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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 5:50 EDT

Tesla, Nikola

Nikola Tesla (b. July 10, 1856 – d. January 7, 1943) was a mechanical and electrical engineer as well as an inventor. Tesla was born in the village of Smiljan, Vojna Krajina, which is within the territory of today’s Croatia. He was an born an ethnic Serb and was a subject of the Austrian Empire, before becoming an American citizen. He is often considered one of the most important contributors to the birth of commercial electricity. He is best known for his contributions in the field of electricity and magnetism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tesla’s work formed the basis of the modern alternating current (AC) power systems. His poly-phase power distribution systems and invention of the AC motor, helped usher in the Second Industrial Revolution.

Tesla became widely respected as one of the greatest electrical engineers in America after his demonstration of wireless communication (radio) in 1894 and his victory in the “War of Currents”. Many of his discoveries and inventions were groundbreaking advances in modern electrical engineering. During this time, in the United States, his fame rivaled that of any other inventor or scientist in history, but because of his eccentric personality and somewhat unbelievable and bizarre claims about scientific and technological developments, Tesla became disliked and was regarded as a mad scientist. He did not put much focus on his financial well-being, and he died financially stable at the age of 86.

The tesla (a unit that measures magnetic flux density) was named in his honor in 1960. The Tesla effect was also named in his honor which was based on his work with wireless energy transfer to power electronic devices such as light bulbs. Aside from his work with electromagnetism and electromechanical engineering, Tesla contributed to the establishment of robotics, remote control, radar and computer science. He also played a role in ballistics, nuclear physics, and theoretical physics. He was credited with the invention of the radio in 1943 by the Supreme Court of the USA. Many of his achievements have been applied to various non-mainstream sciences, including UFO theories, and New Age occultism. Czechoslovakia awarded Tesla with the highest order of the White Lion.

Nikola Tesla’s baptismal certificate states that he was born on June 28, 1856 to Father Milutin Tesla, a priest in the Serbian Orthodox Church, Metropolitanate of Sremski Karlovci and Đuka Mandić. His parental origin is believed to be of the local Serb clans in the Tara Valley or from the Herzegovinian noble Pavle Orlović. Nikola was the fourth of five children. He had an older brother (Dane, who was killed in a horse-riding accident) and three younger sisters (Milka, Angelina and Marica). His family moved to Gospić in 1862. Tesla attended school in Karlovac. He finished a four year study in three years.

Tesla then studied electrical engineering at the Austrian Polytechnic in Graz. According to university records, he did not continue beyond the first semester of his third year at Graz. He left Graz in 1878 and broke all ties to his family. He moved to Maribor (today’s Slovenia), where took a job as an assistant engineer for a year. During this time he suffered a nervous breakdown. He later attended the Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague for a summer semester in 1880. He left the university after his father died, only completing one term.

Tesla read and memorized many works and books. He was known for his supposedly photographic memory. During his early life, Tesla was stricken by illness time and time again. He suffered from one odd affliction in which blinding light would flash before his eyes, giving him hallucinations. These visions were often brought on by certain words or ideas that came across his mind, or just by hearing them. Tesla would often visualize inventions in his mind precisely before moving to the next phase (known as picture thinking). He also had vivid flashbacks of events that happened to him early in his childhood.

He moved to Budapest in 1880 to work for the National Telephone Company. While in Budapest he worked with NebojÅ¡a Petrović on a project using twin turbines to create continual power. Tesla became the chief electrician of the telephone company in 1881, and later was engineer for the country’s first telephone system. He developed a device that may been the first loudspeaker.

He moved to Paris in 1882 to work as an engineer for the Continental Edison Company. He designed improvements to electrical equipment. He worked on various devices while in Paris and received patents for his magnetic field instruments he created in 1888. Tesla fell ill shortly later after the death of his mother. He spent three weeks recuperating in Gospić and the village of Tomingaj, his mother’s birthplace. Tesla moved again to New York, NY in 1884 with nothing more than a recommendation from Charles Batchelor (a former employer). In the letter to Thomas Edison, Batchelor wrote “I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man.” Edison hired Tesla to work for his Edison Machine Works. Tesla’s work at first was basic engineering, but soon led to solving some of the company’s most difficult problems. Tesla was then offered the job to completely redesign the company’s direct current generators.

