Nikola Tesla and his extraordinary life and times: The Eccentric Genius

All about Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla was a Serbian American inventor and engineer who discovered and patented the rotating magnetic field, the basis of most alternating current machinery. An eccentric genius, he also developed the three-phase system of electric power transmission. When Tesla immigrated to the US in 1884, he sold the patent rights to his system of alternating-current dynamos, transformers, and motors to George Westinghouse. His most famous invention was the Tesla coil, an induction coil, in 1891, which was widely used in radio technology.

Early life of Tesla

Nikola Tesla was from a family of Serbian origin. He was born to an Orthodox priest father and a highly intelligent mother. He displayed remarkable intelligence as a student and joined a polytechnic school, as his father wanted him to pursue engineering. Although he was an excellent student, he dropped out of polytechnic and ended up working for the Continental Edison Company. There, he focused on electrical lighting and motors.

Wishing to meet Edison himself, Tesla immigrated to the U.S. in 1884. He then founded Tesla Electric Light and Manufacturing with two other businessmen. He filed a number of electrical patents, which he assigned to the company. When his partners decided that they wanted to focus strictly on supplying electricity, they took the company’s intellectual property and founded another firm, leaving Tesla with nothing.

Nikola Tesla’s Success as an inventor

Nikola Tesla
At his laboratory at Colorado Springs.

In 1887, he met two investors who agreed to back the formation of the Tesla Electric Company. Then, he set up a laboratory in Manhattan, where he developed the alternating current induction motor, which was later sold by him to George Westinghouse for a single lump sum amount.

At the World Columbian Exposition of 1893, in Chicago, Tesla helped the fair illuminate more light bulbs than could be found in the entire city of Chicago, and wowed audiences with a variety of wonders, including an electric light that required no wires. He also helped Westinghouse win a contract to generate electrical power at Niagara Falls, thus helping to build the first large-scale AC power plant in the world.

Obstacles encountered by Tesla

An eccentric genius such as himself, Tesla encountered many obstacles, including the destruction of his Manhattan laboratory by a fire, his stunt at Madison Square Garden (demonstration of wireless electricity) was termed to be a hoax and the destruction of his notes and prototypes in the fire. He then built a laboratory in Colorado Springs where he once drew so much power that he caused a regional power outage. In 1901, he persuaded J.P. Morgan to invest in the construction of a tower on Long Island but his dream did not materialize, and Morgan soon withdrew funding.

Tesla, the genius

Nikola Tesla in his last days
Nikola Tesla in his last days

He once said that he had a photographic memory which helped him memorize whole books and speak eight languages. He also claimed that many of his best ideas came to him in a flash, because of which he didn’t initially prepare drawings and plans for many of his devices. In his last days, he spent his later years moving from place to place, leaving behind unpaid bills. Eventually, he settled in at a New York hotel, where his rent was paid by Westinghouse. On the morning of Jan. 7, 1943, he was found dead in his room by a hotel maid at age 86.

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