This Man Will Inspire, Enrage and Charm You!

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Is this Tesla Bust in Your School or University?

If it is in your school, it’s thanks to John W. Wagner (above, left photo)!  If it’s not in your school, you may just be seeing Mr. Wagner there to talk about it.   His journey led a U.S. Senator to take the floor in the name of his cause and 19 major universities across the U.S. to place this bust in their institutions.  It all began with his class of 3rd Graders and their letter writing campaigns!  James Leonard of the Ann Arbor Observer describes John W. Wagner as “Nikola Tesla’s Biggest Fan” … and he just might be.  Mr. Wagner, a retired octogenarian from Ann Arbor, has been on a 30 year mission to “gain popular recognition for Nikola Tesla.”

Inspire You

Mr. Wagner discovered Nikola Tesla while browsing through a library at Allegheny College during a visit with his daughter. What he learned about Tesla’s treatment in history books and the fact that many major institutions in America were omitting or misdirecting audiences about Tesla’s accomplishments upset Mr. Wagner.  What he learned moved him to teach about Tesla in his classroom.  As he describes it, “we had discovered a secret, if not an outright flaw in history.”

Whilst teaching about Tesla, his 3rd Graders learned of an embarrassing mis-spelling of Tesla’s name (spelled “TELSA”) on a street in Madison, Wisconsin. As an exercise to teach the children how to write letters, they wrote to the Mayor, City Council and “Telsa” Street residents of Maddison to inform them of the error.  Their campaign was 5 months long, it made the cover of the Wisconsin State Journal, it had a city councilman begging them to stop, and finally saw them victorious when the city wrote the class to tell them the signs were corrected.

A student in Mr. Wager’s class was so inspired by her experience, a few years later, she convinced her father who was an accomplished sculptor, Ronald Farrington Sharp, to sculpt a bust of Tesla for Mr. Wagner’s class.  The Tesla Bust was cast in bronze and appraised at $6,000.  It was appointed with a plaque that read:

1856 – 1943
American Inventor



The story of John W. Wagner was an early inspiration of NTEC founder and President, Vic (Veroslav) Djurdjevic!

Enrage You

Mr. Wagner and his students decided to donate the bust to the Ford Museum.  Mr. Wagner went to the curator and offered the bust, but it was declined.  He realized, as he left, that Thomas Edison, who had lost the “Current War” to Tesla in the late 19th Century, was prominently displayed in the Museum with exhibits that suggested it was Edison’s work that enabled AC Power.  Further, that Ford and Edison were friends suggested that the Ford Museum would not be amenable to a Tesla bust.

Mr. Wagner travelled to the Smithsonian and his bust was eventually offered to them.  The bust was later refused and Mr. Wagner learned that the curator of the Smithsonian had minimal representation of Tesla presented in the form of Tesla’s AC Motor (with no plaque describing it) sitting next to a bust of Edison! The Curator of the Division of the Smithsonian responsible had written a book on his history of Light and Electricity and, in the chapter on the beginning of the electrical age, named 43 contributors to the new electrical age but completely left Nikola Tesla out!

Mr. Wagner’s letter writers went to work again and a Senator Carl Levin of Michigan took up the cause on the senate floor (Congressional Record, Vol. 136, No. 86) where he berated the Smithsonian for it’s blatant omission regarding a remarkable American Inventor.  The Smithsonian eventually relented and agreed to create an exhibit, but were placating Mr. Wagner when the war in Yugoslavia broke out in the 90s.  They took advantage of the conflict to delay and, ultimately, ignore the commitment for a more respectable Tesla Exhibit in the Smithsonian.

The mistreatment of the man who invented the AC Induction Motor enabling electricity to travel great distances and to transform the US and the World was an affront to Mr. Wagner and his rage on this topic is clearly infectious.

Charm You

Is your pen handy?  Are your fingers hovering over your keyboard in preparation to write a scathing letter to a local representative in the name of Tesla? If Mr. Wagner does not inspire you to change the history books with his plight to teach kids about Tesla and defending an underdog, if he does not enrage you with his fight to right an historical wrong, then he may well just charm you into being a Tesla supporter with the genuine passion, gentle and earnest delivery of his message.  There is something disarming about his tireless work ethic, his raw tenacity and his persistence despite the fact that he recognizes his goal “to gain popular recognition for Nikola Tesla” may be unattainable in his lifetime.  Just watch this video of Mr. Wagner on his Web site (see below) as he shares his story and rather proudly lists the 19 prestigious schools that host copies of the Tesla bust (Universities listed below the video) and see if you’re not tempted to write a letter to your local school …


19 Universities

(Video above and list below taken from

1. Harvard (Physics Dept.)

2. Yale (EE Dept.)–(Yale’s bust was stolen in 2010; a large reward is offered for information.)

3. Princeton (EE Dept.)

4. MIT (EE Dept.)

5. Cal Tech (Physics Dept.)

6. U. Michigan (EE Dept.)

7. U. Wisconsin (Physics Dept.)

8. U. Maryland (Physics Dept.)

9. U. Illinois (EE. Dept.)

10. Purdue U. (EE. Dept.)

11. U. Pennsylvania (Physics Dept.)

12. Georgia Tech (EE Dept.)

13. Cornell U. (Physics Dept.)

14. Michigan State U. (Physics Dept.)

15. Johns Hopkins U. (Physics Dept.)

16. Penn State U. (Physics Dept.)

17. Duke U. (EE Dept.)

18. Carnegie Mellon U. (EE Robotics Dept.)

19. Columbia U. (EE Dept.)

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