In the time when the majority of the world was still lit by candle power, an electrical system known as alternating current (AC) was invented and to this day is what powers every home on the Planet.
“Who do we have to thank for this invention that ushered humanity into a second industrial revolution?”
“But I thought Thomas Edison was the father of the electric age”
Nope, it was Tesla.
When the first time I read the following line in Quora, welp honestly I was quite mind-blown though. I am just like ‘everyone’–I mean I thought it was Edison who was the mastermind. Later I discovered the source’s URL and read the entire article, it was pretty shocking yet fascinated me. Since then I began to read and read his biographies from various sources, hence now I admired him. Why? because in my opinion he was the greatest geek who ever lived, yet he was also tremendously awesome.
Nikola Tesla was born in Smiljan, Croatia on July 10, 1856. His Father’s name is Milutin Tesla (father) who was a Serbian Orthodox priest, also a gifted writer and poet. His mother’s name is Djuka Mandic (mother) was a hard worker whom capable for making home craft tools, mechanical appliances and possess an impressive ability to memorize Serbian epic poems. According to his family records, he was born at the midnight between 9th and 10th of July during a fierce thunderbolt storm. The midwife wrung her hands and declared the lightning a bad omen.
This child will be a child of darkness, she said
to which his mother replied, No. He will be a child of light.
At a young age, Tesla immersed himself in his father’s library. He attends primary school (or commonly we called it junior high school) in his birthplace, Smiljan. In 1862 his family moved to Gospić, Austrian Empire where he completed his Primary School and continuing to Realschule in Karlstadt (or usually we called it senior high school). An early sign of his genius was that he could mastermind Integral Calculus in such a young age, however, some other teacher accused him cheating, however, he finished his Realschule in three years instead of four, graduated in 1873. During this period young “Niko” saw a steel engraving of Niagara Falls. In his imagination there appeared a huge water wheel being turned by the powerful cataract. He said to an uncle that he would go to America one day and capture energy in this way.
When he returned to his hometown in the following year, woefully he suffered Cholera and almost bring him to death (thank goodness he didn’t die). However, after he recovered his father had promised to sent him to the best engineering school. In these years Tesla had found his interest; Physics and Mathematics but however, he wanted to focused on electrical engineering. In 1874 he evaded being drafted into Austro-Hungarian Army where he became stronger both in physically and mentally, hence he fully recovered from his previous illness.
In 1875 he entered the Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, Austria where he started to discover about one of his famous inventions; the Alternate Current. During his first year, his scores were that jaw-dropping. Even his professor said to his father,
“Your son is a star of the first rank.”
And he was recommended to get a Scholarship. However, sometimes things just didn’t run smoothly yet there was always ups and downs. During his last years, he had a discord with his professor over the Gramme dynamo when Tesla suggested that commutations weren’t necessary. On the other hand, his amused (other) professor said, would be like building a perpetual motion machine! Not even Tesla could hope to achieve such a feat. For the next several years the challenge obsessed Tesla, who instinctively knew that the solution lay in electric currents that alternated.
Regrettably, since then he began to absent attend his classes and became pretty addicted to gambling until he lost his scholarship. Later he didn’t receive his grades in his last semester because he was dropped out in 1878. He did suffer nervous breakdown in the following year. But after his father death in 1879 he taught a large class of students in his old school, Realschule in Gospić. Later he did enroll in Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague, but again he left before he obtained the degree.
Tesla would often visualize mechanical and theoretical inventions spontaneously. He had a unique capacity to visualize images in his head. When working on projects, he would rarely write down plans or scale drawings, but rely on the images in his mind. Evidently, he began to acknowledge about his photographic memory.
He started his career in 1881 as an Electrical Engineer at a Telegraph company called Budapest Telephone Exchange, where the answer finally approaching him:
“One afternoon, which is ever present in my recollection, I was enjoying a walk with my friend in the city park and reciting poetry. At that age I knew entire books by heart, word for word. One of these was Goethe’s Faust. The sun was just setting and reminded me of a glorious passage:”
The glow retreats, done is the day of toil;
It yonder hastes, new fields of life exploring;
Ah, that no wing can lift me from the soil
Upon its track to follow, follow soaring!
“As I uttered these inspiring words the idea came like a flash of lightning and in an instant the truth was revealed. I drew with a stick on the sand the diagram shown six years later in my address before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.”
