Nikola Tesla

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Dr. Nikola Tesla
"I have harnessed the cosmic rays and caused them to operate a motive device." - Nikola Tesla; Brooklyn Eagle, July 10th, 1931.
"I have harnessed the cosmic rays and caused them to operate a motive device." - Nikola Tesla; Brooklyn Eagle, July 10th, 1931.
Born :

July 10, 1856
Smiljan, Gospić, Military Frontier, Habsburg Monarchy (now Croatia)
Died :

January 7, 1943
New York City, New York, USA

Nikola Tesla was an inventor, physicist, mechanical engineer, and electrical engineer. Tesla is often regarded as one of the greatest engineers of the 19th century and 20th century and he was a pioneer of electromechanics. Tesla was of Serb descent and, while conducting his work in the United States, became an American citizen in 1891. His patents and theoretical work still form the basis for modern alternating current electric power (AC) systems including the polyphase power distribution system. Tesla helped usher in the Second Industrial Revolution. After Tesla's demonstration of wireless communication in 1893 and winning the "War of Currents", Tesla became world-famous.

In his early years, his fame exceeded that of any other inventor or scientist in history and in popular culture. Tesla had become a byword for innovation and practical achievement. His name was one of the most recognizable in the world, a magician who conjured up technical feats. Tesla's vision was to find a means to provide humanity the means for unlimited energy. He gave his life to make real these plans, while others made fortunes with his inventions.

In his later years, Tesla was regarded as a mad scientist. At the end of his life, Tesla was mocked by his contemporaries and he wound up broke and forgotten. Tesla was ahead of his time, many of Tesla's ideas and concepts are just only recently coming to fruition. His legacy can been seen across modern civilization.



Electromechanical devices and principles developed by Nikola Tesla:

Early years

Tesla was born "at the stroke of midnight" (the first moment of July 10) with lightning striking during a summer storm. He was born in Smiljan near Gospić, Lika, (the Military Frontier of the Austria-Hungarian empire, now in Croatia). The midwife commented, "He'll be a child of the storm," to which his mother replied, "No, of light." Tesla was baptised in the Old Slavonic Church rite. His Baptism Certificate reports that he was born on June 28 (Julian calendar; July 10 in the Gregorian calendar) 1856, and christened by the Serbian orthodox priest, Toma Oklobdžija. His baptismal name was Николай (Nikola).

His father was Rev. Milutin Tesla, a Serbian priest in the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Karlovci. His mother was Đuka Mandić, who talented in making home craft tools. Tesla was one of five children, having one brother and three sisters. His godfather, Jovan Drenovac, was a Captain in the Krajina army. His family moved to Gospić in 1862. Tesla went to school in Karlovac (then Austria-Hungary), then studied electrical engineering at the Austria Politechnic in Graz, Austria (1875). While there, he studied the uses of alternating current. He also developed a telephone repeater (or amplifier).

In 1881 he moved to Budapest to work for the telegraph company, American Telephone Company. On the opening of the telephone exchange in Budapest, 1881, Tesla became the chief electrician to the company, later engineer to the Yugoslav government and the country's first telephone system. He also developed a telephone repeater (or amplifier). Tesla invented a precursor to modern wireless telephone, known as a telephone repeater (or sometimes an amplifier). The device could act as an audio speaker (not an audio transducer). For a while he stayed in Maribor. He was employed at his first job as an assistant engineer. Tesla suffered a nervous breakdown during this time.

In 1882 he moved to Paris to work as an engineer for the Continental Edison Company, designing improvements to electric equipment. In the same year, Tesla conceived of the induction motor and began developing various devices that use rotating magnetic fields (for which he received patents in 1888). Tesla hastened from Paris to his mother's side as she lay dying, arriving hours before her death in 1882. Her last words to him were, "You've arrived, Nidzo, my pride." After her death, Tesla fell ill. He spent two to three weeks recuperating in Gospić and the village of Tomingaj near Gračac, the birthplace of his mother.

