Jul 10, 1856 to Jan 07, 1943
Croatia, Serbia and U.S.Nikola Tesla (10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943) was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and futurist who is best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.
Tesla later wrote that he became interested in demonstrations of electricity by his physics professor. Tesla noted that these demonstrations of this "mysterious phenomena" made him want "to know more of this wonderful force". Tesla was able to perform integral calculus in his head, which prompted his teachers to believe that he was cheating.
In 1873, Tesla returned to Smiljan. Shortly after he arrived, he contracted cholera, was bedridden for nine months and was near death multiple times. Tesla's father, in a moment of despair, (who had originally wanted him to enter the priesthood) promised to send him to the best engineering school if he recovered from the illness.
In 1874, Tesla evaded conscription into the Austro-Hungarian Army in Smiljan by running away southeast of Lika to Tomingaj, near Gračac. There he explored the mountains wearing hunter's garb. Tesla said that this contact with nature made him stronger, both physically and mentally. He read many books while in Tomingaj and later said that Mark Twain's works had helped him to miraculously recover from his earlier illness.
At the end of his second year, Tesla lost his scholarship and became addicted to gambling. During his third year, Tesla gambled away his allowance and his tuition money, later gambling back his initial losses and returning the balance to his family.
In December 1878, Tesla left Graz and severed all relations with his family to hide the fact that he dropped out of school. His friends thought that he had drowned in the nearby Mur River. Tesla moved to Maribor, where he worked as a draftsman for 60 florins per month. He spent his spare time playing cards with local men on the streets.
In January 1880, two of Tesla's uncles put together enough money to help him leave Gospić for Prague, where he was to study. He arrived too late to enroll at Charles-Ferdinand University; he had never studied Greek, a required subject; and he was illiterate in Czech, another required subject. Tesla did, however, attend lectures in philosophy at the university as an auditor but he did not receive grades for the courses.
In 1881, Tesla moved to Budapest, Hungary, to work under Tivadar Puskás at a telegraph company, the Budapest Telephone Exchange. Upon arrival, Tesla realized that the company, then under construction, was not functional, so he worked as a draftsman in the Central Telegraph Office instead. Within a few months, the Budapest Telephone Exchange became functional, and Tesla was allocated the chief electrician position.
In 1882, Tivadar Puskás got Tesla another job in Paris with the Continental Edison Company. Tesla began working in what was then a brand new industry, installing indoor incandescent lighting citywide in the form of an electric power utility. The company had several subdivisions and Tesla worked at the Société Electrique Edison, the division in the Ivry-sur-Seine suburb of Paris in charge of installing the lighting system. There he gained a great deal of practical experience in electrical engineering. Management took notice of his advanced knowledge in engineering and physics and soon had him designing and building improved versions of generating dynamos and motors.
In 1884, Edison manager Charles Batchelor, who had been overseeing the Paris installation, was brought back to the United States to manage the Edison Machine Works, a manufacturing division situated in New York City, and asked that Tesla be brought to the US as well.
Tesla had been working at the Machine Works for a total of six months when he quit. What event precipitated his leaving is unclear. It may have been over a bonus he did not receive, either for redesigning generators or for the arc lighting system that was shelved. Tesla had previous run-ins with the Edison company over unpaid bonuses he believed he had earned. In his autobiography, Tesla stated the manager of the Edison Machine Works offered a $50,000 bonus to design "twenty-four different types of standard machines" "but it turned out to be a practical joke". Later versions of this story have Thomas Edison himself offering and then reneging on the deal, quipping "Tesla, you don't understand our American humor". The size of the bonus in either story has been noted as odd since Machine Works manager Batchelor was stingy with pay and the company did not have that amount of cash (equivalent to $12 million today) on hand. Tesla's diary contains just one comment on what happened at the end of his employment, a note he scrawled across the two pages covering 7 December 1884, to 4 January 1885, saying "Good bye to the Edison Machine Works".
Soon after leaving the Edison company, Tesla was working on patenting an arc lighting system, possibly the same one he had developed at Edison. In March 1885, he met with patent attorney Lemuel W. Serrell, the same attorney used by Edison, to obtain help with submitting the patents. Serrell introduced Tesla to two businessmen, Robert Lane and Benjamin Vail, who agreed to finance an arc lighting manufacturing and utility company in Tesla's name, the Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing.
The investors showed little interest in Tesla's ideas for new types of alternating current motors and electrical transmission equipment. After the utility was up and running in 1886, they decided that the manufacturing side of the business was too competitive and opted to simply run an electric utility. They formed a new utility company, abandoning Tesla's company and leaving the inventor penniless. Tesla even lost control of the patents he had generated, since he had assigned them to the company in exchange for stock.
