Published on October 24th, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie3
Nikola Tesla: The Inventor Genius Who Irrevocably Changed The World
A thin, immaculately dressed man makes his way through New York. The same city which had undergone an electric revolution where streets at night were dazzlingly lit by arc lights, and Wall Street had been recently electrified through Edison’s direct current.
‘I have done better than that.’
Yet, this wondrous new world was confined to the very rich and mainly commercial buildings. It had still to reach the homes of people. Not everyone was amazed by Edison’s invention and one individual was particularly unimpressed.
The sharp-suited, rather withdrawn man worked long hours day and night in a workshop landscape that would have terrified the uninformed. Every now and then brightly lit sparks would fly and suddenly the whole room would be aglow as giant coils surged with electricity. This was no mere mortal pottering randomly away at machines this was Nikola Tesla – the man who would turn the world on its head.
A Transformational Force Of Nature
Changing the course of human history is something very few individuals can claim. People can change the world in two main ways, for better or for worse. For every positive contribution there are negatives ones.
Fewer people manage to transform human actively in a solely positive way. Nikola Tesla was one of those select few.
A Croatian-born Serb, Nikola Tesla was from the village of Smiljan. He was born on July 10 (June 28 under the old Julian calendar) 1856 to a priest and a priest’s daughter.
A prodigious learner, from a young age Tesla showed promise. Finishing four years of school in three was an early indication of such potential. He would go on to Austrian Polytechnic, Graz, and study electrical engineering.
During this period hints of a troubled mind emerged. Tesla cut himself completely off from his family after dropping out from Graz’s university. This marked Tesla’s first nervous breakdown but he was later persuaded by his father to enroll with Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague.
He would have to deal also with severe obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). He would find himself being forced to do things in threes, counting steps, avoiding handshakes, and having phobias of women wearing ear-rings as well as human hair.
Memories Beget Us
Many people maintain that one of the keys to Tesla’s genius was his memory. It is believed that Tesla possessed eidetic memory, which is sometimes mistakenly called photographic memory. This allowed the inventor to recall both sounds, images and objects with great precision and clarity. Tesla would use this ability to memorise entire texts and visualise objects and ideas that he was working on.
Instead of putting pen to paper Tesla would ‘see’ the object in front of him in both detail and three-dimensions. These abilities were not without cost however as blinding flashes and unwanted visions would strain at the inventor’s sometimes fragile mental state.
The Land Of Opportunity
After moving to the United States in 1884 Tesla worked for Edison in New York city where he quickly began to improve on the companies electrical problems. Edison himself promised $50,000 to Tesla if he could make the companies inefficient direct current motors more efficient. However, Edison later stated that he was joking. Tesla subsequently quit after he was refused a pay rise.
In order to survive, Tesla performed manual labour tasks digging ditches while he started to plan ahead. 1886 saw Tesla set up the Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing and despite some initial setbacks he began a partnership with Westinghouse.
The following year Tesla would discover X-rays and take the first X-ray photograph of his hand. This was several years before Wilhelm Rontgen who is credited with their discovery.
In 1891 Tesla demonstrated wireless communications for the first time. However, once again it was Marconi’s that was credited with the invention of the radio.
Once more contrary to being several years before Marconi’s invention it was the Italian, not Tesla, that was unjustly credited with the invention of the radio.
The War of The Currents
Tesla’s invention of both alternating current and the AC motor meant he was on a direct collision course with Edison’s outdated and inefficient DC system. Yet Edison refused to concede defeat and began a vicious propaganda campaign in which he sought to portray AC power as being highly dangerous. He emphasised the thousands of volts by demonstrating live electrocutions to the public in which stray dogs and even elephants were killed to somehow prove that DC was superior.
In a stroke of genius Tesla swept aside all doubts by passing thousands of volts through his body in a magnificent live display of audacity and bright sparks. At the 1893 Chicago World Fair Tesla would use his AC system to light the exhibitions. Three years later in partnership with Westinghouse he would build the first hydroelectric AC system at Niagara Falls.
Tesla brought electricity to the masses. His complete alternating current (AC) made it possible to produce electricity cheaply and allowed for its transportation over huge distances. Alternating current could travel these distances without needing to be constantly amplified.
The Polyglot Polymath
Nikola Tesla was multi-talented. Unlike his contemporary, Thomas Edison, Tesla was both a theorist and an empiricist. Yet his abilities were not just confined to science and mathematics. The Serbian was also both a convergent and divergent thinker, a polyglot as well as a poet and writer.
Tesla had a gift for languages and along with his native Serbian he could speak English, French, German, Italian, Czech, Hungarian and Latin.
Naive Business Acumen
Tesla’s generous personality caused him to make a disastrous business decision with Westinghouse that would return to cause him difficulties. After agreeing to waive his patent rights when Westinghouse’s company got into financial difficulty. These rights would have guaranteed Tesla becoming the world’s first billionaire such was their value.
The waiver would also result in Tesla being unable to complete Wardenclyffe tower which was co-financed by J.P. Morgan. Wardenclyffe tower was designed to transmit the first transatlantic wireless communication but it overran its budget and remained unfinished. Tesla also had a second motive for building the tower which was the wireless transmission of free electricity. Having no funds meant Tesla would never have the opportunity to see if he could have made Wardenclyffe a success or not.
Death And Demise
On January 7, 1943 Tesla died alone from the effects of a heart thrombus in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan. He was 86 years old. All his work was seized by the Alien Property Custodian Office and subsequently by Herbert Hoover and the FBI.
After many years of struggle, his work and possessions were returned to his family. However, many pieces are believed to have been kept by the United States government.
The Legacy And The Man
The modern poly-phase induction motor, wireless communications (radio), RADAR, X-rays, the remote control, the spark plug for internal combustion engines and neon lighting as well as LASER, alternating current, Tesla Coils and more hypothetical technology such as Star Wars weaponry, particle beam guns and ion-propulsion are just some of the many things that Tesla invented.
Nevertheless, a lot of myths and fanciful notions surround the inventor. He was a complicated man. A feminist before his time he maintained that women would shortly take over from men as the dominant sex on Earth. His OCD obsessions meant that he fell in love with a white pigeon and was devastated when the bird died.
This was a man with many strings to his bow. The length and breadth of his inventions are simply staggering. Tesla invented the radio, the remote control and defeated one of the world’s first propaganda campaigns based on fear and manipulation.
However, his myriad of achievements ultimately pales into comparison with what he did for community. The liberation of a huge portion of the population, and a huge swathe of women from domestic drudgery, would not have been possible without Nikola Tesla.
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