporaries for avoiding intimate relationships, and, in fact, seems to fit what in modern terms we would call asexual. In a society where anything other than a heterosexual relationship is seen as ‘other’ – as evidenced by contemporary speculation around Tesla’s sexuality, leading to sensational tabloid articles about him and perhaps part of the reason why he ‘disappeared’ from scientific history towards the end of his life – Nikola Tesla and other asexual personalities have formed a vital, and often underrepresented part of queer history.
Exploring Tesla’s life and queer identity gave me a chance to not only learn about one of the greatest, and often underappreciated, scientists of the modern age, it also led me to various other asexual personalities, and to a greater understanding of how ‘queerness’ has always encompassed more identities that fall outside the cisgender/heterosexual norm than just the most-visible gay and lesbian identities.
The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN): http://www.asexuality.org/
An Interview with Toni Hellesund about spinster culture in Norway: http://wewhofeeldifferently.info/interview.php?interview=78
Acing History: An Asexual Perspective on History: https://acinghistory.wordpress.com/