Unlike Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and other famous inventors, Nikola Tesla is a name few recognize. It’s a mystery as to why this is, since Telsa was without question the most prolific and arguably amazing genius inventor of any period in history.
Nikola Tesla was born at midnight, July 10th of 1856 in the area now known as Croatia. His parents, Reverend Milutin and Georgina Tesla, were of Siberian heritage. Nikola had an older brother who was killed when Nikola was five, and three sisters. They were a close family who valued education and creative ability.
Tesla was influenced and self-motivated at an early age to read, learn and experiment. Like many genius inventors, he was obsessed by seeds of ideas, and driven to develop them even when young.
He also experienced a bizarre phenomenon of being able to clearly visualize things down to the minutest detail, which assisted him in designing and constructing many of his inventions later in life. It was rumored that his brother who died also experienced this strange visual phenomena.
It was no surprise to family and friends that Tesla excelled in school. He attended the Austrian Polytechnic School after the age of eighteen, and studied electrical engineering. Tesla was fascinated by all manner of electricity, and attacked his studies with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, he fell victim to gambling and gambling debts, and was forced to drop out of engineering school.
After his father’s death, Tesla went to work for the Central Telephone Exchange, learning the ins and outs of telegraph operation and technology. He began to develop some of his own ideas and diagrams for electrical machines at this time. He had no money or facilities to build and experiment with his ideas, though, and he began to work for the Edison power company’s offices in France and Germany. Tesla was intent on convincing his employers of the benefit of alternating current technology, but his ideas where met with disdain.
With a letter of recommendation from plant manager Charles Batchelor, Tesla sailed for America with high hopes of working closely with renowned inventor Thomas Edison. With literally only a few coins to his name, Telsa made the voyage across the ocean.
Tesla happened to arrive on a day where Edison was besieged by problems with several of his direct current power lines, and not enough qualified engineers to send into the field. When Edison noticed Tesla standing there, he asked who he was, and Tesla handed him his letter of introduction. Batchelor’s note said: “I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man!”(Cheney 1993 p. 30.)
Edison hired Tesla and sent him out to repair damaged dynamos. And although it was clear to Edison that Tesla was a brilliant man, the two were exact opposites in temperament and other personality traits, and clashed on more than one occasion. Edison was dead set against anything having to do with Tesla’s idea that alternating current was the wave of the future. All of Edison’s power lines were direct current, and he would fight to maintain that position to the end. Even going so far as creating a smear campaign against Tesla and his alternating current development once Tesla quit Edison’s employ after a “supposed” misunderstanding between Edison and Tesla in regards to monies promised Tesla after he successfully redesigned dynamos for Edison.
Tesla was eventually backed and funded by different partners after 1887, and went on to design, build and implement ground breaking devices. He filed for and was granted hundreds of patens. In 1891 alone, he filed for forty patens, one of which was his first paten on the AC (alternating current) motors, which is to the day, the industry standard.
During the 1890’s, Tesla made a deal with George Westinghouse, and continued to develop and deliver new ideas, motors and patens to be used in the delivery of electricity around the globe. He also began lecturing at this time, and his lectures were met with wide acclaim from scientific and engineering circles.
Many famous people visited Tesla’s lab over the years to view his eye-popping electrical experiments. He struck up a friendship with writer, Mark Twain, who was present during many of Tesla’s showy displays, which included forming ball lightening, and displaying tubes filled with gas that lit up, which was the predecessor to the modern fluorescent bulbs of today. He also lectured on the possibility of wireless machines that could generate power through the energy of space, totally unheard of at the time.
It was a shock to the entire engineering community when Tesla’s lab burnt to the ground in 1895. While recovering from this horrible setback, one of Tesla’s inventions was being put to good use in the Niagara Falls Power Project, started in 1890. The contract was given to Westinghouse, who then used Tesla’s massive generators to assist in the first foray into hydroelectric power. Soon after such massive amounts of power were available, New York, Buffalo, and other cities were bight with electrical lights and systems. Even Edison was finally forced to switch over to the more practical alternating current.
It’s surprising to most, that there is great debate on exactly WHO invented the radio, and the wireless revolution. Marchese Marconi is credited with the invention of modern radio, but it was actually Tesla who filed the patens in 1900, a few months before Marconi’s were submitted and turned down by the paten office. Marconi continued to develop and submit patens for his radio, using seventeen of Tesla’s patens! In a bizarre turn of events, the U.S. Paten Office reversed its former decisions, and awarded Marconi with the invention of the radio. Marconi was summarily sued by Tesla after he won the Nobel Prize in 1911, but Tesla didn’t have the financial means to pursue the case against such large corporate backing as Marconi had. It wasn’t until 1943, that the United Supreme Court named Nikola Tesla as the principal inventor of the modern radio.
Tesla went on to contribute his genius to the development of the Tesla coil, the induction motor, transmission radios used in World War I, the first remote controlled wireless vessel and wireless communication in many different forms, the automobile speedometer, several revolutionary turbines, the concept of radar, guided ballistic missiles/wireless torpedoes, and many more, and DESPITE all these miraculous inventions and concepts, Tesla constantly struggled for monies to continue his research and development. Patens expired, and several were never submitted, and others he sold in their entirety, including his paten on alternating current. Tesla filed for bankruptcy in 1916, and continued to struggle the rest of his life with a lack of finances.
Nikola Tesla died at the age of 85, in January of 1943. He never married, which wasn’t surprising since he admitted to having a rather bleak outlook and opinion of women in general. After his death, several of Tesla’s papers and notes went missing, and others were kept by the Manhattan Storage Company until they were released to Sava Kosanovic` who then had them sent to Yugoslavia.
There is no doubt now, that Nikola Tesla’s inventions and concepts have figured into our modern day lives in gigantic ways. Even many of his unpatened ideas and concepts were revolutionary, and led to or sparked amazing inventions in the twentieth century, some of which are still being researched and studied today.
Cheney, Margaret. Telsa: Man Out of Time. 1993. New York: Barnes&Noble; Books.
Cheney, Margaret & Uth, Robert. Tesla: Master of Lightning. 1999. New York: Barns&Noble; Books.