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In The Prestige, Nikola Tesla builds the magician Rupert Angier a teleport machine that also ends up duplicating the object placed inside of it. It is further revealed that Tesla is bankrupt, and that Angier is his last financier.

If Tesla was so desperate for money, why did he not use his machine to create funds before he sold it to Angier? I guess it's true that Edison was a better businessman...

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    From a historical point of view, the attitude is accurate. Nikola Tesla was quite famous for spending years on an invention, only to discard it after he got it working. He was far more interested in the technical challenges than any reward or fame. It was this lack of business acumen that allowed Edison and others to take advantage of his genius repeatedly throughout the years. – Omegacron Nov 17 '14 at 20:16
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    Sure would have made sense to put a stack of money in the machine and duplicate it a few dozen times! – BrettFromLA Nov 17 '14 at 20:44
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    This is one of those questions where you should double check whether you are on movies.se or hsm.se before even thinking about an answer... – PlasmaHH Nov 17 '14 at 21:21
  • Because cash has serial numbers? – Zoredache Nov 18 '14 at 1:36
  • This is not a good question in my opinion. You could just as easily ask why didn't the Eagles just fly Frodo to Mt Doom. Well because there wouldn't have been a story to tell if they had. – sanpaco Jul 14 '15 at 19:41
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Apart from the obvious explanation that this was just not considered in the story and wouldn't have fit there, there is evidence from the movie itself and its depiction of Nikola Tesla.

Tesla was afraid of the machine's power once he realized what he actually created there. Remember that when he gives it to Angier he also writes something similar to

The only advice for the machine's usage I can give to you is, destroy it!

So Tesla built that thing for him, but he also realized how much power this thing actually conveys and the potential danger this machine poses outweights Angier's possible use from it. I think he mentioned before that he thinks humanity might not be ready for all his ideas, and this machine is an instance of that.

One might ask then, why he still gave it to Angier instead of just destroying it right away or not finishing it at all. But I'd assume it is partly his pride in having achieved such a scientific breakthrough as well as his inclination to honor the contract and promise he gave Angier. In addition to that it might also support the common motif of the scientist who only realized the true danger of his invention after the fact and is reluctant to take full responsibility for it, just let Angier take the hard decision to destroy such an amazing technological achievement.

Last but not least, Tesla didn't seem too inclined in making money by dirty tricks instead of by genuine appreciation of his developments. He wasn't really the person who did all this to make a fast dollar, but for the progress of mankind and if he would take money, then because his products are well-received and appreciated, but not just by misusing them to produce "dirty" money. In this regard he might indeed be seen as a worse businessman compared to Edison, who didn't always play fair afterall. (And in turn this contrast between Tesla and Edison is also used in the movie to emphasize the rivaly between Borden and Angier.)

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From the script:

TESLA (VO)

Alley has written you a thorough set of instruction. I add only one suggestion on using the machine - Destroy it. Drop it to the bottom of the deepest ocean.

Such a thing will only bring you misery.

It appears that Tesla is either frightened of the machine, or is pragmatically recognizing that the power such a machine offers is unlike anything in the world and could result in ruin for the owner or even more widely.

It is speculation, but perhaps Tesla realizes the temptation to make unlimited resources would become an end in itself - while he struggles to make a name for his technology in the world, perhaps he would rather an honest struggle than to follow the temptation of using the device itself.

  • It would only be dishonest if Tesla lied about how he made the money. Perhaps he did not want to be put in the situation of having to explain how he suddenly could pay off his debts, and that's why he did not use the machine. Either he becomes a liar or possibly condemned/executed for being the creator of a satanic machine. – Sean Nov 18 '14 at 22:10
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    @Sean - the phrase "honest struggle" is not meant to imply using the machine would be dishonest - its meant to imply he would rather be recognized for his talents. Like you say if he was honest about this, he would at least be called a liar, and if the idea was replicated by less moral people, the machine could be abused. If someone duplicated gold at the very least they could become the richest person on the planet, at the worst, it could undermine the financial basis of society at the time. – iandotkelly Nov 18 '14 at 22:43
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I was always my (perhaps incorrect) assumption that Tesla didn't even know the machine worked. Remember all the hats out in the forest? I thought he didn't realize that things re-materialized elsewhere, so he wasn't ever going to step into it.

Working on that assumption, I guess once he discovered exactly what he did then he could have kept going back to the pile of transported money, throwing it back in the machine and then doubling the sum (and on and on...), but by then Angiers had already financed the machine so it really wasn't Tesla's anymore.

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    He knew very well what the machine did, but you're right in that he didn't know it immediately. He learned it later, but before he gave it to Angier. Once Angier found the stuff in the woods he told Tesla and they realized what it does. – Napoleon Wilson Nov 17 '14 at 19:13
  • Just a thought, but it sure seems like people might take a look at the serial numbers of any 'duplicated' cash, seeing a lot of identical serial numbers would be a way to get yourself in trouble. You would almost certainly need to duplicate something without any identification like gold/diamonds/silver/etc. – Zoredache Nov 18 '14 at 1:35
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    @Zoredache - I'm not even sure if serial numbers were on currency when that movie was supposed to take place, but in general you're probably right. – Johnny Bones Nov 18 '14 at 1:47
  • @Zoredache even if period money had serial numbers, if you could scrape together ten or twenty bills (or better yet, borrow 1000 bills for a day) you'd have plenty of serial numbers to shuffle between to avoid short term detection. Then a money laundering type operation (e.g. a partnership with any money-handling institution) would help to avoid long term detection. Although I agree duping gold would be excellent as well. – Daniel Baird Nov 18 '14 at 3:37
  • US Bills have always had serial numbers. The first dollar bills in 1863. Turn of the century 1900s bills would have as well. – cde Feb 3 '16 at 6:58
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Whose to say that the fictional version of Tesla portrayed in The Prestige didn't duplicate large sums of cash prior to leaving Colorado? The movie doesn't show much of what Tesla was up to when Angier wasn't around.

  • Typically, Historical figures in fictional movies are assumed to follow their real life histories and personality traits, unless shown otherwise. – cde Feb 3 '16 at 6:37
  • @cde Except real-life Tesla never had such machine. – Chanandler Bong Feb 26 '16 at 14:50
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    That we know of – cde Feb 26 '16 at 15:49

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