Tesla’s Letters in Belgrade Museum

Nikola Tesla

February 20, 2011

Dinner for the Živić Brothers

Tesla’s friends were a colorful crowd: writers, artists, famous boxers, a doctor of psychology, and a couple of “moderate” crooks, all of them originating from the same region of what would later become Yugoslavia. They were all immigrants, who had, like Tesla himself, found their new home in America.

It is known that Tesla was primarily devoted to his scientific, inventive work, and that he spent most of his time in the laboratory. However, the great scientist was not a solitary eccentric, and he managed to find time to socialize. Who were the people who belonged to his circle of friends? His letters telling the story are kept in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade. On the basis of this correspondence, archivist Milica Kesler and curator Ivana Zorić reveal this aspect of Tesla’s life.

Thanks to their research, it is now known that Tesla’s friends were Americans, as well as those originating from the Balkan region, immigrants who, like Tesla himself, had found their new home in the “promised land.”

There is not a lot of information about Tesla’s childhood friends or his adolescent years. Based on the correspondence and faded photographs, Kesler and Zorić concluded it is most probable that the photos are those of Tesla’s classmates. Mujo Medić and Antun Zorić, for example, wrote Tesla letters many years after in their old age, recalling their youth and school years, but also their time spent at the billiard table. The famous Serbian poet Laza Kostić met Tesla in Budapest in 1892, and their intense correspondence reveals Kostić’s attempt to introduce the lonesome scientist to a woman, whose name moody Laza Kostic refused to reveal.  He simply praised her beauty and her family.

Tesla also socialized with an unusual couple. No doubt, Dušan Lazarović-Hrebeljanović was not a descendant of Prince Lazar, as he presented himself, but this failed to prevent him or his wife Eleonora from gaining the trust and affection of Nikola Tesla. Although Tesla received letters from friends warning him that Dušan was a fraud who took advantage of the fact that his mother’s maiden name was Lazarović to declare himself a man of noble origin, Tesla would not change his mind. The museum holds a great number of letters that this couple had sent to Tesla.

Among Tesla’s unusual friends were some boxers from Pittsburg: the five Živić brothers, who socialized with Tesla in 1941 and 1942. From the telegraph messages that he had sent to them, it is obvious that he was interested in boxing. He even provided advice related to fitness and conditioning training for Fritz Živić, who was at the time the world champion in the welterweight category. In addition, one of the other brothers, Jack Živić, an ambitious inventor, consulted Tesla about his invention, which he believed would be very useful in saving electricity. A check has been preserved, labelled: “Dinner for the Živić brothers,” and with it Tesla paid for dinner at the New Yorker Hotel to celebrate Fritz Živić’s victory over Henry Armstrong.

Many famous artists who visited America wanted to meet Tesla. Nikola Tesla met Ivan Meštrović, a famous sculptor and architect, in 1924. The most amusing detail about this friendship is that Tesla was interested, for the only time in his life, in commissioning his own bust. Therefore, he wrote to Meštrović:

“For our descendants and the Slavic race, I want to have my sculpture done by the miraculous hands of Ivan Meštrović … I have no cash yet … My face is still smooth, my eyes are bright and I am still not bald. Everyone would like your work to be exhibited here. Please let me know your intentions. Your admirer, Nikola Tesla.” A few days later, an answer came from Meštrović: “It is with great pleasure that I would like to fulfill your wish. A commission isn’t necessary. I have commitments in Europe with my contracts, therefore I cannot come there. Is it possible for you to come and visit me in Split? Even if you sent no photos, I remember you extremely well. Regards from Meštrović.” The sculpture initiated by this correspondence was made in 1952. It was based on photographs and is now on display in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade.

Dr. Paja Radosavljević, one of the founders of experimental psychology, was Tesla’s most sincere friend and the only one with whom he maintained a close relationship. In Tesla’s later years, he became a sort of protector from unwanted visitors. A large number of Serbian expatriates reached Tesla through Radosavljević. He also informed Tesla about events in their homeland and about happenings among the disunited Serbian immigrants.

Author: Marina Bulatović and Gordana Jocić
Photo by: Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade
Published by: Business Magazine, Belgrade, Serbia

Comments are closed.