This was the invention of the induction motor, a technological advance that would soon change the world.
Through his discovery in Budapest, in 1882 he was hired by Continental Edison Company and move to Paris in order to improve their DC generator facilities. However, Tesla had started to promote his AC but unfortunately no one’s interested. Late. with a letter of recommendation, he moved to New York in 1884 to joined Edison’s company. That time, he thought that maybe because Edison’s was the greatest Electrical Engineer he would be able to “help” him to promote his Alternate Current. He was excited that he nearly objectifies his childhood dream; to harness the power of Niagara Falls.
It was into this state of affairs that the 6’4″ immigrant from Eastern Europe entered Edison’s office. Tesla handed Edison his letter of recommendation: It read:
“My Dear Edison: I know two great men and you are one of them. The other is this young man!”
And then Tesla began to introduce his Alternate Current to Edison, however, he actually didn’t care to learn more about it. But he knew who Tesla is, he agonized his genius, therefore shortly he hired Tesla to make improvements in his DC generation plants. Tesla claimed that Edison promised him $50,000 if he succeeded, perhaps thinking it an impossible undertaking. But the potential of so much money appealed mightily to the impoverished immigrant.
It was only a matter of time until their differences would lead to conflict.
Several months later, he declared that he had accomplished successfully his work. When Tesla asked about the money he had previously promised to him. Edison was astonished, he explained that the offer of $50,000 had been made in jest.
“When you become a full-fledged American you will appreciate an American joke,” Edison said.
Shocked and disgusted, Tesla immediately resigned.
Indeed, Edison is an absolute douche bag.
Words began to spread about the unusual talent was digging ditches to stay alive. Investors approached Tesla and asked him to develop an improved method for arc lighting. Even though this is not what he wanted, but briefly he accepted the offer because they’re willing to finance the Tesla Electric Light Company. But we always knew that it is a long and winding road to reached success. Hence, unfortunately, all the wealth goes to the investors and what Tesla got was a stack of worthless stock certificates.
But his luck was about to change. Mr. A.K. Brown of the Western Union Company agreed to invest in Tesla’s idea for an AC motor. In a small laboratory just a short distance from Edison’s office, Tesla quickly developed all the components for the system of AC power generation and transmission that is used universally throughout the world today.
In November and December of 1887, Tesla filed for seven U.S. patents in the field of polyphase AC motors and power transmission. These comprised a complete system of generators, transformers, transmission lines, motors, and lighting. So original were the ideas that they were issued without a successful challenge and would turn out to be the most valuable patents since the telephone.
An adventurous Pittsburgh industrialist named George Westinghouse, the inventor of railroad air brakes, heard about Tesla’s invention and thought it could be the missing link in long-distance power transmission. He came to Tesla’s lab and made an offer, purchasing the patents for $60,000, which included $5,000 in cash and 150 shares of stock in the Westinghouse Corporation. He also agreed to pay royalties of $2.50 per horsepower of electrical capacity sold. With more inventions in mind, Tesla quickly spent half of his new-found wealth on a new laboratory.
With the breakthrough provided by Tesla’s patents, a full-scale industrial war erupted. At stake, in effect, was the future of industrial development in the United States, and whether Westinghouse’s alternating current or Edison’s direct current would be the chosen technology.
It was Edison after all who launched the propaganda
“I remember Tom [Edison] telling them that direct current was like a river flowing peacefully to the sea, while alternating current was like a torrent rushing violently over a precipice. Imagine that! Why they even had a professor named Harold Brown who went around talking to audiences… and electrocuting dogs and old horses right on stage, to show how dangerous alternating current was.”
In spite of the bad press, good things were happening for Westinghouse and Tesla. The Westinghouse Corporation won the bid for illuminating The Chicago World’s Fair, the first all-electric fair in history. Up against the newly formed General Electric Company (the company that had taken over the Edison Company), Westinghouse undercut GE’s million-dollar bid by half. Much of GE’s proposed expenses were tied to the amount copper wire necessary to utilize DC power. Westinghouse’s winning bid proposed a more efficient, cost-effective AC system.
In the Great Hall of Electricity, the Tesla polyphase system of alternating current power generation and transmission was proudly displayed. For the twenty-seven million people who attended the fair, it was dramatically clear that the power of the future was AC. From that point forward more than 80 percent of all the electrical devices ordered in the United States were for alternating current.