In 1884, when Tesla first arrived in the United States of America, he arrived in the US with 4 cents to his name, a book of poetry, and a letter of recommendation (from Charles Batchelor, his manager in his previous job). The letter of recommendation from Charles Batchelor to Thomas Edison read simply "I know two great men, and you are one of them. This young man is the other". Tesla's work for Edison began with simple electrical engineering. Eventually Tesla earned the respect of Edison and offered to undertake a complete re-design of the Edison company's continous current dynamos. After Tesla described the nature of the benefits from his proposed modifications, Edison offered him US$50,000 if they were successfully completed. Tesla worked nearly a year to redesign them and gave the Edison company several enormously profitable new patents in the process. When Tesla inquired about the $50,000, Edison replied to him, "Tesla, you don't understand our American humor", and reneged on his agreement, offering a raise in Tesla's salary of $10 per week as a compromise - at which rate it would have taken almost 100 years to earn the money Edison had originally promised. Tesla resigned on the spot.

Middle years

In 1886, Tesla formed his own company, Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing. The initial financial investors disagreed with Tesla on his plan for an alternating current motor and eventually relieved him of his duties at the company. Tesla worked in New York as a common laborer from 1886 to 1887 to feed himself and raise capital for his next project. In 1887, he constructed the initial brushless alternate-current induction motor, which he demonstrated to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (now IEEE) in 1888. In the same year, he developed the principles of his Tesla coil and began working with George Westinghouse at Westinghouse's Pittsburgh labs. Westinghouse listened to his ideas for polyphase systems which would allow transmission of alternating current electricity over large distances.

Experimental observations:

Tesla commented on the hazards of working with single node X-ray producing devices, attributing the skin-damage to ozone rather than the radiation: "As to the hurtful actions on the skin... I note that they have been misinterpreted... They are not due to the R�ntgen rays, but merely to the ozone generated in contact with the skin. Nitrous acid may also be responsible, but to a small extent". (Tesla, in Electrical Review, 30 November 1895). This is incorrect concerning cathodic X-ray tubes. Tesla later observed an assistant severely "burnt" by X-rays in his lab.

In April 1887, Tesla began investigating what would later be called X-rays using his own single node vacuum tubes (similar to his Template:US patent). This device differed from other early X-ray tubes in that they had no target electrode. The modern term for the phenomena produced from this device is termed the bremsstrahlung process. He also used Geissler tubes. By 1892, Tesla became aware of what [[Wilhelm R�ntgen]] later identified as effects of X-rays. He performed several experiments (including photographing the bones of his hand; later, he sent these images to R�ntgen) but didn't make his findings widely known; much of his research was lost in the 1895 Houston Street lab fire.

On July 30, 1891, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States and established his Houston Street laboratory in New York. He lit vacuum tubes wirelessly in it, providing evidence for the potential of wireless power transmission. Around this time, Tesla developed a close and lasting friendship with Mark Twain. They spent a lot of time together in Tesla's lab and elsewhere. Tesla's closest friends were artists. He also befriended Century Magazine editor Robert Underwood Johnson, who adapted several Serbian poems of Jovan Jovanović Zmaj (which Tesla translated). Also during this time, according to Toby Grotz and the PBS documentary film, Telsa was influenced by the Vedic philosophy teachings of the Swami Vivekananda. When he was 36 years old, the first patents concerning the polyphase power system were granted. He continued research of the system and rotating magnetic field principles.

Tesla served as the Vice-President of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (now part of the IEEE) from 1892 to 1894. From 1893 to 1895, he investigated high frequency alternating currents. He generated AC of one million volts using a conical Tesla coil and investigated the skin effect in conductors, designed tuned circuits, invented a machine for inducing sleep, cordless gas discharge lamps, and transmitted electromagnetic energy without wires, effectively building the first radio transmitter. In St. Louis, Missouri, Tesla made a demonstration related to radio communication in 1893. Addressing the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the National Electric Light Association, he described and demonstrated in detail its principles. Tesla's demonstration were written about widely through various media outlets.

