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Nikolai Tesla, the man out of time:

Nikolai Tesla



The most interesting parts are bolded, such as the one where one can understand that Tesla invented the idea of a wireless internet.

Encyclopedia Britannica's Tesla biography:

(b. July 9/10, 1856, Smiljan, Croatia - d. Jan. 7, 1943, New York City), Serbian-American inventor and researcher who discovered the rotating magnetic field, the basis of most alternating current machinery. He emigrated to the United States in 1884 and sold the patent rights to his system of alternating-current dynamos, transformers, and motors to George Westinghouse the following year. In 1891 he invented the Tesla coil, an induction coil widely used in radio technology.

Tesla was from a family of Serbian origin. His father was an Orthodox priest; his mother was unschooled but highly intelligent. A dreamer with a poetic touch, as he matured Tesla added to these earlier qualities those of self-discipline and a desire for precision.

Training for an engineering career, he attended the Technical University at Graz, Austria, and the University of Prague. At Graz he first saw the Gramme dynamo, which operated as a generator and, when reversed, became an electric motor, and he conceived a way to use alternating current to advantage. Later, at Budapest, he visualized the principle of the rotating magnetic field and developed plans for an induction motor that would become his first step toward the successful utilization of alternating current.

In 1882 Tesla went to work in Paris for the Continental Edison Company, and, while on assignment to Strasbourg in 1883, he constructed, in after-work hours, his first induction motor. Tesla sailed for America in 1884, arriving in New York, with four cents in his pocket, a few of his own poems, and calculations for a flying machine. He first found employment with Thomas Edison, but the two inventors were far apart in background and methods, and their separation was inevitable.

In May 1885, George Westinghouse, head of the Westinghouse Electric Company in Pittsburgh, bought the patent rights to Tesla's polyphase system of alternating-current dynamos, transformers, and motors. The transaction precipitated a titanic power struggle between Edison's direct-current systems and the Tesla-Westinghouse alternating-current approach, which eventually won out.

Tesla soon established his own laboratory, where his inventive mind could be given free rein. He experimented with shadowgraphs similar to those that later were to be used by Wilhelm Röntgen when he discovered X-rays in 1895. Tesla's countless experiments included work on a carbon button lamp, on the power of electrical resonance, and on various types of lighting.

Tesla gave exhibitions in his laboratory in which he lighted lamps without wires by allowing electricity to flow through his body, to allay fears of alternating current. He was often invited to lecture at home and abroad. The Tesla coil, which he invented in 1891, is widely used today in radio and television sets and other electronic equipment. That year also marked the date of Tesla's United States citizenship.

Westinghouse used Tesla's system to light the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. His success was a factor in winning him the contract to install the first power machinery at Niagara Falls, which bore Tesla's name and patent numbers. The project carried power to Buffalo by 1896.

In 1898 Tesla announced his invention of a teleautomatic boat guided by remote control. When skepticism was voiced, Tesla proved his claims for it before a crowd in Madison Square Garden.

In Colorado Springs, Colo., where he stayed from May 1899 until early 1900, Tesla made what he regarded as his most important discovery - terrestrial stationary waves. By this discovery he proved that the Earth could be used as a conductor and would be as responsive as a tuning fork to electrical vibrations of a certain frequency. He also lighted 200 lamps without wires from a distance of 25 miles (40 kilometers) and created man-made lightning, producing flashes measuring 135 feet (41 meters). At one time he was certain he had received signals from another planet in his Colorado laboratory, a claim that was met with derision in some scientific journals.

Returning to New York in 1900, Tesla began construction on Long Island of a wireless world broadcasting tower, with $150,000 capital from the American financier J. Pierpont Morgan. Tesla claimed he secured the loan by assigning 51 percent of his patent rights of telephony and telegraphy to Morgan. He expected to provide worldwide communication and to furnish facilities for sending pictures, messages, weather warnings, and stock reports. The project was abandoned because of a financial panic, labor troubles, and Morgan's withdrawal of support. It was Tesla's greatest defeat.

Tesla's work then shifted to turbines and other projects. Because of a lack of funds, his ideas remained in his notebooks, which are still examined by engineers for unexploited clues. In 1915 he was severely disappointed when a report that he and Edison were to share the Nobel Prize proved erroneous. Tesla was the recipient of the Edison Medal in 1917, the highest honor that the American Institute of Electrical Engineers could bestow.

Tesla allowed himself only a few close friends. Among them were the writers Robert Underwood Johnson, Mark Twain, and Francis Marion Crawford. He was quite impractical in financial matters and an eccentric, driven by compulsions and a progressive germ phobia. But he had a way of intuitively sensing hidden scientific secrets and employing his inventive talent to prove his hypotheses. Tesla was a godsend to reporters who sought sensational copy but a problem to editors who were uncertain how seriously his futuristic prophecies should be regarded. Caustic criticism greeted his speculations concerning communication with other planets, his assertions that he could split the Earth like an apple, and his claim of having invented a death ray capable of destroying 10,000 airplanes at a distance of 250 miles (400 kilometers).

After Tesla's death the custodian of alien property impounded his trunks, which held his papers, his diplomas and other honors, his letters, and his laboratory notes. These were eventually inherited by Tesla's nephew, Sava Kosanovich, and later housed in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade. Hundreds filed into New York City's Cathedral of St. John the Divine for his funeral services, and a flood of messages acknowledged the loss of a great genius. Three Nobel Prize recipients addressed their tribute to "one of the outstanding intellects of the world who paved the way for many of the technological developments of modern times." (I.W.H.)