In 1887, Tesla developed an induction motor that ran on alternating current (AC), a power system format that was rapidly expanding in Europe and the United States because of its advantages in long-distance, high-voltage transmission. The motor used polyphase current, which generated a rotating magnetic field to turn the motor (a principle that Tesla claimed to have conceived in 1882).
Physicist William Arnold Anthony (who tested the motor) and Electrical World magazine editor Thomas Commerford Martin arranged for Tesla to demonstrate his AC motor on 16 May 1888 at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.
In July 1888, Brown and Peck negotiated a licensing deal with George Westinghouse for Tesla's polyphase induction motor and transformer designs for $60,000 in cash and stock and a royalty of $2.50 per AC horsepower produced by each motor. Westinghouse also hired Tesla for one year for the large fee of $2,000 per month to be a consultant at the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company's Pittsburgh labs.
Tesla's demonstration of his induction motor and Westinghouse's subsequent licensing of the patent, both in 1888, came at the time of extreme competition between electric companies. The three big firms, Westinghouse, Edison, and Thomson-Houston, were trying to grow in a capital-intensive business while financially undercutting each other. There was even a "war of currents" propaganda campaign going on with Edison Electric trying to claim their direct current system was better and safer than the Westinghouse alternating current system. Competing in this market meant Westinghouse would not have the cash or engineering resources to develop Tesla's motor and the related polyphase system right away.
In 1889, Tesla moved out of the Liberty Street shop Peck and Brown had rented and for the next dozen years worked out of a series of workshop/laboratory spaces in Manhattan. These included a lab at 175 Grand Street (1889–1892), the fourth floor of 33–35 South Fifth Avenue (1892–1895), and sixth and seventh floors of 46 & 48 East Houston Street (1895–1902).
Two years after signing the Tesla contract, Westinghouse Electric was in trouble. The near collapse of Barings Bank in London triggered the financial panic of 1890, causing investors to call in their loans to Westinghouse Electric.
In early 1891, George Westinghouse explained his financial difficulties to Tesla in stark terms, saying that, if he did not meet the demands of his lenders, he would no longer be in control of Westinghouse Electric and Tesla would have to "deal with the bankers" to try to collect future royalties. The advantages of having Westinghouse continue to champion the motor probably seemed obvious to Tesla and he agreed to release the company from the royalty payment clause in the contract.
Tesla served as a vice-president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers from 1892 to 1894, the forerunner of the modern-day IEEE (along with the Institute of Radio Engineers).
By the beginning of 1893, Westinghouse engineer Charles F. Scott and then Benjamin G. Lamme had made progress on an efficient version of Tesla's induction motor. Lamme found a way to make the polyphase system it would need compatible with older single phase AC and DC systems by developing a rotary converter.
In 1893 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the National Electric Light Association, Tesla told onlookers that he was sure a system like his could eventually conduct "intelligible signals or perhaps even power to any distance without the use of wires" by conducting it through the Earth.
Westinghouse Electric asked Tesla to participate in the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago where the company had a large space in the "Electricity Building" devoted to electrical exhibits. Westinghouse Electric won the bid to light the Exposition with alternating current and it was a key event in the history of AC power, as the company demonstrated to the American public the safety, reliability, and efficiency of an alternating current system that was polyphase and could also supply the other AC and DC exhibits at the fair.
In 1893, Edward Dean Adams, who headed up the Niagara Falls Cataract Construction Company, sought Tesla's opinion on what system would be best to transmit power generated at the falls.
Starting in 1894, Tesla began investigating what he referred to as radiant energy of "invisible" kinds after he had noticed damaged film in his laboratory in previous experiments (later identified as "Roentgen rays" or "X-Rays"). His early experiments were with Crookes tubes, a cold cathode electrical discharge tube. Tesla may have inadvertently captured an X-ray image—predating, by a few weeks, Wilhelm Röntgen's December 1895 announcement of the discovery of X-rays when he tried to photograph Mark Twain illuminated by a Geissler tube, an earlier type of gas discharge tube. The only thing captured in the image was the metal locking screw on the camera lens.
In 1895, Edward Dean Adams, impressed with what he saw when he toured Tesla's lab, agreed to help found the Nikola Tesla Company, set up to fund, develop, and market a variety of previous Tesla patents and inventions as well as new ones. Alfred Brown signed on, bringing along patents developed under Peck and Brown. The board was filled out with William Birch Rankine and Charles F. Coaney.