At the 1893 World's Fair, the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, an international exposition was held which for the first time devoted a building to electrical exhibits. It was a historic event as Tesla and George Westinghouse introduced visitors to AC power by using it to illuminate the Exposition. In protest, Edison would not allow use of any of his lightbulbs for this event (Westinghouse designed a double-stopper bulb to sidestep Edison's patent). On display were Tesla's fluorescent lights and single node bulbs. As if lighting the Exposition was not enough, Tesla explained the principles of the rotating magnetic field and induction motor by demonstrating how to make an egg (made of copper) stand on end in his demonstration of the device he constructed known as the "Egg of Columbus". It was used to demonstrate and explain the principles of the rotating magnetic field model and the induction motor.

In the late 1880s, Tesla and Edison became adversaries due to Edison's promotion of direct current (DC) for electric power distribution over the more efficient alternating current advocated by Tesla. In 1896, according to an interview he gave in 1916, Tesla invented a type of loudspeaker. The sounds were of the quality of the telephones of that time. The invention was never patented nor released publicly (until years later by Tesla himself). As a result of the "War of Currents", Edison and Westinghouse were almost bankrupt, so in 1897, Tesla released Westinghouse from contract providing Westinghouse a break from Tesla's patent royalties.

When Tesla was 41 years old, he filed the first basic radio patent (No. US645576). A year later, he demonstrated a radio controlled boat to the US military, believing that the military would want things such as radio controlled torpedoes. In 1898, a radio-controlled boat was demonstrated to the public during an electrical exhibition at Madison Square Garden. These devices had an innovative coherer and a series of logic gates. Radio remote control remained a novelty until the Space Age. In the same year, Tesla devised an electric igniter (spark plug) for gasoline engines which was nearly identical to ideas about the same process used by modern internal combustion engines.

Colorado Springs

Publicity photo of Tesla sitting in his laboratory in Colorado Springs with his "magnifying transmitter" generating millions of volts of electricity.  The arcs are about 7 meters (22 ft) long. (Tesla's notes identify this as a .)
Publicity photo of Tesla sitting in his laboratory in Colorado Springs with his "magnifying transmitter" generating millions of volts of electricity. The arcs are about 7 meters (22 ft) long. (Tesla's notes identify this as a Double exposure.)

In 1899, Tesla decided to move and began research in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he could have room for his high-voltage high-frequency experiments. He chose this location primarily because of the frequent thunderstorms, the high altitude (where the air, being at a lower pressure, had a lower dielectric breakdown strength, making it easier to ionize), and the dryness of the air (minimizing leakage of electric charge through insulators). Also, the property was free and electric power available from the El Paso Power Company. Tesla reached Colorado Springs on May 17, 1899. Upon his arrival he told reporters that he was conducting experiments transmitting signals from Pikes Peak to Paris. He was developing a system for wireless telegraphy, telephony, and the transmission of power.

Tesla began the experimentation with high-voltage electricity. Tesla conduct an inquiry intoi the possibility of wirelessly transmitting and distributing large amounts of electrical energy over long distances via his Magnifying Transmitter. He researched ways to transmit energy wirelessly over long distances (utilizing the ionosphere and the ground's telluric currents via transverse waves, to a lesser extent, and, more readily, longitudinal waves). Tesla's time at this lab has been a wellspring for urban legends about him.

Tesla kept a diary of his experiments in the Colorado Springs lab where he spent nearly nine months. It consists of 500 pages of handwritten notes and nearly 200 drawings, recorded chronologically between June 1, 1899 and January 7, 1900, as the work occurred, containing explanations of his experiments. He was developing a system for wireless telegraphy, telephony and the transmission of power, experimented with high-voltage electricity and the possibility of wireless transmitting and distributing large amounts of electrical energy over long distances.

Tesla conceived of a system, during this time, of geophysical exploration - seismology - which he called telegeodynamics. This was based on his reciprocating mechanical oscillator patented in 1894 and he explained that a long sequence of small explosions could be used to find ore and create earthquakes large enough to destroy the Earth. He did not experiment with this as he felt there would not be "a desirable outcome". Tesla also constructed many smaller resonance transformers and discovered the concept of tuned electrical circuits.

