In this text, I will tell you the life story of Nikola Tesla, Serbian scientist and my favorite!
Nikola Tesla was a Serbian scientist, physicist and electrical engineer. He was one of the brightest minds of mankind. He is said to be the man “who invented the twentieth century” and “Prometheus of the twentieth century”.
He is the first Serb to be nominated for the Nobel Prize and after whom the international unit of measure is named. He is the author of over 700 patents, and his most important inventions are: polyphase system, rotating magnetic field, asynchronous motor, synchronous motor, Tesla’s transformer, alternating current system, etc.
He was born on July 10, 1856, in Smiljan, in the former Military Border of the Austrian Empire. Tesla’s father’s name was Milutin and he was an Orthodox priest. He loved to read and had a rich library in which the scientist spent his childhood and learned foreign languages. During his life he spoke: Serbian, English, German, Italian, French, Czech, Hungarian, Latin and Slovenian. Her mother’s name was Djuka and she was a hard-working woman from whom Nikola inherited a penchant for research life. The mother, unlike the father, experienced all the glory of her son. He had one brother, Dane, and three sisters: Angelina, Milka and Marica. It was named after his paternal grandfather. He was baptized in the Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Peter and Paul in Smiljan.
He finished the first grade in his hometown in a German primary school, and he attended the other three grades and lower real high school in Gospić, where the family moved after the accident in which Tesla’s brother Dane died. He was believed to be more capable and intelligent than Nikola.
He enrolled in the High Real High School in Karlovac, and he was tormented by the fact that he was expected to continue the family tradition and become a priest. He graduated on July 24, 1873, in a group of seven students.
He went to Gospić for the holidays and fell ill with cholera. He was very ill and then he admitted to his father that he would like to study technique. His father promised him that he would go to the best technical school, after which he recovered. He spent some time in the village with his uncle, uncle Tomo Mandić, where he gathered strength for the upcoming efforts.
In 1875, he enrolled at the Polytechnic School in Graz. He was interested in the natural sciences and spent all his free time studying. He slept four hours a day and read a large number of books, many of which he knew by heart.
It seemed to Tesla that his father was not interested in the successes he achieved, but when he passed away, the scientist found letters sent to his father by professors advising him to drop Nikola out of school if he did not want to kill himself by overwork.
During his studies in Graz, Tesla came up with the idea of creating a turning field. However, his professor did not agree and considered this impossible. He applied twice to Matica Serbian for a scholarship, but both times he was rejected. So he left Graz and cut off contact with relatives and friends.
In 1878, he started working as an assistant engineer in Maribor. He indulged in gambling, and his father barely found him and brought him home. He could not find an explanation for his son’s behavior, so he passed away the following year. Tesla worked briefly at the Gospić Real Gymnasium and enrolled at a university in Prague to fulfill his father’s wish. However, he was aware of the sacrifice his family was making, which is why he left his studies.
In 1881, he moved to Budapest and was chief telephone technician at the American Telephone Company. He invented a device that some consider to be a telephone amplifier and some to be the first speaker.
In 1882, he was employed in Paris by the Edison Continental Society. He worked as an engineer in the field of electrical equipment improvement. Having been noticed, he was recommended to Edison, who was then considered the hero of electricity. He then invented the rotating magnetic field and the inductive motor which he later constructed. He came to Gospić a few hours before his mother’s death. Since he was attached to her, it hit him hard, so he recovered for three weeks in the village of Tomingaj, her birthplace.
In 1884, Edison hired Tesla in his laboratory in New York. He soon progressed and was offered to redesign Edison’s DC generator.
By March 1885, Tesla, with the financial backing of businessmen Robert Lane and Benjamin Vail, started his own lighting utility company, Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing. Instead of Edison’s incandescent lamp bulbs, Tesla’s company installed a DC-powered arc lighting system he had designed while working at Edison Machine Works. While Tesla’s arc light system was praised for its advanced features, his investors, Lane and Vail, had little interest in his ideas for perfecting and harnessing alternating current. In 1886, they abandoned Tesla’s company to start their own company. The move left Tesla penniless, forcing him to survive by taking electrical repair jobs and digging ditches for $2.00 per day. Of this period of hardship, Tesla would later recall, “My high education in various branches of science, mechanics, and literature seemed to me like a mockery.”
