Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Kenneth M. Swezey Papers

Collection ID:
Swezey, Kenneth M., 1905-1972 (journalist)
Sarony, Napoleon, 1821-1896
Tesla, Nikola, 1856-1943
1891 - 1988
Physical Description:
8.6 Cubic feet
26 boxes
The collection consists of correspondence (both of Nicola Tesla and Kenneth Swezey), copies of patents, articles, pamphlets, brochures, stamps, newsletters, and manuscripts, from 1890-1972 collected and assembled by Swezey.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The Swezey papers are divided into four series: Series 1: Correspondence and Subject Files, Series 2: Tesla Photographs, Series 3: Publications and Series 4: Research Notes. Series 4: Research Notes is housed in a small metal box and contains Swezey's research notes presumably for his incomplete biography of Tesla. Series 1: Correspondence and Subjects Files is arranged alphabetically and is composed of correspondence, copies of patents, articles, pamphlets, brochures, stamps, newsletters and manuscripts. 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. Box 19 contains photographs of Tesla, his inventions, his laboratories and personal photographs. Boxes 20-26 include bibliographies, biographies and articles. The collection is strong in articles from magazines such as Electrical Experimentor, newspaper clippings, articles regarding electricity, power, radio, pamphlets, and brochures. The collection generally follows Swezey's 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 throughout the collection, according to Swezey's original arrangement. The collection provides an overview of Tesla's unusual personality and Swezey's intense preoccupation with Tesla. The collection also provides insight into Tesla's way of life, philosophies, personality and a general overview of his inventions and how society reacted to this prolific and unusual inventor.

The collection is divided into four series.
Series 1: Correspondence and Subject Files, 1891-1988
Series 2: Tesla Photographs, 1983; 1943
Series 3: Publications, 1959-1970
Series 4: Research Notes, undated

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) was born in Smiljan, Lika, now Yugoslavia and emigrated to America in 1884. He worked at the Edison Machine Works as a dynamo designer where 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 January 7, 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.
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.

Robert S. Harding
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The collection was donated by Robert MacCrate, Attorney, Sullivan and Cromwell in 1972.
Custodial History
The collection was transferred to the Archives Center from the Division of Electricity (now the Division of Work and Industry) in 1983.
Processing Information
Collection processed by Robert Harding, 1994

Digital Content
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Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.
Series 1: Leland Anderson correspondence, box 2 is restricted by the donor until 2030.
Preferred Citation
Kenneth M. Swezey Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Photographs -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Cabinet photographs Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Radio -- History Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Electrical engineering Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Electrical engineers Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Patents Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Archives Center, National Museum of American History
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