Serbian-American Scientist and Inventor, Nikola Tesla, one of the greatest inventors of all time, was born on July 10, 1856, in the village of Smiljan, in the province of Lika within Vojna Krajina region in Austria, the area that later became the part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats & Slovenes, Yugoslavia and nowadays Croatia. His father was a Serbian Orthodox priest, a gifted writer and poet. In his library young Tesla spent countless hours. Nikola’s mother, in his own words was an inventor of the first order. Tesla himself inherited a mix of his parents characteristics. He was a poetic dreamer, highly intelligent, altruistic, and strongly self-disciplined with desire for invention.
Tesla studied physics and mathematics at the Polytechnic Institute in Graz, Austria in 1875, and at the University of Prague, in the Czech Republic.
Moving to America
After studies at universities in Graz and Prague and spending several years working in Hungary and France, Tesla migrated to America in 1884. He arrived in New York with few material possessions and little money but his creative mind and capacity to invent would lead him to make his mark in his new country and indeed in history. Initially, Tesla worked very closely with Thomas Edison. However, the two inventors were far apart in scientific approach and methods and it was soon clear that they would take divergent paths.
In the War of Currents George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison became adversaries due to Edison’s promotion of direct current (DC) for electric power distribution against alternating current (AC) advocated by Westinghouse who had acquired many of the patents by Nikola Tesla.
In 1882 Tesla made the discovery that changed the world by harnessing the power of Alternating Current. The patent rights were soon bought by George Westinghouse precipitating thus a power struggle between the Edison’s direct current and Tesla-Westinghouse AC system. In 1888 Tesla obtained US patents covering an entire system of polyphase AC that remains unchanged in principle today. Tesla soon established his own laboratory where he experimented with shadowgraphs similar to those later used by Wilhelm Rontgen, who discovered X-rays in 1895. Countless experiments conducted by Tesla included work on carbon button lamp, the power of electric resonance, and various types of lighting resulting in the invention of both neon and fluorescent lights.
Tesla’s system was used to light up the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. This success was a key factor in winning him the contract to install the first power machinery at Niagara Falls, that bore Tesla’s name and patent numbers. In 1898 Tesla performed the very first demonstration of wireless remote control by navigating the teleguided boat before a crowd in Madison Square Garden. Also, Tesla’s basic radio patent was granted in 1900.
During the 1890s Mark Twain struck up a friendship with inventor Nikola Tesla. Twain often visited him in his lab, where in 1894 Tesla photographed the great American writer in one of the first pictures ever lit by phosphorescent light.
In his laboratory in Colorado Springs, Tesla made what he regarded as his most important discovery – terrestrial stationary waves. This discovery proved that the Earth could be used as a conductor and would be responsive, like a tuning fork, to electrical vibrations of a certain frequency. He staged the first demonstration of a wireless power transmission by lighting up the lamps without wires from a distance and creating artificial lightening that produced amazing flashes.
Back in New York, Tesla the visionary began construction of a wireless world-broadcasting tower on Long Island. He was convinced that this would allow worldwide communication by furnishing facilities for sending pictures, messages, and stock reports. The project was abandoned because of an economic crisis, labour troubles, and investors withdrawal of support. Tesla’s focus then shifted to turbines and other projects. Once again, due to lack of funds, his many ideas remained in his notebooks that are even today often examined by engineers for unexploited clues.
Eternity and legacy
Nikola Tesla died on January 7, 1943 in a New York hotel room, alone, rather poor and almost forgotten. Nevertheless, he remains one of the main founders of modern radio communications through invention of inductively coupled resonant electric circuits and patents for Tesla coil and radio tuning device. Most of his estate including many of his notes, calculations and letters are housed in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, Serbia.