Tesla stated that he was offered $50,000 to redesign the inefficient generators, and improve them for both service and economy. He worked night and day on the project and gave the company many new profitable patents in the process. In 1885 when Tesla inquired about his pay, Edison replied, “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor,” and broke his word with Tesla. At Tesla’s rate of $18 per week, he would have had to work for 53 years to earn the amount he was promised. Tesla found himself digging ditches for the company while focusing his studies on his AC polyphase system.

Nikola Tesla founded his own company in 1886 (Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing). Shortly afterward financial investors disagreed with his plan for alternating current motors and eventually he lost his new company. He worked as a common laborer for a while to feed himself and to raise enough capital to start his next project. He introduced the alternating current induction motor to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (now IEEE) in 1888. He also developed the principles of his Tesla coil and began working at Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company in Pittsburgh that same year. George Westinghouse was interested in Tesla’s ideas for polyphase systems.

He began investigating what would later become x-rays in 1887 using single node vacuum tubes. Early in research, Tesla devised several setups to produce x-rays. He made comments on the hazards of working with single node x-ray production devices. He probed many ideas on how the x-rays caused skin damage and came up with few theories. He believed that damage to the skin was not due to the radiation, but rather the ozone generated from such radiation or even nitrous acid. As he continued research in the field, he later observed an assistant severely burnt by the x-rays in his lab. Although he continued research, his findings never became widely known and his research was lost in a fire in March 1895.

On July 30, 1891, Tesla became a citizen of the United States at the age of 35. During this year, Tesla established his 35 South Fifth Avenue laboratory in New York. He later established his Houston Street laboratory in New York as well. While conducting mechanical resonance experiments at this lab, he generated a resonance of several surrounding buildings, but due to the frequencies involved, caused many complaints to the police. As the speed grew he hit the resonant frequency of his building and realizing only afterward of the dangers, he was forced to terminate the experiment using a sledgehammer, just as the police arrived.

At 36 years old, Tesla’s first patents concerning polyphase power were granted. Tesla served as vice president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers from 1892 to 1894. He investigated high frequency AC from 1893 to 1895. He generated AC of one million volts using his Tesla coil and investigated the effects of conductors, designed tuned circuits, and invented a machine for inducing sleep. He designed cordless gas discharge lamps, and transmitted energy without wires. He built the first radio transmitter. He demonstrated how radio communications work in 1893. His demonstrations were widely published through many different media outlets.

At the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, Tesla and George Westinghouse introduced visitors to AC power by using it to illuminate the Exposition in which they held their experiment. Tesla has on display various other inventions and designs as well. He explained to visitors the principles of the rotating magnetic field and induction motor by demonstrating how to make an egg made of copper stand on end. This device was known as the “Egg of Columbus”.

Tesla and Edison became adversaries in the late 1880s when Edison promoted his DC for electric power distribution against Tesla’s AC polyphase system. The “War of the Currents” nearly bankrupted both inventors. In 1897, Tesla released Westinghouse from contract.

At 49 years old, Tesla filed his first patent for the basic radio. It became U.S. Patent number 645,576. Tesla also devised an igniter for internal combustion gas engines that same year. He gained U.S. Patent 609,250 for the Electrical Igniter for Gas Engines. He remained living at the Gerlach Hotel (later renamed the Radio Wave building) in Lower Manhattan before the turn of the century, where he conducted radio wave experiments. A commemorative plaque was placed on the building in 1977 to honor his work.

Tesla moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1899 where he continued his research with high-voltage and high-frequency experiments. He told local reporters that he was conducting wireless telegraphy experiments transmitting signals from Pikes Peak to Paris. Tesla proved that the earth was a conductor and created artificial lightning. Some of his bolts contained millions of volts and reached up to 135 feet in length. He investigated atmospheric electricity and observed lightning signals via his receivers. He researched ways to transmit power and energy wirelessly over long distances. He transmitted very low frequencies through the ground as well. He received patents for his work with wireless transceivers. He precisely calculated the Earth’s resonant frequency at 8 Hertz. In the 1950s, researchers confirmed the Earth’s resonant frequency was within this range (later named the Schumann Resonance).

Tesla observed unusual signals that he later thought to have been extraterrestrial radio communications from Mars or Venus. He noted that the signals were much different than those from storms and other natural earth noise. He later recalled the signals appeared in groups of one to four clicks together. He mentioned on occasion that his inventions could be used to communicate with other planets. There are rumors that he may have even invented a Teslascope strictly for that purpose. There is much debate over what Tesla exactly encountered if anything at all. Some suggestions are that he misunderstood the new equipment he was working with or he may have been receiving natural radio signals like that of the Jovian plasma torus signals.

