In 1943, when Leland Anderson was in high school and read an obituary for Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American inventor was largely forgotten.
But Anderson did not forget Tesla, who is best known for helping design alternating current electricity. Later in life, Anderson became one of the world's foremost experts on Tesla, who also invented radio (not the initially credited Guglielmo Marconi). Anderson's research was crucial to helping restore the eccentric genius' fame and reputation.
Anderson, a retired electrical engineer who lived in St. Paul, died on Oct. 15. He was 93.
Anderson was born and grew up in Minneapolis, graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1954 with a degree in electrical engineering. He worked for a Twin Cities computer company at the time called Sperry-UNIVAC.
In the early 1970s, Anderson moved to Denver, where he worked for the U.S. Department of the Interior as a Freedom of Information Act officer, said his son, Lewis Anderson of Shoreview.
"He arrived at that position somewhat through his work on Tesla — he was used to filling out FOIA requests to get information on Tesla," Lewis said. "Dad would always tell the story that when Tesla died, the U.S. government came in and collected all of Tesla's papers, and there's an intriguing back story as to where all those ended up."
How reading an obituary as a teenager led to Anderson's lifelong fascination with Tesla is something of a mystery. Marc J. Seifer, who got help from Anderson when writing his book "Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla," said he thinks Anderson became friends with a close associate of Tesla's, but doesn't know how they met.
In any case, Anderson collected an extensive archive on Tesla and founded a Tesla Society.
"I think it is fair to say that he was the godfather of Tesla experts," Seifer said. Anderson compiled the first comprehensive bibliography on Tesla's life, including encapsulations of hundreds of scientific and newspaper articles. He also edited books containing rare Tesla documents, Seifer said. "Leland was a consummate historian who was very generous with sharing his findings."
Lewis also used the term "consummate historian" to describe his father. "He was always interested in documenting things meticulously and researching things meticulously. But he was never one to seek the limelight. He was more interested in preserving."
By the 1960s, when Toby Grotz was studying for his own degree in electrical engineering, Tesla's profile had fallen so low that the inventor was never even discussed in classes.
"My textbooks had no mention of Tesla," said Grotz, a friend of Anderson's who lives near La Crosse, Wis.
It's unclear why Tesla became discredited, but he was eccentric and late in life proposed inventions that may or may not have worked but that scientists of his day did not understand. He died in poverty and obscurity.
But in 1984, Grotz and other Tesla fans held a symposium on the inventor. Anderson did not speak, but contributed to it. The conference led to an article in the New York Times with the headline, "Tesla, a bizarre genius, regains aura of greatness."
"Nobody would know about Tesla if that conference hadn't happened," Grotz said. "All of us are deeply indebted to Leland and his generation of historians."
"He always had something new and exciting to reveal," Seifer said.
Lewis is Anderson's only survivor. A private memorial is being planned.
Katy Read • 612-673-4583