Inez Hunt and Wanetta W. Draper, Lightning in His Hand: The Life Story of Nikola Tesla (1964), is a complete, authoritative, nontechnical biography. Nikola Tesla Museum, Nikola Tesla 1856-1943: Lectures, Patents, Articles (1956), contains authentic reprints, diagrams, lectures, and considerable detailed information. Nikola Tesla, Experiments with Alternate Currents of High Potential and High Frequency (1904), furnishes Tesla's own story of his Colorado experiments.


Reproduced from Britannica Online.
© 1996 by Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

What fellow scientists said about Tesla:

B.A. Behrend:

"Were we to seize and eliminate from our industrial world the results of Mr. Tesla's work, the wheels of industry would cease to turn, our electric cars and trains would stop, our towns would be dark, our mills would be dead and idle. Yes, so far reaching is his work that it has become the warp and woof of industry... His name marks an epoch in the advance of electrical science. From that work has sprung a revolution..."

W.W. Rice Jr.:

"From his work followed the great work of Röntgen, who discovered the Röntgen rays, and all that work which has been carried on throughout the world in following years by J.J. Thomson and others, which has really led to the conception of modern physics. His work... antedated that of Marconi and formed the basis of wireless telegraphy... and so on throughout all branches of science and engineering we find... important evidence of what Tesla has contributed..."

I.C.M. Brentano:

"There are three aspects of Tesla's work which particularly deserve our admiration: The importance of the achievements in themselves, as judged by their practical bearing; the logical clearness and purity of thought, with which the arguments are pursued and new results obtained; the vision and the inspiration, I should almost say the courage, of seeing remote things far ahead and so opening up new avenues to mankind."

E.F.W. Alexanderson:

"In almost every step of progress in electrical power engineering, as well as in radio, we can trace the spark of thought back to Nikola Tesla. There are few indeed who in their lifetime see realization of such a far-flung imagination."

Chauncey McGovern:

"Fancy yourself seated in a large, well-lighted room, with mountains of curious-looking machinery on all sides. A tall, thin young man walks up to you, and by merely snapping his fingers creates instantaneously a ball of leaping red flame, and holds it calmly in his hands. As you gaze you are surprised to see it does not burn his fingers. He lets it fall upon his clothing, on his hair, into your lap, and, finally, puts the ball of flame into a wooden box. You are amazed to see that nowhere does the flame leave the slightest trace, and you rub your eyes to make sure you are not asleep."


According to the writings of the American press, in his lifetime Tesla won about twenty lawsuits against those he had sued for infringement of his patents. In fact, it was not Tesla himself, but rather his financiers who had legal action instituted on this count, for it was they who stood to gain. It was only a few months after Tesla died that the American Supreme Patent Court passed a verdict nullifying the patents filed in the sphere of radio engineering by the Nobel Prize winner, Marconi, on the grounds that they were contained in Tesla's patents. "He was my assistant," Tesla said once in reference to Marconi. "He was thoroughly familiar with my experiments in radio engineering. He knew well that compensation of receiving waves was the basis of transmission of all signals. It was I who had laid that basis." Consequently, it is Nikola Tesla who is the father of radio engineering, and not Marconi.


To help his friend, the industrialist Westinghouse, who was the first to put to practical use Tesla's brilliant ideas, the famous scientist tore up a contract worth several million dollars saying: "You believed in me when no one else did; you were courageous enough to go ahead of others and to pay me a million dollars... The advantages which civilization will derive from my polyphasic system mean more to me than the money now involved.... You need not be concerned any more over my fees...." By this generous act, Tesla ruined his finances to the extent that he ultimately faced poverty, while he had helped Westinghouse to extricate himself from his financial troubles and to amass a huge fortune. Many years later, when living in poverty, Tesla refused to accept a single dollar of financial assistance offered him by Westinghouse's heirs.

Nobel prize:

The entire world press carried the news in 1912 that Tesla had declined to accept the Nobel Prize for physics which, according to the decision of the Swedish Academy, he was to share with Thomas Edison. Although in serious financial trouble, Tesla then declared: "Such a decoration means a great deal to a man. In a thousand years there will be many Nobel Prize winners. And I have four dozen papers which bear my name in technical literature.... For any one of them I would give all the Nobel Prizes that will be awarded during the next several thousand years...."

800 inventions:

Once applied in practice, Tesla's inventions replaced coal, eliminated the steam engine and introduced electricity everywhere from industry to private homes - all of this to the benefit and well-being of mankind. Tesla's inventions have also been applied in medicine and thanks to this current millions of people have been brought back to life. Only recently the world learned that three years before Roentgen's invention, Tesla had experimented with rays and made successful photographs of the inner parts of the human body by means of waves of a "very specific character." The American expert Beck therefore gave him due credit by declaring: "Out of the work of Nikola Tesla Roentgen's great deed emerged."

Among Tesla's numerous patents which were not applied for practical purposes in his day was his aeroplane capable of a vertical take-off and resembling in appearance the modern helicopter. It was only in the Second World War that radar, the concept of which was first described by Tesla in 1917, was developed. Apart from a project on the utilization of cosmic rays, Tesla published an article in 1921 under the title "The Inter-Planetary System" in which he examined the possibility of a link being established with the planets of the solar system by means of ultra-short waves. On Tesla's principle, in 1946 the first ultra-short waves were sent by radar to the moon and the sun, from where they brought back data on how far removed these were from the earth. Just how far Tesla was ahead of his time is shown also by his description in an article of the present-day guided missiles and rockets based on remote control and of experiments with atomic energy forty years before these were actually made. In this manner, Tesla's inventions have contributed, among other things, to the exploration of outer space.

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This page was last updated on May 4, 2001.