NIKOLA TESLA: THE FORGOTTEN GENIUS

Everybody knows that Thomas Edison devised electric light, that Guglielmo Marconi thought up the radio and George Westinghouse built the world’s first hydro-electric power station. However, one man alone dreamt up these things: Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-American scientist, who also invented inter alia the fluorescent light, seismology and a worldwide data communication network that prefigured the internet. He is without a doubt this century’s greatest unsung scientific hero.



EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION

Nikola Tesla was born midnight on July 10, 1856, in Smiljan, Lika, which at that time was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, which is now known as Croatia. His father was named Milutin Tesla and he was a Serbian Orthodox Priest. Djuka Mandic was his mother and she invented household appliances. Tesla was the fourth child of five, having one older brother and three younger sisters. In 1873, Tesla studied at the Polytechnic Institute in Graz, Austria and the University of Prague. At first, he wanted to pursue physics and mathematics, but shortly after he became extremely interested in electricity. He began studying alternating current there also. Supposedly he had a photographic memory being able to memorize complete books. In December 1878, he left Graz and his family. In 1881, he started his career as an electrical engineer working for a telephone company in Budapest.



NIKOLA TESLA VS THOMAS EDISON:


His nemesis and former boss, Thomas Edison, was the iconic American inventor of the light bulb, the phonograph and the moving picture. The two feuding geniuses waged a "War of Currents" in the 1880s over whose electrical system would power the world — Tesla's alternating-current (AC) system or Edison's rival direct-current (DC) electric power.


Amongst science nerds, few debates get more heated than the ones that compare Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. So, who was the better inventor?


At the height of his career, Tesla was charismatic, urbane and witty. He spoke several languages and counted writers Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling, and naturalist John Muir as friends, according to Seifer.

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"He moved in very high circles," Seifer said.


Edison's enduring legacy isn't a specific patent or technology, but his invention factories, which divided the innovation process into small tasks that were carried out by legions of workers, DeGraaf said. For instance, Edison got the idea for a moving picture camera or kinetoscope from a talk by photographer Edward Muybridge, but then left most of the experimentation and prototyping to his assistant William Dickson and others. By having multiple patents and inventions developing in parallel, Edison, in turn, ensured that his assistants had a stable financial situation to continue running experiments and fleshing out more designs.


"He invents modern innovation as we know it," DeGraaf said.


Tesla's inventions are the backbone of modern power and communication systems, but he faded into obscurity later in the 20th century, when most of his inventions were lost to history.



HIS DOWNFALL AND DEATH:

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.”

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Westinghouse hired Tesla, licensed the patents for his AC motor and gave him his own lab. In 1890 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.

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