Nikola Tesla ( 10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943) was a Serbian American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC)electricity supply system.
Tesla gained experience in telephony and electrical engineering before immigrating to the United States in 1884 to work for Thomas Edison in New York City. He soon struck out on his own with financial backers, setting up laboratories and companies to develop a range of electrical devices. His patented AC induction motor and transformer were licensed by George Westinghouse, who also hired Tesla for a short time as a consultant. His work in the formative years of electric power development was also involved in the corporate struggle between making alternating current or direct current the power transmission standard, referred to as the War of Currents. Tesla went on to pursue his ideas of wireless lighting and electricity distribution in his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New York and Colorado Springs and made early (1893) pronouncements on the possibility of wireless communicationwith his devices. He tried to put these ideas to practical use in his ill-fated attempt at intercontinental wireless transmission, which was his unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower project. In his lab he also conducted a range of experiments with mechanical oscillators/generators, electrical discharge tubes, and early X-ray imaging. He even built a wireless controlled boat, one of the first ever exhibited.
Tesla was renowned for his achievements and showmanship, eventually earning him a reputation in popular culture as an archetypal “mad scientist.” His patents earned him a considerable amount of money, much of which was used to finance his own projects with varying degrees of success.:121,154 He lived most of his life in a series of New York hotels, through his retirement. He died on 7 January 1943.His work fell into relative obscurity after his death, but in 1960 the General Conference on Weights and Measuresnamed the SI unit of magnetic flux density the tesla in his honor. Tesla has experienced a resurgence in interest in popular culture since the 1990s.
Nikola Tesla was born on 10 July (O.S. 28 June) 1856 to Serbian parents in the village of Smiljan, Austrian Empire (modern-day Croatia). His father, Milutin Tesla, was an Orthodox priest.Tesla’s mother, Đuka Tesla (née Mandić), whose father was also an Orthodox priest, had a talent for making home craft tools, mechanical appliances, and the ability to memorize Serbian epic poems. Đuka had never received a formal education. Nikola credited his eidetic memory and creative abilities to his mother’s genetics and influence. Tesla’s progenitors were from western Serbia, near Montenegro.
Tesla was the fourth of five children. He had an older brother named Dane and three sisters, Milka, Angelina and Marica. Dane was killed in a horse-riding accident when Nikola was five.In 1861, Tesla attended the “Lower” or “Primary” School in Smiljan where he studied German, arithmetic, and religion.In 1862, the Tesla family moved to Gospić, Austrian Empire, where Tesla’s father worked as a pastor. Nikola completed “Lower” or “Primary” School, followed by the “Lower Real Gymnasium” or “Normal School.”
In 1870, Tesla moved to Karlovac, Croatia to attend school at the Higher Real Gymnasium, where he was profoundly influenced by a math teacher Martin Sekulić. Tesla was able to perform integral calculus in his head, which prompted his teachers to believe that he was cheating. He finished a four-year term in three years, graduating in 1873.
In 1873, Tesla returned to his birthtown, Smiljan. Shortly after he arrived, Tesla contracted cholera; he was bedridden for nine months and was near death multiple times. Tesla’s father, in a moment of despair, promised to send him to the best engineering school if he recovered from the illness (his father had originally wanted him to enter the priesthood).
In 1874, Tesla evaded being drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army in Smiljan by running away to Tomingaj, near Gračac. There, he explored the mountains in hunter’s garb. Tesla said that this contact with nature made him stronger, both physically and mentally. He read many books while in Tomingaj, and later said that Mark Twain’s works had helped him to miraculously recover from his earlier illness.