Tesla left Colorado Springs on January 7, 1900 and his lab was torn down and the contents contained therein were sold to pay his debts. His research in Colorado prepared him for his next project, which would be known as Wardenclyffe.

In 1900, Tesla began planning the Wardenclyffe Tower facility. He had $150,000 (of which 51% came from J. Pierpont Morgan). With the completion of the tower in June 1902, Tesla moved his lab operations in from Houston Street. Wardenclyffe Tower was eventually dismantled for scrap during World War I. In 1904, the US Patent Office reversed its decision and gave the radio patent to
Guglielmo Marconi. Tesla began to fight to re-acquire the patent. On his 50th birthday in 1906, Tesla demonstrated his 200hp 16,000 rpm bladeless turbine. His bladeless turbines were tested in 1910 – 1911 at the Waterside Power Station in New York.

The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Marconi for the radio in 1909. Later, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were mentioned as potential laureates to share the Prize in 1915. This led to one of several Nobel Prize controversies. It is believed that neither was given the award due to their animosity toward each other and that they both continually minimized each other’s achievements and the right to win the award. Neither one ever received the Nobel Prize since the rumors, although Edison did receive one of 38 bids in 1915, and Tesla received one of 38 in 1937. Tesla unsuccessfully filed a lawsuit against Marconi in 1915 to obtain an injunction against Marconi’s patent claims.

After Wardenclyffe, Tesla built the Telefunken Wireless Station in Sayville, Long Island. He achieved a lot of what he wanted to accomplish at Wardenclyffe at Telefunken. In 1917, Telefunken was seized and torn down by the Marines, because it was believed to be a suspected center for German spies. He looked for investors from overseas to fund his research, but when the war started, tesla lost all funding from his patents in the European countries. When the war ended, Tesla made predictions of how a post-World War I environment would be like. Tesla started showing signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder in the years following the war. He became obsessed with the number three. He often felt compelled to walk around a building three times before entering. During meals he demanded three cloth napkins stacked beside his plate. OCD was little understood at the time and no treatments were available. He was believed to suffer from partial insanity by most people, and this undoubtedly hurt his career and reputation as a prominent scientist.

He was staying at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, renting on arrangement of deferred payments. Eventually the deed to Wardenclyffe was turned over to George Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria, to pay Tesla’s $20,000 debt. In 1917, Wardenclyffe was dismantled. About this same time, Tesla received the AIEE’s highest honor, the Edison Medal. In August 1917, Tesla established principles regarding frequency and power levels for primitive radar units. By the 1920s, Tesla was negotiating with the United Kingdom government about a ray system. Tesla made statements that efforts were made to steal the so called “death ray”.

On Tesla’s 75th birthday in 1931, Time magazine put him on its cover. The caption noted his contribution to electrical power generation. Tesla received his last patent in 1928 for an apparatus for aerial transportation which became the first instance of VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft. Tesla released his publication “On Future Motive Power” at the end of 1931. It covered ocean energy conversion systems. In 1934, Tesla wrote a letter given gratitude to Mihajlo Pupin who had initiated a donation scheme that would have American companies supporting Tesla. Tesla refused the help, and chose to live on a modest pension he received from Yugoslavia. In 1936 he wrote in a telegram about his pride in his Serbian homeland.

Nikola Tesla was fluent in many languages. He spoke Serbo-Croatian, Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin.

Tesla was obsessed with pigeons. He would order special seeds for the pigeons he fed in Central Park and would even bring them to his hotel room. He was an animal-lover and often reflected cheerfully about his childhood cat named “The Magnificent Macak”. Tesla was never married. He was celibate and claimed his celibacy helped him concentrate more on his scientific abilities. Nevertheless there have been reports of numerous women vying for his affection. Tesla often alienated himself and was generally soft-spoken. When he did engage in a social life, people often spoke positively of him and admired him greatly.

Tesla did occasionally show a cruel streak and often openly expressed his disgust for overweight people. He once fired a secretary because of her weight. He readily criticized the clothing of other people and on several occasions demanding a lesser to go home and change her dress.