Tesla constructed many smaller resonance transformers and researched the concept of tuned electrical circuits. Telsa also further developed some coherers for separating and perceiving electromagnetic waves and designed rotating coherers which he used to detect the unique types of electromagnetic phenomenon he observed. They had a mechanism of geared wheels driven by a coiled spring-drive mechanism which rotated small glass cylinders. These experiments were the final stage of years of work on synchronized tuned electrical circuits. These transceivers were constructed to demonstrate how signals could be "tuned in". Tesla logged in his diary on July 3, 1899 that a separate resonance transformer tuned to the same high frequency as a larger high-voltage resonance transformer would transceive energy from the larger coil, acting as a transmitter of wireless energy, which was used to confirm Tesla's patent for radio during later disputes in the courts. These air core high-frequency resonate coils were the predecessors of systems from radio to medical magnetic resonance imaging devices.

In the Colorado Springs lab, Tesla recorded what he concluded were extraterrestrial radio signals and announced his findings in some of the scientific journals of the time. [5] ( His announcements and data were rejected by the scientific community who did not believe him. He notes measurements of repetitive signals from his receiver which are substantially different from the signals he had noted from storms and earth noise. Specifically, he later recalled that the signals appeared in groups of clicks 1, 2, 3, and 4 clicks together. Tesla spent the latter part of his life trying to signal Mars. Tesla left Colorado Springs on January 7, 1900. The lab was torn down, broken up, and its contents sold to pay debts. The Colorado experiments prepared Tesla for his next project, the establishment of a wireless power transmission facility that would be known as Wardenclyffe.

Later years

Missing image
Wardenclyffe Tower located in Shoreham, Long Island, New York.
In 1900, with $150,000 (51%) from J. Pierpont Morgan, Tesla began planning the Wardenclyffe Tower facility. In June 1902, Tesla's lab operations were moved to Wardenclyffe from Houston Street. The tower was finally dismantled for scrap during wartime. Newspapers of the time labeled Wardenclyffe "Tesla's million-dollar folly." In 1904, the US Patent Office reversed its decision and awarded Guglielmo Marconi the patent for radio. Tesla began his fight to re-acquire his radio patent. On his 50th birthday in 1906, Tesla demonstrated his 200 hp (150 kW) 16,000 rpm Bladeless Turbine. During 1910-1911 at the Waterside Power Station in New York, several of his bladeless turbine engines were tested at 100-5000 hp. Later in 1907, Marconi was awarded the Nobel Prize for radio. Tesla was deeply resentful. So in 1915, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Marconi.

Prior to the First World War, Tesla looked overseas for investors to fund his research. When the war started, Tesla lost funding he was receiving from his European patents. Wardenclyffe Tower was also demolished towards the end of WWI. Tesla had predicted the relevant issues of the post-World War I environment (a war which theoretically ended) in a printed article (December 20, 1914). Tesla believed that the League of Nations was not a remedy for the times and issues. In 1915, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Marconi attempting, unsuccessfully, to obtain a court injunction against the claims of Marconi. Around 1916, Tesla filed for bankruptcy because he owed so much in back taxes. He was living in poverty.

Tesla started to exhibit pronounced symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder in the years following. He became obsessed with the number three. He often felt compelled to walk around a block three times before entering a building, demanded a stack of three folded cloth napkins beside his plate at every meal, etc. The nature of OCD was little understood at the time and no treatments were available, so his symptoms were considered by some to be evidence of partial insanity and this probably hurt what was left of his reputation. This obsessive-compulsive behavior may have originated from the observations over repeated polyphase systems in nature that Tesla researched.

At this time, he was staying at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, renting in an arrangement for deferred payments. Eventually, the Wardenclyffe deed was turned over to George Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria to pay a $20,000 debt. In 1917, around the time that the Wardenclyffe Tower was demolished by Boldt to make the land a more viable real estate asset, Tesla received AIEE's highest honor, the Edison Medal. The irony of this honor was probably not lost on Tesla.

