Be Alone, That Is the Secret of Invention; Be Alone, That Is When Ideas Are Born

Nikola Tesla? Orrin E. Dunlap Jr.? Thomas P. Hughes? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous inventor and futurist Nikola Tesla apparently said the following:

Be alone, that is the secret of invention.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1934 Nikola Tesla was interviewed in “The New York Times” by journalist Orrin E. Dunlap Jr, and the brilliant innovator highlighted the value of separateness: 1

“It is providential that the youth or man of inventive mind is not ‘blessed’ with a million dollars,” said Mr. Tesla. “He would find it difficult to think. The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. No big laboratory is needed in which to think.

Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1989 a shorter streamlined version of the passage attributed to Tesla appeared in “American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm 1870-1970” by Thomas P. Hughes: 2

It is providential that the youth or man of inventive mind is not “blessed” with a million dollars. The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone—that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.

In 1996 the streamlined passage appeared in “David Wallechinsky’s Twentieth Century: History With the Boring Parts Left Out”. 3

In 2020 an article in the “Tallahassee Democrat” of Florida suggested that the isolation could help creativity: 4

Nikola Tesla was even more enthusiastic, saying, “The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion, free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind.”

In conclusion, Nikola Tesla should receive credit for the comments he made about the value of solitude during the 1934 interview published in “The New York Times”. In later years the interview text was reprinted with some sentences omitted.

Image Notes: Picture of tesla coil from Hans at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to DarksideJohnny whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1934 April 8, New York Times, An Inventor’s Seasoned Ideas: Nikola Tesla, Pointing to ‘Grievous Errors’ of the Past by Orrin E. Dunlap Jr., Quote Page X9, Column 1 and 2, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1989, American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm 1870-1970 by Thomas P. Hughes, Chapter 1: A Gigantic Tidal Wave of Human Ingenuity, Quote Page 25, Penguin Books, New York. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1996 (1995 Copyright), David Wallechinsky’s Twentieth Century: History With the Boring Parts Left Out by David Wallechinsky, Chapter 14: Science and Technology, Quote Page 574, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)
  4. 2020 September 18, Tallahassee Democrat, Local artists work around creative obstacles by Marina Brown (Special to Tallahassee Democrat USA Today), Quote Page F4, Column 1, Tallahassee, Florida. (Newspapers_com)