In 1875, Tesla enrolled at Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, Austria, on a Military Frontier scholarship. During his first year, Tesla never missed a lecture, earned the highest grades possible, passed nine exams (nearly twice as many required), started a Serbian culture club,and even received a letter of commendation from the dean of the technical faculty to his father, which stated, “Your son is a star of first rank.” Tesla claimed that he worked from 3 a.m. to 11 p.m., no Sundays or holidays excepted. He was “mortified when [his] father made light of [those] hard won honors.” After his father’s death in 1879, Tesla found a package of letters from his professors to his father, warning that unless he were removed from the school, Tesla would be killed through overwork. During his second year, Tesla came into conflict with Professor Poeschl over the Gramme dynamo, when Tesla suggested that commutators weren’t necessary. At the end of his second year, Tesla lost his scholarship and became addicted to gambling. During his third year, Tesla gambled away his allowance and his tuition money, later gambling back his initial losses and returning the balance to his family. Tesla said that he “conquered [his] passion then and there,” but later he was known to play billiards in the US. When exam time came, Tesla was unprepared and asked for an extension to study, but was denied. He never graduated from the university and did not receive grades for the last semester.
In December 1878, Tesla left Graz and severed all relations with his family to hide the fact that he dropped out of school. His friends thought that he had drowned in the Mur River.Tesla went to Maribor (now in Slovenia), where he worked as a draftsman for 60 florins a month. He spent his spare time playing cards with local men on the streets. In March 1879, Milutin Tesla went to Maribor to beg his son to return home, but Nikola refused.Nikola suffered a nervous breakdown at around the same time.
On 24 March 1879, Tesla was returned to Gospić under police guard for not having a residence permit. On 17 April 1879, Milutin Tesla died at the age of 60 after contracting an unspecified illness (although some sources say that he died of a stroke ). During that year, Tesla taught a large class of students in his old school, Higher Real Gymnasium, in Gospić.
In January 1880, two of Tesla’s uncles put together enough money to help him leave Gospić for Prague where he was to study. Unfortunately, he arrived too late to enroll at Charles-Ferdinand University; he never studied Greek, a required subject; and he was illiterate in Czech, another required subject. Tesla did, however, attend lectures at the university, although, as an auditor, he did not receive grades for the courses.
In 1881, Tesla moved to Budapest to work under Ferenc Puskas at a telegraph company, the Budapest Telephone Exchange. Upon arrival, Tesla realized that the company, then under construction, was not functional, so he worked as a draftsman in the Central Telegraph Office instead. Within a few months, the Budapest Telephone Exchange became functional and Tesla was allocated the chief electrician position. During his employment, Tesla made many improvements to the Central Station equipment and claimed to have perfected a telephone repeater or amplifier, which was never patented nor publicly described.
In 1882, Tesla began working for the Continental Edison Company in France, designing and making improvements to electrical equipment. In June 1884, he relocated to New York City where he was hired by Thomas Edison to work for his Edison Machine Works. Tesla’s work for Edison began with simple electrical engineering and quickly progressed to solving more difficult problems.
Tesla was offered the task of completely redesigning the Edison Company’s direct current generators. In 1885, he said that he could redesign Edison’s inefficient motor and generators, making an improvement in both service and economy. According to Tesla, Edison remarked, “There’s fifty thousand dollars in it for you—if you can do it”:54–57—this has been noted as an odd statement from an Edison whose company was stingy with pay and who did not have that sort of cash on hand.After months of work, Tesla fulfilled the task and inquired about payment. Edison, saying that he was only joking, replied, “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor.” Instead, Edison offered a US$10 a week raise over Tesla’s US$18 per week salary; Tesla refused the offer and immediately resigned.
After leaving Edison’s company Tesla partnered with two businessmen in 1886, Robert Lane and Benjamin Vale, who agreed to finance an electric lighting company in Tesla’s name, Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing. The company installed electrical arc light based illumination systems designed by Tesla and also had designs for dynamo electric machine commutators, the first patents issued to Tesla in the US.
The investors showed little interest in Tesla’s ideas for new types of motors and electrical transmission equipment and also seemed to think it was better to develop an electrical utility than invent new systems. They eventually forced Tesla out leaving him penniless. He even lost control of the patents he had generated since he had assigned them to the company in lieu of stock. He had to work at various electrical repair jobs and even as a ditch digger for $2 per day. Tesla considered the winter of 1886/1887 as a time of “terrible headaches and bitter tears.” During this time, he questioned the value of his education.