Tesla, in August 1917, first established principles regarding frequency and power level for the first primitive radar units. In 1934, Emile Girardeau, working with the first French radar systems, stated he was building radar systems "conceived according to the principles stated by Tesla". By the twenties, Tesla was reportedly negotiating with the United Kingdom government under Prime Minister Chamberlain about a ray system. Tesla had also stated that efforts had been made to steal the "death ray" (though they had failed). The Chamberlain government was removed, though, before any final negotiations occurred. The incoming Baldwin government found no use for Tesla's suggestions and ended negotiations.

On Tesla's seventy-fifth birthday in 1931, Time magazine put him on its cover. [6] ( The cover caption noted his contribution to electrical power generation. Tesla got his last patent in 1928 on January 3, an apparatus for aerial transportation which was the first instance of VTOL aircraft. In 1934, Tesla wrote to consul Janković of his homeland. The letter contained the message of gratitude to Mihajlo Pupin who initiated a donation scheme by which American companies could support Tesla. Tesla refused the assistance, and chose to live by a modest pension received from Yugoslavia and to continue researching.

When he was eighty-one, Tesla stated he had completed a unified field theory. He stated that it was "worked out in all details" and hoped to give to the world the theory soon. [7] ( The theory was never published. At the time of his announcement, it was considered by the scientific community to exceed the bounds of reason. Some believe that Tesla never fully developed the Unified Field Theory, nor that any physicist in the years since it was first postulated. Tesla's theory is of interest to some researchers (but, mainly disregaurded in the field of physics).

Death and afterwards

Nikola Tesla Monument in front of
Nikola Tesla Monument in front of University of Belgrade

Tesla died alone in the hotel New Yorker of heart failure, some time between the evening of January 5 and the morning of January 8, 1943. Despite selling his AC electricity patents, he was essentially destitute and died with significant debts. Immediately after Tesla's death became known, the Federal Bureau of Investigation instructed the Office of Alien Property to take possession of his papers and property, despite his US citizenship.

At the time of his death, Tesla had been working on some form of teleforce weapon, or death ray, the secrets of which he had offered to the United States War Department on the morning of 5 January. It appears that his proposed death ray was related to his research into ball lightning and plasma. He was found dead three days later and, after the FBI was contacted by the War Department, his papers were declared to be top secret. All of his personal effects were seized on the advice of presidential advisors. J. Edgar Hoover declared the case "most secret", because of the nature of Tesla's inventions and patents.

Tesla's Serbian-Orthodox family and the Yugoslav embassy struggled with American authorities to gain these items after his death due to the potential significance of some of his research. Eventually, his nephew, Sava Kosanovich, got possession of some of his personal effects (which are now housed in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, Yugoslavia). Tesla's funeral took place on January 12, 1943 at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan, New York City. In 1976, a bronze statue of Tesla was placed at Niagara Falls. A similar statue was also erected in the Tesla's hometown of Gospic in the 1981. The statue in Gospic was dynamited by the Croatian forces in 1991.

Perhaps because of Tesla's personal eccentricity and the dramatic nature of his demonstrations, conspiracy theories about applications of his work persist. The common Hollywood stereotype of the "mad scientist" mirrors Tesla's real-life persona, or at least a caricature of it—which may be no accident considering that many of the earliest such movies (including the first movie version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) were produced by Tesla's old rival, Edison.

Views on war

Tesla believed that war could not be avoided until the cause for its recurrence was removed, but was opposed to wars in general. He possessed a hatred of war, from his parents and homeland, and sought to end warfare scientifically by devising protective measures that would prevent wars. He found exceptions and some justifiable situations where conflict was necessary. He envisioned wars of machines, not of humans, and of more terrible weapons in the future. He sought to reduce distance, such as in communication (for better understanding), transportation, and transmission of energy, as a means to insure friendly international relations. A system for "Projecting Concentrated Non-Dispersive Energy Through Natural Media" known as teleforce was reportedly developed later in his life. Teleforce was supposed to have been a type of defensive particle-beam weapon.


Dr. Tesla was fluent in eight languages (English, Serbian, Croatian, Czech, Hungarian, French, German, Italian)


  • Elementary school: Gospić (Austria-Hungary, now Croatia)
  • Secondary school: Karlovac (Austria-Hungary, now Croatia)


Graduate studies


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