He was well known for his grand showmanship. He presented his innovations and demonstrations as a form of art, like that of a magician. It really conflicted with his actual personal reclusive nature. He did, however, refuse to hold conventions without his Tesla coil blasting electricity throughout the room, even when audience was terrified. He would always assure them it was perfectly safe.

Tesla became close friends with Mark Twain in his middle years. They spent a lot of time together. His rivalry with Edison claimed much of his time and he remained bitter about the ordeal early in his career for years. The day after Edison died, the New York Times contained extensive coverage of his life. The only negative opinion came from Tesla. Shortly before his death, Edison said that his biggest mistake had been in trying to develop DC, rather than the superior AC system that Tesla had put within his grasp.

Tesla had many friendships with notable figures. His partnership with George Westinghouse was strengthened when he ripped up a Westinghouse contract that would have made him the world’s first billionaire. He could not be involved in anything that would compromise his friendship to George Westinghouse and the fact that the contract would actually run Westinghouse out of business.

The last ten years of Tesla’s life was spent living in a two-room suite on the 33rd floor of the Hotel new Yorker, room 3327. There, as his life neared an its end, he showed advanced signs of mental illness. He claimed to be visited by a specific white pigeon daily. It is noted that Tesla viewed the death of the pigeon as a “final blow” to his life and his work. In the final years of his life, he suffered from extreme sensitivity to light, sound and other influences around him.

Nikola Tesla died of heart failure alone in room 3327 of the Hotel New Yorker, on January 7th 1943. Although he sold his AC electricity patents, he died penniless. Later that year, the US Supreme Court upheld Tesla’s patent number, thus recognizing him as the inventor of the radio. After Tesla’s death became known, the Alien Property Custodian Office of the government, seized his papers and property, despite his US citizenship. His personal safe at the Hotel New Yorker was also opened and the properties taken. At the time of his death, he was still working on the teleforce weapon or death ray, which he had unsuccessfully marketed to the US military. The government did not find any prototypes or other information of the device in the safe. His papers were declared top secret after his death by the FBI. It is believed by officials from the government that there may have been over 80 trunks in different locations carrying Tesla’s works on his experiments.

Tesla’s family and the Yugoslav embassy fought to obtain the items due to significance of his works and research. Eventually, Tesla’s nephew (Sava Kosanovic) won the rights to some of his personal effects, which are housed in the Nikola Tesla Museum. Tesla’s funeral took place on January 12, 1943 at the Cathedral of Saint John the Devine in Manhattan, New York City. His body was cremated and his ashes taken to Belgrade, Serbia, in 1957. The urn carrying Tesla’s ashes was placed in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, where it is still found today.

Tesla was not one for portraits and only posed once for princess Vilma Lwoff-Parlaghy. His close friend was to make a sculpture of him, but he died before he had the chance to see it. The bronze bust (1952) is held at the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade and a statue of him (1956) was placed at the
RuÄ‘er BoÅ¡ković Institute in Zagreb. It was relocated to Nikola Tesla Street in Zagreb’s city centre on the 150th anniversary of Tesla’s birth. The institute was to receive a duplicate. In 1976, a bronze statue of Tesla was erected at Niagara Falls, NY. A similar statue was also placed in his hometown of Gospić in 1986.

Tesla was featured on several Yugoslavian and Serbian monetary notes and coins. The largest power plant in Serbia is named in his honor. Serbia’s biggest airport was renamed the Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport in 2006 in honor of his 150th birthday. Tesla Motors car company was named in tribute to Tesla. The heavy metal band Tesla, was named after Nikola Tesla. The famous Serbian composer-singer
Željko Joksimović composed a song in 2006 named “Nikola Tesla”.

Many of Tesla’s claims, innovations, and theories have been used since his death in 1943. While most of his work conformed with the principles and methods of mainstream science, some of his theories were unscientific and controversial. His works have always been popular with fringe theorists and believers of conspiracies. Even in Tesla’s time, some followers believed him to be an angelic being from Venus sent to Earth to reveal scientific knowledge about humanity. Followers of this belief system are maintained in a modern occult known as
Nuwaubianism.

Nikola Tesla has appeared in popular culture in books, films, radio, TV, games, theatre, music, and even comics. The lack of recognition during his own lifetime, has made him an inspirational character well suited for dramatic fiction. His inventions have been well suited for science fiction and the impact of technologies invented by Tesla is a recurring theme in many areas of modern science-fiction.

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Tesla Nikola