In the early morning hours of 13 March 1895, the South Fifth Avenue building that housed Tesla's lab caught fire. It started in the basement of the building and was so intense Tesla's 4th floor lab burned and collapsed into the second floor. The fire not only set back Tesla's ongoing projects, it destroyed a collection of early notes and research material, models, and demonstration pieces, including many that had been exhibited at the 1893 Worlds Colombian Exposition. Tesla told The New York Times "I am in too much grief to talk. What can I say?" After the fire Tesla moved to 46 & 48 East Houston Street and rebuilt his lab on the 6th and 7th floors.
By the mid-1890s, Tesla was working on the idea that he might be able to conduct electricity long distance through the Earth or the atmosphere, and began working on experiments to test this idea including setting up a large resonance transformer magnifying transmitter in his East Houston Street lab.
In March 1896, after hearing of Röntgen's discovery of X-ray and X-ray imaging (radiography), Tesla proceeded to do his own experiments in X-ray imaging, developing a high energy single terminal vacuum tube of his own design that had no target electrode and that worked from the output of the Tesla Coil (the modern term for the phenomenon produced by this device is bremsstrahlung or braking radiation). In his research, Tesla devised several experimental setups to produce X-rays. Tesla held that, with his circuits, the "instrument will ... enable one to generate Roentgen rays of much greater power than obtainable with ordinary apparatus".
In 1898, Tesla demonstrated a boat that used a coherer-based radio control—which he dubbed "telautomaton"—to the public during an electrical exhibition at Madison Square Garden. Tesla tried to sell his idea to the US military as a type of radio-controlled torpedo, but they showed little interest. Remote radio control remained a novelty until World War I and afterward, when a number of countries used it in military programs. Tesla took the opportunity to further demonstrate "Teleautomatics" in an address to a meeting of the Commercial Club in Chicago, while he was travelling to Colorado Springs, on 13 May 1899.
From the 1890s through 1906, Tesla spent a great deal of his time and fortune on a series of projects trying to develop the transmission of electrical power without wires. It was an expansion of his idea of using coils to transmit power that he had been demonstrating in wireless lighting. He saw this as not only a way to transmit large amounts of power around the world but also, as he had pointed out in his earlier lectures, a way to transmit worldwide communications.
It has been hypothesized that he may have intercepted Guglielmo Marconi's European experiments in July 1899—Marconi may have transmitted the letter S (dot/dot/dot) in a naval demonstration, the same three impulses that Tesla hinted at hearing in Colorado—or signals from another experimenter in wireless transmission.
To further study the conductive nature of low pressure air, Tesla set up an experimental station at high altitude in Colorado Springs during 1899. There he could safely operate much larger coils than in the cramped confines of his New York lab, and an associate had made an arrangement for the El Paso Power Company to supply alternating current free of charge.
To fund his experiments, he convinced John Jacob Astor IV to invest $100,000 to become a majority share holder in the Nikola Tesla Company. Astor thought he was primarily investing in the new wireless lighting system. Instead, Tesla used the money to fund his Colorado Springs experiments. Upon his arrival, he told reporters that he planned to conduct wireless telegraphy experiments, transmitting signals from Pikes Peak to Paris.
There, Tesla conducted experiments with a large coil operating in the megavolts range, producing artificial lightning (and thunder) consisting of millions of volts and discharges of up to 135 feet (41 m) in length, and at one point, inadvertently burned out the generator in El Paso, causing a power outage. The observations he made of the electronic noise of lightning strikes led him to (incorrectly) conclude that he could use the entire globe of the Earth to conduct electrical energy.
During his time at his laboratory, Tesla observed unusual signals from his receiver which he speculated to be communications from another planet. He mentioned them in a letter to a reporter in December 1899 and to the Red Cross Society in December 1900. Reporters treated it as a sensational story and jumped to the conclusion Tesla was hearing signals from Mars.
Tesla had an agreement with the editor of The Century Magazine to produce an article on his findings. The magazine sent a photographer to Colorado to photograph the work being done there. The article, titled "The Problem of Increasing Human Energy", appeared in the June 1900 edition of the magazine. He explained the superiority of the wireless system he envisioned but the article was more of a lengthy philosophical treatise than an understandable scientific description of his work, illustrated with what were to become iconic images of Tesla and his Colorado Springs experiments.