The Niagara Falls Power Project was an act of pure technological optimism. Americans had dreamed of pressing the Falls into “an honest day’s work” since the first pioneer sawmill had been built there in 1725. But schemes for extracting power had never been adequately conceived. The construction period was traumatic for engineers, mechanics, and workers, but it weighed most heavily on investors. After a five-year nightmare of doubt and financial crises, the project approached completion. Tesla had not doubted the results for a moment. The investors, however, were not at all sure the system would work. While the machines were running smoothly in Tesla’s three-dimensional imagination, they were still unproven and expensive.
But the worries were unwarranted. When the switch was thrown, the first power reached Buffalo at midnight, November 16, 1896. The Niagara Falls Gazette reported that day,
“The turning of a switch in the big powerhouse at Niagara completed a circuit which caused the Niagara River to flow uphill.”
The first one thousand horsepower of electricity surging to Buffalo was claimed by the street railway company, but already the local power company had orders from residents for five thousand more. Within a few years, the number of generators at Niagara Falls reached the planned ten, and power lines were electrifying New York City. Broadway was ablaze with lights; the elevated, street railways, and subway system rumbled; and even the Edison systems converted to alternating current.
After the success of Niagara, Tesla resumed his favorite work—experimentation. Back at his laboratory on Grand Street in New York City, Tesla engrossed himself in the exploration of high-frequency electricity. Tesla’s initial goal was to approximate the frequency of sunlight and create lamps of revolutionary brightness and configuration. This, he hoped, would eliminate Edison’s incandescent lamp, which utilized only five percent of the available energy.
Tesla began his high-frequency investigations by building rotary AC generators that could run at higher speeds; but as he approached twenty thousand cycles per second, the machines began to fly apart, leaving him far short of his goal. The answer came with a remarkable device still known today as a Tesla coil. Patented in 1891, this invention took ordinary sixty-cycle per second household current and stepped it up to extremely high frequencies—into the hundreds of thousands of cycles per second. In addition to high frequencies, the coil could also generate extremely high voltages.
With high frequencies, Tesla developed some of the first neon and fluorescent illumination. He also took the first x-ray photographs. But these discoveries paled when compared to his discovery of November 1890, when he illuminated a vacuum tube wirelessly—having transmitted energy through the air.
This was the beginning of Tesla’s lifelong obsession—the wireless transmission of energy.
With his newly created Tesla coils, the inventor soon discovered that he could transmit and receive powerful radio signals when they were tuned to resonate at the same frequency.
Otis Pond, an engineer then working for Tesla, said,
“Looks as if Marconi got the jump on you.”
Tesla replied, “Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue. He is using seventeen of my patents.”
But Tesla’s calm confidence was shattered in 1904 when the U.S. Patent Office suddenly and surprisingly reversed its previous decisions and gave Marconi a patent for the invention of the radio.
Tesla wanted an extraordinary way to demonstrate the potential of his system for wireless transmission of energy [radio]. In 1898, at an electrical exhibition in the recently completed Madison Square Garden, he made a demonstration of the world’s first radio-controlled vessel.
Tesla’s U.S. patent number 613,809 describes the first device anywhere for wireless remote control. The working model, or “tell automaton,” responded to radio signals and was powered by an internal battery.
When a New York Times writer suggested that Tesla could make the boat submerge and carry dynamite as a weapon of war, the inventor himself exploded. Tesla quickly corrected the reporter:
“You do not see there a wireless torpedo, you see there the first of a race of robots, mechanical men which will do the laborious work of the human race.”
Tesla’s device was literally the birth of robotics, though he is seldom recognized for this accomplishment. The inventor was trained in electrical and mechanical engineering, and these skills merged beautifully in this remote-controlled boat.
By the end of the 1890s, Tesla had come to the conclusion that it might be possible to transmit electrical power without wires at high altitudes. There the air was thinner, and therefore more conductive. A friend and patent lawyer, Leonard E. Curtis, on being advised of Tesla’s work, offered to find land and provide power for the research from the El Paso Power Company of Colorado Springs. He arrived at Colorado Springs in May 1899, Tesla went to inspect the acreage.
