One of the greatest geniuses in history saw how his discoveries and inventions fell into oblivion. Today we recover his biography.
You come home, turn on the switch and the light bulbs light up the hall. Such an ordinary and customary gesture would not have been possible without the genius of a disgraced inventor: Nikola Tesla, a man whose history was forgotten. However, without it our lives would not be the same.
Tesla was born in the small town of Smiljan, in present-day Croatia, in 1856. Even when he was young he surprised those who knew him. He was able to resolve integral calculus mentally. Though this ability aroused the suspicions of his teachers, it is a good example of the student’s potential.
When he was only seventeen, the young Tesla fell ill with cholera, an infectious disease that almost killed him. Tesla’s father promised that, if he recovered, he would send him to the best engineering school, just as Nikola had always wanted. After recovering and joining the army, Tesla began his studies at the University of Graz in Austria.
One of the issues that had concerned him since he was young was to invent something that would make free energy available to all. In 1882 he began working for the company of Thomas Alva Edison, his great rival, and the person who would eventually take all the merit deserved by Tesla, the inventor.
Some say – as in the amazing TEDx talk we show below – that Nikola Tesla was suffering from a rare synesthesia, which caused an alteration of his perceptions. This in part could have helped him to imagine inventions, designs and prototypes in his head, before building them in reality. Without a doubt, his work marked a milestone in the history of science and technology.
Alternating Current versus Direct Current
Perhaps Tesla’s most important contribution was alternating current. In technical terms, this is regarded as an electric current in which magnitude and direction vary cyclically. Alternating current, known in English as AC for short, is the type we use daily in our homes.
Why was the introduction of alternating current so important? Is it to blame for the eternal fight between Edison and Tesla? As José Manuel López Nicolas rightly explained in his blog, the controversy between the two could quite well be called the «war of the currents».
Because the fact is that Thomas Alva Edison was the one who first introduced direct current, through the small power plants that lit the streets of New York. The 1880s were a golden period for the American, who saw his company grow with this system. However, his fortune changed when Tesla came into his life. As we mentioned before, Nikola Tesla began working for him in 1882, and had the idea of using alternating current.
To develop and implement it, Tesla needed Edison, who had become more of a successful businessman than an inventor. But Nikola ran into one of the most savage defamation campaigns: the successful Edison did not want to lose his fortune because of a ‘newcomer’. Although Tesla gave Edison his patents, Thomas Alva Edison finally refused to pay the $ 50,000 he had committed to at first, with a burlesque and grotesque comment: «When you become a full-fledged American, you will appreciate an American joke».
Tesla left Edison, who neither liked nor appreciated Tesla or his work. In the end, the American would be much more renowned than Nikola Tesla himself, although in recent years there has been a push from various science and technology forums to recognize his work.
After his departure from Edison’s company, Nikola Tesla joined the firm of George Westinghouse, Edison’s greatest rival. However, the inventor didn’t fit in at this stage, either. His legacy, consisting of dozens of patents, was not recognized as it deserved. The long list of Tesla’s inventions, in addition to the discovery of alternating current, include other developments such as the remote control or the induction motor. But to end today’s post, we will discuss what was perhaps one of his most important legacies: Wardenclyffe Tower.
Wardenclyffe Tower, his last great stroke of genius
Tesla’s last big project was the pioneering design of a wireless telecommunications tower, which would serve transatlantic commercial telephony, radio broadcasts and demonstrate the power of wireless transmission.
The initiative was never operational and the tower was partially demolished in 1917. However, also known as the Tesla Tower, it shows us the extraordinary capabilities of this inventor of dreams who was initially supported by J.P. Morgan. The tower now represents the first step in recognizing the inventor’s great work, at least in the United States.
Although his work is already displayed at the Tesla Museum in Belgrade, the fact is that nothing similar has been done in North America. And since most of his contributions were in the U.S., many of his fans recently joined forces to convert the Wardenclyffe tower into a great tribute museum. Now Matthew Inman has managed to raise $ 850,000 to acquire the site, a few weeks ago a period began for collecting $ 10 million to complete the construction of the museum.
The money will be used to pay a well-deserved tribute to one of the greatest inventors in history, who fell into disgrace and died alone, riddled with debt in a hotel room in New York. Perhaps, years after his outstanding work, one of the greatest geniuses of all time can occupy his rightful place.