Tesla expanded on the signals he heard in a 9 February 1901 Collier's Weekly article entitled "Talking With Planets", where he said it had not been immediately apparent to him that he was hearing "intelligently controlled signals" and that the signals could have come from Mars, Venus, or other planets.
Tesla made the rounds in New York trying to find investors for what he thought would be a viable system of wireless transmission, wining and dining them at the Waldorf-Astoria's Palm Garden (the hotel where he was living at the time), The Players Club, and Delmonico's. In March 1901, he obtained $150,000 from J. Pierpont Morgan in return for a 51% share of any generated wireless patents, and began planning the Wardenclyffe Tower facility to be built in Shoreham, New York, 100 miles (161 km) east of the city on the North Shore of Long Island.
By July 1901, Tesla had expanded his plans to build a more powerful transmitter to leap ahead of Marconi's radio-based system, which Tesla thought was a copy of his own. He approached Morgan to ask for more money to build the larger system, but Morgan refused to supply any further funds.
In December 1901, Marconi successfully transmitted the letter S from England to Newfoundland, defeating Tesla in the race to be first to complete such a transmission. A month after Marconi's success, Tesla tried to get Morgan to back an even larger plan to transmit messages and power by controlling "vibrations throughout the globe".
After Wardenclyffe closed, Tesla continued to write to Morgan; after "the great man" died, Tesla wrote to Morgan's son Jack, trying to get further funding for the project. In 1906, Tesla opened offices at 165 Broadway in Manhattan, trying to raise further funds by developing and marketing his patents.
On his 50th birthday, in 1906, Tesla demonstrated a 200 horsepower (150 kilowatts) 16,000 rpm bladeless turbine. During 1910–1911, at the Waterside Power Station in New York, several of his bladeless turbine engines were tested at 100–5,000 hp.
In 1915, Tesla attempted to sue the Marconi Company for infringement of his wireless tuning patents. Marconi's initial radio patent had been awarded in the US in 1897, but his 1900 patent submission covering improvements to radio transmission had been rejected several times, before it was finally approved in 1904, on the grounds that it infringed on other existing patents including two 1897 Tesla wireless power tuning patents.
On 6 November 1915, a Reuters news agency report from London had the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla; however, on 15 November, a Reuters story from Stockholm stated the prize that year was being awarded to Sir William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg "for their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays".
In the August 1917 edition of the magazine Electrical Experimenter, Tesla postulated that electricity could be used to locate submarines via using the reflection of an "electric ray" of "tremendous frequency," with the signal being viewed on a fluorescent screen (a system that has been noted to have a superficial resemblance to modern radar). Tesla was incorrect in his assumption that high frequency radio waves would penetrate water. Émile Girardeau, who helped develop France's first radar system in the 1930s, noted in 1953 that Tesla's general speculation that a very strong high-frequency signal would be needed was correct. Girardeau said, "(Tesla) was prophesying or dreaming, since he had at his disposal no means of carrying them out, but one must add that if he was dreaming, at least he was dreaming correctly".
In 1928, Tesla received U.S. Patent 1,655,114, for a biplane capable of taking off vertically (VTOL aircraft) and then of being "gradually tilted through manipulation of the elevator devices" in flight until it was flying like a conventional plane. Tesla thought the plane would sell for less than $1,000, although the aircraft has been described as impractical, although it has early resemblances to the V-22 Osprey used by the US military. This was his last patent and at this time Tesla closed his last office at 350 Madison Ave., which he had moved into two years earlier.
On 11 July 1934, the New York Herald Tribune published an article on Tesla, in which he recalled an event that occasionally took place while experimenting with his single-electrode vacuum tubes. A minute particle would break off the cathode, pass out of the tube, and physically strike him: Tesla said he could feel a sharp stinging pain where it entered his body, and again at the place where it passed out. In comparing these particles with the bits of metal projected by his "electric gun," Tesla said, "The particles in the beam of force ... will travel much faster than such particles ... and they will travel in concentrations".
Tesla moved to the Hotel New Yorker in 1934. At this time Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company began paying him $125 per month in addition to paying his rent. Accounts of how this came about vary. Several sources claim that Westinghouse was concerned, or possibly warned, about potential bad publicity arising from the impoverished conditions in which their former star inventor was living.
n 1952, following pressure from Tesla's nephew, Sava Kosanović, Tesla's entire estate was shipped to Belgrade in 80 trunks marked N.T. In 1957, Kosanović's secretary Charlotte Muzar transported Tesla's ashes from the United States to Belgrade. The ashes are displayed in a gold-plated sphere on a marble pedestal in the Nikola Tesla Museum.