HISTORY OF CLEMENTE FIGUERA
Clemente Figuera de Ustariz (1845 – 1908) was a spanish Forrest engineer. He was in charge of the initial installation of the electric grid along some regions of the Canary Island. He was a Chief of the Forrestal Engineers Division in the Canary Islands and finally he got the charge of First Class Inspector of the Division. He was a respectful person in those days. During his research he discovered that electricity could be produced without the requirement of any fuel or chemical nor with the need of any movement:
“Mr. Clemente Figuera of Las Palmas, Canary Islands, is credited with having invented a contrivance which generates electricity without the use of any intermediate motive power or chemical reaction, but simply gathers the force from the atmosphere. The report of the invention comes from the Daily Mail correspondent at Las Palmas, who says Mr. Figuera has one of his machines in successful operation in his house. The discovered, Mr. Clemente Figuera, is Engineer of Woods and Forest for the Canary Islands, and for many years professor of physics at St. Augustine´s College, Las Palmas, and long known as a scientific student…” (Press clipping, New York, 9th of June of 1902)
Well, we have some of the pieces of the puzzle. A canary engineer appears, a machine that extract energy from the atmosphere, although that was an incorrect assessment by the journalist, and also other data such as the condition of physics professor and inventor, as stated later in the article Figuera had the intention of patenting the technology in Madrid and Berlin. The next logical step was to go to the Patent Office to check about what was mentioned, and whether, indeed, there were such patents. But first, a brief mention should be made of what the Spanish press published about the case around those dates. For example, in the May 1902 edition of the journal The Reading in Science and Arts is written:
“In the English newspapers are extensive references to an important discovery conducted by D. Clemente Figueras, forest engineer in Canary Islands and physics professor at College San Agustin from Las Palmas. Mr. Figueras has been working silently in order to find a method to use directly, ie, without dynamos and chemical agent, the huge amounts of electricity which exist in the atmosphere and are being renewed constantly, constituting an inexhaustible reservoir of this form of energy. Our compatriot (…) has achieved his purpose, having managed to invent a generator which can collect and store the atmospheric electric fluid in a position of being able to use later for pulling trams, trains, etc., or to run machinery in factories to light the houses and streets. Although no one knows the details of the procedure that Mr. Figueras reserves until he will get it completely perfected, he states that his invention will produce a tremendous economic and industrial revolution. The apparatus devised by Mr. Figuera has been built in separate pieces, in accordance with the drawings made by him in different companies in Paris, Berlin and Las Palmas. Received the parts, the engineer has put them together and articulate in his workshop. The company from Berlin which built some of the pieces, got curious about what they would be used for, sent an engineer to the Canary Islands, with the pretext of helping set up and with real purpose to study and sketch the whole device, but has not achieved his objective. Apparently, Mr. Figueras´ apparatus consists essentially of three parts: a collector, a transformer and an accumulator, so that, in short, what it does is to collect atmospheric electricity, transforming it from static to dynamic and store it in a secondary battery for later use in the form and amount required. We have understood that the inventor will soon come to Madrid and, later he will depart to Berlin and London, and then you will be able to know the procedure in detail.”
New York Times, 9th of june of 1902.
This press report was read by Nikola Tesla who immediately wrote a letter to his editor mentioning to Clemente Figuera and he attached the press clipping appeared in the newspaper to his letter. This letter was found by Oliver Nichelson while researching in the Nikola Tesla Collection, at Columbia University Library. Tesla mentioned in his letter a novel fact that he refered in his article of 1900 in Century Magazine “The problem of Increasing Human Energy”.
Letter from Nikola Tesla to Robert Underwood Johnson (link)
” June 10, 1902
The invention seems to have been suggested by my article which has given great trouble to you and infinitely more to me. Look up page 200 of Century particularly where I refer to novel facts. The report is not likely to be true but it is singular that I have also found a solution which I have been following up since a long time and which promises very well. I was at the point of revealing my method in the article but you pressed[?] me to find[?] that I did not have enough energy left to do it. I am glad now. The conditions at the Pic of Teneriffe are ideal for the success of such methods as I contemplate to employ for getting a steady supply of small amounts of energy. Sorry I was unable to call.
Clemente Figuera built a motionless generator which was used to power his house and a 20 HP motor, and the sparse electricity was used to power the streetlights around his home. There were many witnesses and reporters who observed the device working in his house. In 1902 there were many reference to his invention in the spanish press and also in the american press as consequence of an american reporter who witnessed the machine.
In 1902 Mr. Figuera filed 4 patents ( 30375, 30376, 30377, 30378 ) which were sold in few days to a banking cartel as it may be derived in sight of a telegram published in the available press clippings of that year. Certainly those patents are very little detailed and many important features seems to be overlooked. Maybe just because they were going to be sold to the bankers Mr. Figuera filed a bunch of rough patents, just to assure the selling of the invention.
After this, nothing else appeared in the news. It seems that the story was gone to the shadows for the next 6 years. The 1902 patent were abandoned because nobody took care of them and none paid his fees nor replied to the patent office requirements.
In october of 1908, suddenly Clemente Figuera filed a new patent (no. 44267) . As far as we know Mr. Figuera died very few days after filing this patent. Was it his legacy?. Was this the final piece required to complete the puzzle? Was it an improvement over the previous generator? Was it a brand new generator? We don´t know for sure yet.
After his death in 1908, his partner, Constantino de Buforn Jacas, filed 5 new patents (47706, 50216, 52968, 55411 and 57955) between the years 1910 and 1914. The important features of all those patents is that they are almost identical. And they are an exact copy of the design patented by Figuera in 1908. The very same design and in some cases the very same text to describe the machine. Buforn was clearly patenting as his own invention a machine created by Figuera.
Buforn even did ans passed a “Test of Practical Implementation of the Invention” before the patent office and his official agents to testify the working of his 1910 patent (patent No. 40706). The report is available but it gives very few details of the test. All Buforn´s patents were in force until 1914 when he stopped paying further annual fees.
Just as summary: These are some literal quotes from Figuera to the newspapers in 1902:
“My invention is based on a simple
principle, which is not worth the
warm praises with which I am honored
and distinguished, I can not
understand that anyone did not happen
to do what I’ve been fortunate to
achieve. What actually happens is
that the consequences of the
invention are huge, and will produce
an enormous industrial revolution.”
“The inventor holds that his generator
will solve a portion of problems, including
those which are derived from navigation,
because a great power can be carried in
a very small space, stating that
the secret of his invention resembles
the egg of Columbus.”
Note: Egg of Columbus story (Wikipedia)
Here finish the known historical facts about Clemente’s Figuera life and inventions. In 2011 the owner of alpoma.net site rediscovered this character publishing a historical review of Figuera’s life (link) after being researching this story for some years.