On 17 May 1899, Tesla moved to Colorado Springs, where he would have room for his high-voltage, high-frequency experiments;his lab was located near Foote Ave. and Kiowa St. He chose this location because the polyphase alternating current power distribution system had been introduced there and he had associates who were willing to give him all the power he needed without charging for it.Upon his arrival, he told reporters that he was conducting wireless telegraphy experiments, transmitting signals from Pikes Peak to Paris. The 1978 book Colorado Springs Notes, 1899–1900 contains descriptions of Tesla’s experiments.
On 15 June 1899, Tesla performed his first experiments at his Colorado Springs lab; he recorded his initial spark length at five inches long, but very thick and noisy.
Tesla investigated atmospheric electricity, observing lightning signals via his receivers. Tesla stated that he observed stationary wavesduring this time. The great distances and the nature of what Tesla was detecting from lightning storms confirmed his belief that the earth had a resonant frequency.
He produced artificial lightning (with discharges consisting of millions of volts and up to 135 feet long). Thunder from the released energy was heard 15 miles away in Cripple Creek, Colorado. People walking along the street observed sparks jumping between their feet and the ground. Sparks sprang from water line taps when touched. Light bulbs within 100 feet of the lab glowed even when turned off. Horses in a livery stable bolted from their stalls after receiving shocks through their metal shoes. Butterflies were electrified, swirling in circles with blue halos of St. Elmo’s fire around their wings.
While experimenting, Tesla inadvertently faulted a power station generator, causing a power outage. In August 1917, Tesla explained what had happened in The Electrical Experimenter: “As an example of what has been done with several hundred kilowatts of high frequency energy liberated, it was found that the dynamos in a power house six miles away were repeatedly burned out, due to the powerful high frequency currents set up in them, and which caused heavy sparks to jump through the windings and destroy the insulation!”
During his time at his lab, Tesla observed unusual signals from his receiver which he concluded may be communications from another planet. He mentioned them in a letter to reporter Julian Hawthorne at thePhiladelphia North American on 8 December 1899 and in a December 1900 letter about possible discoveries in the new century to the Red Cross Society where he referred to messages “from another world” that read “1… 2… 3…”. Reporters treated it as a sensational story and jumped to the conclusion Tesla was hearing signals from Mars. He expanded on the signals he heard in a 9 February 1901 Collier’s Weekly article “Talking With Planets” where he said it had not been immediately apparent to him that he was hearing “intelligently controlled signals” and that the signals could come from Mars, Venus, or other planets. It has been hypothesized that he may have intercepted Marconi’s European experiments in July 1899—Marconi may have transmitted the letter S (dot/dot/dot) in a naval demonstration, the same three impulses that Tesla hinted at hearing in Colorado—or signals from another experimenter in wireless transmission.
In 1899, John Jacob Astor IV invested $100,000 for Tesla to further develop and produce a new lighting system. Instead, Tesla used the money to fund his Colorado Springs experiments.
On 7 January 1900, Tesla left Colorado Springs. His lab was torn down in 1904, and its contents were sold two years later to satisfy a debt.
The Colorado experiments had prepared Tesla for the establishment of the trans-Atlantic wireless telecommunications facility known as Wardenclyffe near Shoreham, Long Island.
In 1900, with $150,000 ($4,252,200 in today’s dollars; 51% from J. Pierpont Morgan), Tesla began planning the Wardenclyffe Tower facility.
Tesla later approached Morgan to ask for more funds to build a more powerful transmitter. When asked where all the money had gone, Tesla responded by saying that he was affected by the Panic of 1901, which he (Morgan) had caused. Morgan was shocked by the reminder of his part in the stock market crash and by Tesla’s breach of contract by asking for more funds. Tesla wrote another plea to Morgan, but it was also fruitless. Morgan still owed Tesla money on the original agreement, and Tesla had been facing foreclosure even before construction of the tower began.
