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The Magic of Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla was one of the great geniuses of our industrial revolution. Tesla was born during the night of 1856 during a lightning storm in Serbia. He was a remarkable student at school had the unique talent of solving problems with his imagination. So what drove Tesla to invent so many great things that have since transformed the daily life of people across the world? Read on to discover the magic of Nikola Tesla and his triumphs and tragedies.

Tesla & Edison

Tesla immigrated to the U.S. in 1884 to work with Thomas Edison directly. Nikola Tesla chose to work for Edison rather than study at university, and at the Continental Edison Company, Tesla focused on electrical lighting and motors. Tesla was known for discovering amazing new things and inventing more. Edison was a businessman and not an inventor. Edison improved on the ideas of 22 other men who pioneered the light bulb before him. He figured out how to sell the light bulb and make millions from patenting his employee’s work.

Early in Tesla’s career, Edison offered him $50,000 if he could solve a series of engineering problems that Edison’s company faced with their DC generators and motors. Tesla fixed Edison’s machines and Edison then laughed him off with the words “Tesla you don’t understand our American humour”. An unhappy Tesla left the company after six months to on his own alternating current system. This ignited an “AC versus DC feud” with Edison who was trying to sell his direct-current system.

AC v. DC

Thomas Edison evangelised direct current, saying that it was safer than AC and in the 1880s the so-called “war of the currents” raged on. He even publically electrocuted cats and dogs using alternating current to convenience the public that it was too dangerous to use. Edison’s direct current (DC) system could not transmit electricity very far and it required a power plant every square mile. Tesla used alternating current (AC) which required thinner wires, had higher voltages, and could transmit electricity over long distances.

Soon after Tesla left Edison, he met two investors who agreed to back the formation of the Tesla Electric Company. Tesla filed a number of electrical patents under the company name but his partners later took the company’s intellectual property and created another company to supply electricity. This left Tesla with nothing and he felt tortured by the sense that his great talent and education were going to waste.

Tesla & Westinghouse

Tesla set up a laboratory in Manhattan where he developed the alternating current induction motor. When Tesla demonstrated his device at an engineering meeting, the Westinghouse Company made arrangements to license his technology.  Westinghouse lacked the capital to compete with Edison and asked Tesla to sell his patents to him for a single lump sum.  Tesla agreed to do so thus forgoing a vast fortune had he held on to them.

Westinghouse asked Tesla to help supply power for a global event in Chicago in 1893. Tesla helped the fair illuminate more light bulbs than could be found in all of Chicago. He also demonstrated many other inventions including an electric light working without any wires.  Later Tesla also helped Westinghouse win a contract to generate electrical power at Niagara Falls. This allowed the building of the first large scale global AC power plant.

Projects & Inventions

Like Einstein and Leonardo Da Vinci, Tesla was well ahead of his time. Tesla made 100’s of inventions and innovations, some decades ahead of their time, and others that are credited to other people. Tesla’s inventions include X-Rays, radar, cryogenic engineering, hydroelectric power, remote control, neon lighting, transistor technology, wireless communications, and the electric motor.

Tesla also researched the wireless transmission of electric power and he demonstrated the wireless control of a boat at Madison Square Garden in 1898. He believed that his system could provide for worldwide wireless communication as well as distribute electricity around the world.

Tesla’s dream was for everyone in the world to have free wireless electricity. He built the Wardenclyffe Tower from 1901 to 1905 to broadcast information and transmit electrical energy, without wires. Energy was tapped from the huge electricity reserve in Niagara Falls and transmitted through the ground and ionosphere to the world. JP Morgan financed the project. They withdrew funding before completion because they could see no profit in this freely available electricity.

Tesla also claimed he had detected signals from an extra-terrestrial source. This was at his laboratory in Colorado Springs where on one occasion he drew so much power that he caused a regional power outage.

Marconi won a Nobel Prize in physics for inventing radio plagiarising Tesla’s work including 17 of Tesla’s patents. In 1915 Tesla unsuccessfully sued Marconi claiming infringement on his patents.

Tesla the Eccentric Genius

Without a doubt, Tesla was a genius who could speak eight languages and he memorised entire books with his photographic memory. Tesla held that his greatest ideas came to him in solitude. He also loved sharing his ideas by hosting elegant dinner parties for the famous.

Tesla visualised new inventions in his mind and he would then build them without writing them down. Many of his best ideas came to him in an instant. In his imagination, Tesla saw detailed pictures of most of his inventions before thinking about constructing prototypes. Also, he didn’t initially prepare drawings and plans for many of his devices and inventions.

Tesla lived to 86, alone, and penniless, and he was celibate his entire life. He refused to date because it would distract him from his important work and also because he feared germs and practiced very strict hygiene.  Tesla also had several unusual phobias including an aversion to pearls that would cause him to refuse to speak to any woman who wore pearls.

Tesla enjoyed his reputation as a great engineer and inventor. He is also known as a philosopher, poet, and connoisseur. His range of skills and talents reflect those of Da Vinci, Einstein, and Newton, and other great thinkers and inventors. Nikola Tesla received numerous honours and awards over his life. On his 75th birthday, Tesla received a congratulatory letter from Einstein.

Tesla died in 1943, aged 86, nearly penniless and alone. His high functioning brilliance, obsessive inventiveness, and uncommon habits may have often conjured up the idea of the mad scientist depicted in the Frankenstein story. Today we remember Tesla as the pioneer who literally scaled great heights to bring lightning down to earth to awaken humanity into a new electric dawn.


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