Nikola Tesla's Birthday
Nikola Tesla symbolizes a unifying force and inspiration for all nations in the name of peace and science.
Tesla was a pioneer in many fields. The Tesla coil, which he invented in 1891, is widely used today in radio and television sets and other electronic equipment.
His alternating current induction motor is considered one of the ten greatest discoveries of all time. Among his discoveries are the fluorescent light , laser beam, wireless communications, wireless transmission of electrical energy, remote control, robotics, Tesla’s turbines and vertical take off aircraft. Tesla is the father of the radio and the modern electrical transmissions systems. He registered over 700 patents worldwide. His vision included exploration of solar energy and the power of the sea. He foresaw interplanetary communications and satellites.
Nikola Tesla was born in 1856 in Smiljan, Croatia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father was a priest in the Serbian Orthodox church and his mother managed the family’s farm. In 1863 Tesla’s brother Daniel was killed in a riding accident. The shock of the loss unsettled the 7-year-old Tesla, who reported seeing visions—the first signs of his lifelong mental illnesses.
Tesla studied math and physics at the Technical University of Graz and philosophy at the University of Prague. In 1882, while on a walk, he came up with the idea for a brushless AC motor, making the first sketches of its rotating electromagnets in the sand of the path. Later that year he moved to Paris and got a job repairing direct current (DC) power plants with the Continental Edison Company. Two years later he immigrated to the United States.
Tesla arrived in New York in 1884 and was hired as an engineer at Thomas Edison’s Manhattan headquarters. He worked there for a year, impressing Edison with his diligence and ingenuity. At one point Edison told Tesla he would pay $50,000 for an improved design for his DC dynamos. After months of experimentation, Tesla presented a solution and asked for the money. Edison demurred, saying, 'Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor.' Tesla quit soon after.
After an unsuccessful attempt to start his own Tesla Electric Light Company and a stint digging ditches for $2 a day, Tesla found backers to support his research into alternating current. In 1887 and 1888 he was granted more than 30 patents for his inventions and invited to address the American Institute of Electrical Engineers on his work. His lecture caught the attention of George Westinghouse, the inventor who had launched the first AC power system near Boston and was Edison’s major competitor in the 'Battle of the Currents.'
Westinghouse hired Tesla, licensed the patents for his AC motor and gave him his own lab. In 1889 Edison arranged for a convicted New York murderer to be put to death in an AC-powered electric chair—a stunt designed to show how dangerous the Westinghouse standard could be.
Buoyed by Westinghouse’s royalties, Tesla struck out on his own again. But Westinghouse was soon forced by his backers to renegotiate their contract, with Tesla relinquishing his royalty rights.
In the 1890s Tesla invented electric oscillators, meters, improved lights and the high-voltage transformer known as the Tesla coil. He also experimented with X-rays, gave short-range demonstrations of radio communication two years before Guglielmo Marconi and piloted a radio-controlled boat around a pool in Madison Square Garden. Together, Tesla and Westinghouse lit the 1891 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and partnered with General Electric to install AC generators at Niagara Falls, creating the first modern power station.
On his 50th birthday in 1906, Tesla demonstrated his 200 horsepower (150 kilowatts) 16,000 rpm bladeless turbine.
In 1915, a New York Times article announced that Tesla and Edison were to share the Nobel Prize for physics. Oddly, neither man received the prize, the reason being unclear. It was rumored that Tesla refused the prize because he would not share with Edison, and because Marconi had already received his.
Tesla died on January 7th, 1943 in the Hotel New Yorker, where he had lived for the last ten years of his life. Later that year the U.S. Supreme Court voided four of Marconi’s key patents, belatedly acknowledging Tesla’s innovations in radio. The AC system he championed and improved remains the global standard for power transmission.
Tesla was famous at the turn of the century for inventing the alternating current system still in use today. But his later inventions, documented in some 30 U.S. patents between 1890 and 1921, have never been utilized as Tesla intended despite their obvious potential for advancing in fundamental ways the technology of modern civilization. Among these lost inventions: the disk-turbine rotary engine, the Tesla coil, electric energy magnifier, high-frequency lighting systems, the magnifying transmitter, wireless power, and the free-energy receiver.