The Genius of Nikola Tesla
Most people have never heard of Nikola Tesla, outside of a passing reference to one of his inventions – the Tesla Coil. However, I promise you that he has probably influenced your life – and that of almost everyone else on this planet – more than anyone else in history.
At his zenith, he was as famous as any other inventor of his day, and has been known by many monikers: “The Genius Who Lit the World,” “The Wizard of the West,” “The Inventor of the 20th Century,” and much, much more. His genius is evident all around you at this very moment. Don’t believe me? Read on!
Tesla and Thomas Edison
Nikola Tesla was born an ethnic Serb in 1856 in what is now part of Croatia. He later became an American citizen and did cutting-edge work in numerous fields, including mechanical and electrical engineering. He was a polyglot – fluent in more than half a dozen languages – and also had a photographic memory.
When he arrived in the U.S. in 1884, he had a letter of introduction to Thomas Edison that had been written by another inventor and close friend of Edison. Supposedly, the letter to Edison simply said, “I know of two great men. You are one; this young man is the other.” Edison hired him.
Tesla’s genius quickly became evident, and before long he was working on some of the most difficult problems faced by Edison’s company. According to Tesla, Edison promised him a $50,000 bonus if he could solve a particularly thorny mechanical/electrical problem (which he did). When he asked about his bonus, Edison purportedly made a comment about Tesla not understanding American humor. Tesla quit. (Later, he and Edison would again clash as rivals supporting different forms of electrical power: AC vs. DC.)
You Like Listening to the Radio? Thank Nikola Tesla
When I was in grade school, they taught us about all the great inventors who shaped our current way of life: Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone; Edison invented the light bulb; Guglielmo Marconi invented wireless radio. As it would turn out, the first two were true; the third wasn’t.
Sure, Marconi was able to achieve wireless radio transmission; the history books were right about that part. Heck, he even received the 1909 Nobel Prize for his work. But what they didn’t say was this: he did it using 16 of Tesla’s patents! Although Tesla fought for his patent rights, it wasn’t until nine months after his death in 1943 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor and declared Tesla to be the true inventor of wireles radio.
So the next time you hear your favorite song coming on over the airwaves, thank Nikola Tesla.
Like Having Electricity in Your Home? Thank Tesla
The term AC/DC is familiar to most people. It refers to the two forms in which electrical power is delivered: alternating current and direct current. Late in the 19th century, Thomas Edison – considered by many to be America’s greatest inventor – was a proponent of direct current. However, DC power was costly, impractical and highly inefficient.
Tesla was a proponent of AC power. Basically, he and his partner, George Westinghouse, engaged in a “War of Currents” – AC vs. DC – that almost bankrupted both Edison’s company (General Electric) and their own (Westinghouse Electric). Tesla even gave up the royalties on his Westinghouse patents in order to help the company survive. In comparing the two currents, AC was highly efficient and more easily transmitted over long distances. In the end, thanks to Tesla’s development of the AC electric supply system (which is still used today), AC won out and is currently the dominant form in which electricity is delivered to homes and businesses today.
In other words, every time you flick on a light switch, plug in a toaster, watch a television or do practically anything that requires electricity, it’s a testament to Tesla’s genius. Furthermore, the induction motor he invented as part of the power supply chain is used in almost every home appliance you can think of, from refrigerators to televisions to washers and dryers.
As to General Electric and Westinghouse, they are still duking it out: GE owns NBC, and Westinghouse bought CBS in 1995 (but then changed its own name to The CBS Corporation).
You Enjoy the Convenience of a Car? Yep, Tesla Again
I’m going to make this one short and sweet: the ignition system in your car? I’ll give you three guesses as to who invented it.
Originally patented in 1898 as “Electrical Igniter for Gas Engines,” it has remained essentially unchanged since its introduction well over a century ago. With 800 million vehicles on the road, there is no doubt about the impact Tesla had.
Tesla’s Other Inventions
Tesla had over 800 patents at the time of his death (at which time all of his work was allegedly confiscated by the U.S. government). In addition to the items noted above, he also invented – among other things – flourescent lighting, vacuum tubes, remote control, and radar – not to mention discovering X-rays.
It’s a shame that more people today don’t know who Tesla is, as we all live in the shadow of his genius.