Not everyone can speak eight languages, hold approximately 300 patents, or develop the technology for long distance communication, but there was one man that achieved all of that and more. Thanks to a man named Nikola Tesla, we have the framework for many inventions that have shaped our world of today. Without him and his many failures, we may not have developed the wireless remote control, AC (alternating current) motor, or radio. Despite his mental state and rough background, he was one of the most impactful inventors and physicists in history.
Tesla was born in Smiljan, Croatia in 1856 on a summer night during a lightning storm, leading the midwife to say, “He will be a child of the storm.” His mother countered, “No, of the light.” His dad was an Orthodox priest and his mom was unschooled, yet highly intelligent. He had a brother, Daniel, who died in a riding accident in 1863. Tesla, seven years old, was shocked from the loss and reportedly started seeing visions – signaling the manifestation of a deep-rooted mental illness. He displayed noteworthy abilities in school as well as an aptitude for poetry, so much so that his teachers assumed he was cheating. He fell ill in his teen years, but his condition improved once his father no longer required that he become a priest. He then attended engineering school.
Pursuing his engineering career, he attended the Technical University in Graz, Austria. He also studied Philosophy at the University of Prague. He came up with the idea of the brushless AC motor while on a walk in 1882. He made the first sketches of the rotating electromagnets in the sand on his path. He first saw the Gramme dynamo at Graz, formulating a way to use alternating current to his advantage.
Tesla ended up working for the Continental Edison Company and in 1883 he constructed his first induction motor on assignment in Strasbourg. He immigrated to the United States in 1884. Wishing to meet Thomas Edison, he got hired at Edison’s Manhattan Headquarters where he impressed him. Edison even offered Tesla 50,000 dollars to improve his DC dynamo designs. He accomplished this and approached Edison in search of his reward, but he was informed that it was simply a joke, Edison stating, “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor.” Tesla quit soon after. He also developed a partnership with a couple businessmen, but they took the company’s intellectual property, wanting to focus on supplying electricity, and left him with nothing. Wasting away his intellect and education, he worked for two dollars a day digging ditches.