During his time of near destitution, Tesla’s resolve to prove the superiority of alternating current over Edison’s direct current grew even stronger.
Since the patents brought him a huge profit, Edison promised Tesla $50,000 when he finished everything successfully. When the scientist reminded him of that, he said that he was just joking and agreed to increase his salary by 10 dollars a week. Tesla immediately resigned and terminated the cooperation.
The war of the currents: Tesla vs. Edison
Recognizing the economic and technical superiority of alternating current to his direct current for long-distance power distribution, Edison undertook an unprecedently aggressive public relations campaign to discredit AC as posing a deadly threat to the public—a force should never allow in their homes. Edison and his associates toured the U.S. presenting grizzly public demonstrations of animals being electrocuted with AC electricity. When New York State sought a faster, “more humane” alternative to hanging for executing condemned prisoners, Edison, though once a vocal opponent of capital punishment, recommended using AC-powered electrocution. In 1890, murderer William Kemmler became the first person to be executed in a Westinghouse AC generator-powered electric chair that had been secretly designed by one of Edison’s salesmen.
Despite his best efforts, Edison failed to discredit alternating current. In 1892, Westinghouse and Edison’s new company General Electric, competed head-to-head for the contract to supply electricity to the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. When Westinghouse ultimately won the contract, the fair served as a dazzling public display of Tesla’s AC system.
On the tails of their success at the World’s Fair, Tesla and Westinghouse won a historic contract to build the generators for a new hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls. In 1896, the power plant began delivering AC electricity to Buffalo, New York, 26 miles away. In his speech at the opening ceremony of the power plant, Tesla said of the accomplishment, “It signifies the subjugation of natural forces to the service of man, the discontinuance of barbarous methods, the relieving of millions from want and suffering.”
The success of the Niagara Falls power plant firmly established Tesla’s AC as the standard for the electric power industry, effectively ending the War of the Currents.
The Tesla coil
In 1891, Tesla patented the Tesla coil, an electrical transformer circuit capable of producing high-voltage, low-current AC electricity. Though best-known today for its use in spectacular, lightening-spitting demonstrations of electricity, the Tesla coil was fundamental to the development of wireless communications. Still used in modern radio technology, the Tesla coil inductor was an essential part of many early radio transmission antennas.
Tesla would go on to use his Tesla coil in experiments with radio remote control, fluorescent lighting, x-rays, electromagnetism, and universal wireless power transmission.
On July 30, 1891, the same year he patented his coil, the 35-year-old Tesla was sworn in as a naturalized United States citizen.
Radio remote control
At the 1898 Electrical Exposition in Boston’s Madison Square Gardens, Tesla demonstrated an invention he called a “telautomaton,” a three-foot-long, radio-controlled boat propelled by a small battery-powered motor and rudder. Members of the amazed crowd accused Tesla of using telepathy, a trained monkey, or pure magic to steer the boat.
Finding little consumer interest in radio-controlled devices, Tesla tried unsuccessfully to sell his “Teleautomatics” idea to the US Navy as a type of radio-controlled torpedo. However, during and after World War I (1914-1918), the militarizes of many countries, including the United States incorporated it.
Wireless power transmission
From 1901 through 1906, Tesla spent most of his time and savings working on arguably his most ambitious, if a far-fetched, project—an electrical transmission system he believed could provide free energy and communications throughout the world without the need for wires.
In 1901, with the backing of investors headed by financial giant J. P. Morgan, Tesla began building a power plant and massive power transmission tower at his
Wardenclyffe laboratory on Long Island, New York. Seizing on the then commonly-held belief that the Earth’s atmosphere conducted electricity, Tesla envisioned a globe-spanning network of power transmitting and receiving antennas suspended by balloons 30,000 feet (9,100 m) in the air.