In December 1901, Marconi successfully transmitted the letter S from England to Newfoundland, terminating Tesla’s relationship with Morgan. Over the next five years, Tesla wrote over 50 letters to Morgan, pleading for and demanding additional funding to complete the construction of Wardenclyffe. Tesla continued the project for another nine months. The tower was erected to its full 187 feet (57 m). In July 1903, Tesla wrote to Morgan that in addition to wireless communication, Wardenclyffe would be capable of wireless transmission of electric power. On 14 October 1904, Morgan finally replied through his secretary, stating, “It will be impossible for [me] to do anything in the matter,” after Tesla had written to Morgan when the financier was meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury in an attempt to appeal to his Christian spirit.
In June 1902, Tesla’s lab operations were moved to Wardenclyffe from Houston Street.
On his 50th birthday in 1906, Tesla demonstrated his 200 horsepower (150 kilowatts) 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 100–5,000 hp.
Tesla invented a steam-powered mechanical oscillator—Tesla’s oscillator. While experimenting with mechanical oscillators at his Houston Street lab, Tesla allegedly generated a resonance of several buildings. As the speed grew, it is said that the machine oscillated at the resonance frequency of his own building and, belatedly realizing the danger, he was forced to use a sledge hammer to terminate the experiment, just as the police arrived. In February 1912, an article—”Nikola Tesla, Dreamer” by Allan L. Benson—was published in World Today, in which an artist’s illustration appears showing the entire earth cracking in half with the caption, “Tesla claims that in a few weeks he could set the earth’s crust into such a state of vibration that it would rise and fall hundreds of feet and practically destroy civilization. A continuation of this process would, he says, eventually split the earth in two.”
Tesla theorized that the application of electricity to the brain enhanced intelligence. In 1912, he crafted “a plan to make dull students bright by saturating them unconsciously with electricity,” wiring the walls of a schoolroom and, “saturating [the schoolroom] with infinitesimal electric waves vibrating at high frequency. The whole room will thus, Mr. Tesla claims, be converted into a health-giving and stimulating electromagnetic field or ‘bath.'” The plan was, at least provisionally approved by then superintendent of New York City schools, William H. Maxwell.
Before World War I, Tesla sought overseas investors. After the war started, Tesla lost the funding he was receiving from his patents in European countries. Eventually, he sold Wardenclyffe for $20,000 ($470,900 in today’s dollars). 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, theEdison Medal.
In the August 1917 edition of the magazine Electrical Experimenter Tesla postulated that electricity could be used to locate submarines via using the reflection of an “electric ray” of “tremendous frequency,” with the signal being viewed on a fluorescent screen (a system that has been noted to have a superficial resemblance to modern radar). Tesla was incorrect in his assumption that high frequency radio waves would penetrate waterbut Émile Girardeau, who helped develop France’s first radar system in the 1930s, noted in 1953 that Tesla’s general speculation that a very strong high frequency signal would be needed was correct stating “(Tesla) was prophesying or dreaming, since he had at his disposal no means of carrying them out, but one must add that if he was dreaming, at least he was dreaming correctly.”
On 7 January 1943, Tesla, 86, died alone in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel. His body was later found by maid Alice Monaghan after she had entered Tesla’s room, ignoring the “do not disturb” sign that Tesla had placed on his door two days earlier. Assistant medical examiner H.W. Wembly examined the body and ruled that the cause of death had been coronary thrombosis. Tesla’s remains were taken to the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home at Madison Ave. and 81st St. A long-time friend and supporter of Tesla, Hugo Gernsback, commissioned a sculptor to create a death mask, now displayed in the Nikola Tesla Museum.
