restricted access Dream of an Unfettered Electrical Future: Nikola Tesla, the Electrical Utopian Novel, and an Alternative American Sociotechnical Imaginary


The fin de siècle American fascination with electricity has been well documented. David E. Nye, Carolyn Marvin, and other historians have explored the hopes and fears of the new technology in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and they have brought laboratories, living rooms, and worlds fairs back to life in the process. But turn-of-the-century writers and inventors sparked another fantasy that remains unaccounted for in these histories: the dream of enjoying electricity without the machinery or the corporations that generate it. This article recovers that dream of a wireless future. By reading Tesla in tandem with Edward Bellamy, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and other electrical utopians, this paper illuminates the utopian dimension of a major inventor; it challenges the conventional interpretation of the utopian novel as a vehicle for economic and political concerns; and it expands the history of electricity to account for a provocative and underexamined fantasy of wirelessness. Most importantly, it argues for the inextricable interrelationship of technological and literary production during the turn of the twentieth century.