However, as Tesla’s project drug on, its sheer enormity caused his investors to doubt its plausibility and withdraw their support. With his rival, Guglielmo Marconi—enjoying the substantial financial support of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison—was making great advances in his own radio transmission developments, Tesla was forced to abandon his wireless power project in 1906.
Later life and death
In 1922, Tesla, deeply in debt from his failed wireless power project, was forced to leave the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City where he had been living since 1900, and move into the more-affordable St. Regis Hotel. While living at the St. Regis, Tesla took to feeding pigeons on the windowsill of his room, often bringing weak or injured birds into his room to nurse them back to health.
Of his love for one particular injured pigeon, Tesla would write, “I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them for years. But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings; that one was different. It was a female. I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me. I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.”
By late 1923, the St. Regis evicted Tesla because of unpaid bills and complaints about the smell from keeping pigeons in his room. For the next decade, he would live in a series of hotels, leaving behind unpaid bills at each. Finally, in 1934, his former employer, Westinghouse Electric Company, began paying Tesla $125 per month as a “consulting fee,” as well as paying his rent at the Hotel New Yorker.
In 1931, on his seventy-fifth birthday, he appeared on the cover of Time magazine. He received the Order of the Yugoslav Crown.
In 1937, at age 81, Tesla was knocked to the ground by a taxicab while crossing a street a few blocks from the New Yorker. Though he suffered a severely wrenched back and broken ribs, Tesla characteristically refused extended medical attention. While he survived the incident, the full extent of his injuries, from which he never fully recovered, was never known.
On January 7, 1943, Tesla died alone in his room at the New Yorker Hotel at the age of 86. The medical examiner listed the cause of death as coronary thrombosis, a heart attack.
On January 10, 1943, New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia delivered a eulogy to Tesla broadcast live over WNYC radio. On January 12, over 2,000 people attended Tesla’s funeral at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. Following the funeral, Tesla’s body was cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery in Ardsley, New York.
With the United States then fully engaged in World War II., fears that the Austrian-born inventor might have been in possession of devices or designs helpful to Nazi Germany, drove the Federal Bureau of Investigation to seize Tesla’s possessions after his death. However, the FBI reported finding nothing of interest, concluding that since about 1928, Tesla’s work had been “primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character often concerned with the production and wireless transmission of power; but did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.”
In his 1944 book, Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla, journalist, and historian John Joseph O’Neill wrote that Tesla claimed to have never slept more than two hours per night, “dozing” during the day instead to “recharge his batteries.” He was reported to have once spent 84 straight hours without sleep working in his laboratory.
It is believed that Tesla was granted around 300 patents worldwide for his inventions during his lifetime. While several of his patents remain unaccounted for or archived, he holds at least 278 known patents in 26 countries, mostly in the United States, Britain, and Canada. Tesla never attempted to patent many of his other inventions and ideas.
Today, Tesla’s legacy can be seen in multiple forms of popular culture, including movies, TV, video games and several genres of science fiction. For example, in the 2006 movie The Prestige, David Bowie portrays Tesla developing an amazing electro-replicating device for a magician. In Disney’s 2015 film Tomorrowland: A World Beyond, Tesla helps Thomas Edison, Gustave Eiffel, and Jules Verne discover a better future in an alternate dimension. And in the 2019 film The Current War, Tesla, played by Nicholas Hoult, squares off with Thomas Edison, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, in a history-based depiction of the war of the currents.
In 1917, Tesla was awarded the Edison Medal, the most coveted electrical prize in the United States, and in 1975, Tesla was inducted into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame. In 1983, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Tesla. Most recently, in 2003, a group of investors headed by engineer and futurist Elon Musk founded Tesla Motors, a company dedicated to producing the first car fittingly powered totally by Tesla’s obsession—electricity.
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