Two days later, the FBI ordered the Alien Property Custodian to seize Tesla’s belongings,even though Tesla was an American citizen.Tesla’s entire estate from the Hotel New Yorker and other New York City hotels was transported to the Manhattan Storage and Warehouse Company under Office of Alien Property (OAP) seal. John G. Trump, a professor at M.I.T. and well-known electrical engineer serving as a technical aide to the National Defense Research Committee, was called in to analyze the Tesla items in OAP custody. After a three-day investigation, Trump’s report concluded that there was nothing that would constitute a hazard in unfriendly hands, stating:
[Tesla’s] thoughts and efforts during at least the past 15 years were 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 a box purported to contain a part of Tesla’s “death ray,” Trump found a 45-year-old multidecade resistance box.
On 10 January 1943, New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia read a eulogy written by Slovene-American author Louis Adamic live over the WNYC radio while violin pieces “Ave Maria” and “Tamo daleko” were played in the background.On 12 January 2,000 people attended a state funeral for Tesla at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. After the funeral, Tesla’s body was taken to the Ferncliff Cemetery in Ardsley, New York, where it was later cremated. The following day, a second service was conducted by prominent priests in the Trinity Chapel (today’s Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sava) in New York City.
Tesla was 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) tall and weighed 142 pounds (64 kg), with almost no weight variance from 1888 to about 1926.:292 He was an elegant, stylish figure in New York City, meticulous in his grooming, clothing, and regimented in his daily activities.
This was not because of personal vanity. Neatness and fastidiousness in clothes were entirely in harmony with every other phase of his personality. He did not maintain a large wardrobe and he wore no jewelry of any kind … He observed, however, that in the matter of clothes the world takes a man at his own valuation, as expressed in his appearance, and frequently eases his way to his objective through small courtesies not extended to less prepossessing individuals.
Although many of Tesla’s progenitors were dark-eyed, his eyes were gray-blue. He claimed that his eyes were originally darker, but as a result of the exorbitant use of his brain, their hue changed. However, his mother and some of his cousins possessed gray eyes, so it can be inferred that the gray of his eyes was inherited.
Nikola Tesla is almost the tallest, almost the thinnest and certainly the most serious man who goes to Delmonico’s regularly … He has eyes set very far back in his head. They are rather light. I asked him how he could have such light eyes and be a Slav. He told me that his eyes were once much darker, but that using his mind a great deal had made them many shades lighter. I have often heard it said that using the brain makes the eyes lighter in color. Tesla’s confirmation of the theory through his personal experience is important.
He is very thin, is more than six feet tall and weighs less than a hundred and forty pounds. He has very big hands. Many able men do—Lincoln is one instance. His thumbs are remarkably big, even for such big hands. They are extraordinarily big. This is a good sign. The thumb is the intellectual part of the hand. The apes have very small thumbs. Study them and you will notice this.
Nikola Tesla has a head that spreads out at the top like a fan. His head is shaped like a wedge. His chin is as pointed as an ice-pick. His mouth is too small. His chin, though not weak, is not strong enough. His face cannot be studied and judged like the faces of other men, for he is not a worker in practical fields. He lives his life up in the top of his head, where ideas are born, and up there he has plenty of room. His hair is jet black and curly. He stoops—most men do when they have no peacock blood in them. He lives inside of himself. He takes a profound interest in his own work. He has that supply of self-love and self-confidence which usually goes with success. And he differs from most of the men who are written and talked about in the fact that he has something to tell.
Tesla claimed to never sleep more than two hours. However, Tesla did admit to “dozing” from time to time “to recharge his batteries.”
During his second year of study at Graz, Tesla developed a passion for (and became very proficient at) billiards, chess and card-playing, sometimes spending more than 48 hours in a stretch at a gaming table. On one occasion at his laboratory, Tesla worked for a period of 84 hours without sleep or rest.
Kenneth Swezey, a journalist whom Tesla had befriended, confirmed that Tesla rarely slept. Swezey recalled one morning when Tesla called him at 3 a.m.: “I was sleeping in my room like one dead … Suddenly, the telephone ring awakened me … [Tesla] spoke animatedly, with pauses, [as he] … work[ed] out a problem, comparing one theory to another, commenting; and when he felt he had arrived at the solution, he suddenly closed the telephone.”