Most of us were taught at school that Edison invented the electric light bulb and Marconi invented the radio – Right? WRONG! Nikola Tesla, the man responsible for AC power distribution (what you use to charge the device you’re reading this on) has been sadly forgotten in time, overshadowed by greedy businessmen and lost in the pages of history. This is all about why it’s so important and why radio and electricity is just a scratch of what he has done.
Nikola Tesla was a Serbian, born on the 10 July 1856 in a small village in the Austro-Hungarian Empire; what is now Croatia. Nikola was the fourth of five children. His father was a minister of the Serbian Orthodox Church. At an early age he was greatly influenced by a high school mathematics teacher and could reputedly perform integral calculus in his head. He had a remarkable ability with machines and is said to have had a boyhood dream to harness the power of the Niagara Falls. After leaving school but while still at home he contracted cholera and nearly died several times. Later his father sent him to study at the Technical University of Graz in Austria and the University of Prague. This period in his life was noted for his controversial and eccentric behavior and was marked for numerous incidents such as an addiction to gambling, losing his allowance, getting nearly drowned in a river and at one stage even being deported home for not having an Austrian residence permit. It was evident at this stage that he was an exceptionally intelligent but troubled individual. For a fuller account of his personal life, personality and friends click here.
In 1882 Tesla went to work for the Continental Edison Company in France, designing electrical equipment. He soon made his mark and in June 1884 set off for America with a letter of introduction to Thomas Edison. He arrived in New York with a few cents in his pocket and was put to work improving Edison’s DC electrical generation system. He soon realized that Edison was not an engineer but just a ruthless businessman who exploited his employees. Furthermore he was set on developing his direct current (DC) power distribution system which had serious limitations requiring a power station every few miles. Tesla had already realized that polyphase alternating current (3 phase AC) would be superior. Edison and Tesla soon fell out and Tesla resigned.
By 1888 Tesla had set up his own business and had sold the rights for his 3 phase distribution system to Westinghouse. The Tesla/Westinghouse system is still used to this day all over the World. His ideas enable power to be transformed to high voltages that can be distributed long distances with minimal loss and then stepped down again in voltage for industrial and domestic use. During his time with Westinghouse a Government contract was received for a hydroelectric power station at the Niagara Falls. This was the first major hydro power station in the World and was opened in 1895 using Tesla’s AC system. Tesla had realized his boyhood dream! Click here to learn more about this Niagara falls power station.
Tesla is not so widely known but in fact produced many revolutionary developments in the field of electromagnetism, alternating current, polyphase power distribution, AC motors and other mainstream industrial developments. What is even less well known is that he had many radical and extremely advanced ideas on the nature of science and reality that at the time were so radically advanced
as to result in him ultimately being ostracized as a “mad scientist”. When he first demonstrated a radio controlled model boat on a New York pond no one believed him and thought the boat contained a trained monkey! Who’s mad now.
The banker J. P. Morgan, one of his early investors, who had funded Tesla power distribution developments at Wardenclyffe on Long Island pulled his funding when he realized that Tesla was a true altruist with the best interests of World Humanity at heart and that he was working towards providing free energy from the atmosphere to all mankind. Morgan’s comment on hearing Tesla’s ideas was reputedly, “That’s all very well but where do I put the meter?” Tesla died in his New York hotel room on 7th January 1943, alone and almost penniless. Click here for a study of some of his less well known beliefs and his predictions for the 21st Century.
There are over 700 patents credited to Tesla and much of his work is still classified by the US Government! Tesla’s inventions are well documented and many are preserved in Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Museum, which you can read about here.
As a personality Tesla could be described in many ways.
He undoubtedly had true genius and exceptional academic ability. He could reputedly design a machine three dimensionally in his head and have all the parts defined in minute detail without drawings. He was fastidious in his personal habits being described as borderline obsessive compulsive. Despite these unusual and eccentric characteristics he was nevertheless charismatic and popular with his peers and associates and sought after by the gentler sex but he never married as he believed it would interfere with his work. Mark Twain was one of his best friends. He was something of a philosopher and once said that the World would be a better place if ruled by women. Lastly he was a true altruist who put mankind before his own person ambitions. On one occasion when told about Marconi’s developments in radio transmission he said ”Yes, I know, he used 17 of my patents”
When most people hear the name Tesla they think of the Tesla Coil, but this means little or nothing to most of us. When I first learned the truth about this incredible man who has made possible almost everything we rely on for our modern way of life I was mystified as to how he could be so totally forgotten and mired in obscurity. Conspiracy of just chance? I leave you, the reader to ponder that question.