Nikola Tesla Speedometer


We pulled this old speedometer out of an ancient barn down by Nebraska City, and it is in admittedly sad shape.  Even though it has broken glass and a gaping hole where the clock should be, it still has a place on my office shelf where I keep some of my favorite things.  I like it because, in very small print along the edge of the face, it says, “TESLA PATENT DEC 1916”.

I took to the internet to verify that this was a reference to THE Tesla, Nikola Tesla, and I found this at the Museum of the History of Science website:

This museum is a department at Oxford University and houses a collection of historic scientific instruments.  Their website states that this speedometer was made in collaboration with the Waltham Watch Company using Nikola Tesla’s patent, and that Tesla’s patent was the very first issued for a speedometer.  Wow!

As noted in this Waltham advertisement, the speedometer was also unique in that it operated by air friction:

I am no Tesla, but apparently the air friction was generated by metal surfaces (revolving brass and aluminum cups) and, unlike cable-operated speedometers, was free of any inaccuracies caused by grease and dirt.   If you are interested, you can read more in a 1916 Scientific American article by clicking here or in the patent itself by clicking here.

This speedometer would have been found in a higher-end automobile like a Lincoln, Pierce-Arrow, Rolls Royce, Lafayette or this gorgeous 1922 Packard:

Interestingly, the Museum also notes that this instrument was likely the very FIRST to measure speed, distance and time.  It is a great relic from the beginning of the automotive age and I am happy to own it, even if it does look like it was backed over by a truck.

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