Nikola Tesla – The Master of Lightnings

Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943)
at Colorado Springs

On July 10, 1856, Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist Nikola Tesla was born. He is probably best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. Although his work fell into obscurity after his death, he experienced a renaissance in the popular culture of the late 1990s, becoming a center of many conspiracy theories including UFO theories and New Age occultism. In 1960, in honor of Tesla, the General Conference on Weights and Measures for the International System of Units dedicated the term “tesla” to the SI unit measure for magnetic field strength.

Already during his school years, Tesla’s talents were noticed. He was able to perform integral calculus in his head, wherefore the teachers often assumed he was cheating. But even though his father wanted him to become a priest, Nikola Tesla was sent to the Austrian Polytechnic in Graz where he glanced with his extraordinary grades and his expertise. Unfortunately, he began gambling in later semesters and was never able to graduate since he lost his scholarship and missed several exams.

Tesla’s work for Thomas Edison began in 1884 in New York City. While starting at simple electrical engineering tasks, Tesla soon started solving the company’s most difficult problems. Tesla and Edison soon had several disagreements considering Teslas work and his payment, wherefore he resigned after only two years, which led Tesla to found his own company, but failed. He gave it another try in the late 1880’s and was able to construct an alternating current motor, which he received the patent for. He started working for George Westinghouse and together they electrified the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 with AC, which depicted a milestone in electrical engineering. Also, Tesla performed several experiments for demonstration purpose at the fair.

Next to his research on the AC, Tesla also performed numerous experiments on X-rays and radio waves. In 1898 he demonstrated a functioning radio-controlled boat, but the viewers stayed skeptical, since radio controlled objects were not in focus of the military until World War I. After Guglielmo Marconi sent the first transatlantic radio transmission in 1901, Tesla was cited but a large patent battle between the two inventors evolved.

In the late 1890’s, Nikola Tesla began his research on high-voltage, high-frequency experiments at Colorado Springs. He was able to produce artificial lightning and its thunder was heard 15 miles away. Tesla’s inventions and research results went on and on, even though he had to face several setbacks in his later years. It was rumored that he was to win the Nobel Prize along with Thomas Edison, but that it was not given to them because of their difficult relationship.

As Nikola Tesla’s achievements were often overlooked during his lifetime, he became a very tragic figure. He was often socially isolated due to his own wish and known as a workaholic for all his life. In later years after his passing, his brilliance was finally noticed and his name now stands for numerous technical improvements and inventions.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a lecture on Nikola Tesla’s Life and Work by historian Erika Nesvold.

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