In the midst of Colorado’s own incredible electrical displays, Tesla would sit taking measurements. He soon found the earth to be “literally alive with electrical vibrations.” Tesla came to think that when lightning struck the ground it set up powerful waves that moved from one side of the earth to the other. If the earth was indeed a great conductor, Tesla hypothesized that he could transmit unlimited amounts of power to any place on earth with virtually no loss.
On the evening of the experiment, each piece of equipment was first carefully checked. Then Tesla alerted his mechanic, Czito, to open the switch for only one second. The secondary coil began to sparkle and crack and an eerie blue corona formed in the air around it. Satisfied with the result, Tesla ordered City to close the switch until told to cease. Huge arcs of blue electricity snaked up and down the center coil. Bolts of man-made lightning more than a hundred feet in length shot out from the mast atop the station. Tesla’s experiment burned out the dynamo at the El Paso Electric Company and the entire city lost power. The power station manager was livid and insisted that Tesla pays for and repair the damage.
A third approach for wireless power transmission was to transmit electrical power to the area 80-kilometers above the earth known as the ionosphere. One night in his laboratory, Tesla noticed a repeating signal being picked-up by his transmitter. To his own amazement, he believed that he was receiving a signal from outer space. Tesla was widely ridiculed when he announced this discovery, but it is possible that he was the first man to detect radio waves from space.
When Tesla returned from Colorado Springs to New York, he wrote a sensational article for Century Magazine. In this detailed, futuristic vision he described a means of tapping the sun’s energy with an antenna. The article caught the attention of one of the world’s most powerful men, J. P. Morgan. A frequent guest in Morgan’s home, Tesla proposed a scheme that must have sounded like science fiction: a “world system” of wireless communications to relay telephone messages across the ocean; to broadcast news, music, stock market reports, etc. Morgan offered Tesla $150,000 to build a transmission tower and power plant. A more realistic sum would have been $1,000,000.
For his new construction project, Tesla acquired land on the cliffs of Long Island Sound. The site was called Wardenclyffe. By 1901 the Wardenclyffe project was under construction, the most challenging task being the erection of an enormous tower, rising 187 feet in the air and supporting on its top a fifty-five-ton sphere made of steel. Beneath the tower, a well-like shaft plunged 120 feet into the ground. Sixteen iron pipes were driven three hundred feet deeper so that currents could pass through them and seize hold of the earth.
“In this system that I have invented,” Tesla explained, “it is necessary for the machine to get a grip of the earth, otherwise it cannot shake the earth. It has to have a grip… so that the whole of this globe can quiver.”
As the tower construction slowly increased, it became evident that more funds were sorely needed. But Morgan was not quick to respond.Tesla pleaded with Morgan for more financial support, but the investor soundly refused. To make matters worse, the stock market crashed and prices for the tower’s materials doubled. High prices combined with Tesla’s inability to find enough willing investors eventually led to the demise of the project.
Humiliated and defeated, Tesla experienced a complete nervous breakdown.
“It is not a dream,” he protested. “It is a simple feat of scientific electrical engineering, only expensive… blind, faint-hearted, doubting the world.”
In 1912, Tesla tested a revolutionary new kind of turbine engine. Both Westinghouse Manufacturing and the General Electric Company had spent millions developing bladed turbine designs, which were essentially powerful windmills in a housing. Tesla’s design was something altogether different. In it, a series of closely spaced discs were keyed to a shaft. With only one moving part, Tesla’s design was of ideal simplicity, much like the AC motor he had invented years earlier. Fuels such as steam or vaporized gas were injected into the spaces between the discs, spinning the motor at a high rate of speed. In fact, the turbine operated at such high revolutions to the minute that the metal in the discs distorted from the heat. Eventually, Tesla abandoned the project.
With no great prospects to speak of, Tesla began visiting the local parks more often, rescuing injured pigeons, and often taking them back to his hotel room to nurse them. Years later, when he lived at the Hotel New Yorker, he had the hotel chef prepare a special mix of seed for his pigeons, which he hoped to sell commercially. Naturally, this prompted speculation about his mental well-being. His aversion to germs also heightened in this period, and he began to wash his hands compulsively and would eat only boiled foods.
In spite of his growing eccentricity, fruitful ideas continued to spring from his imagination. At the beginning of World War I, Tesla described a means for detecting ships at sea. His idea was to transmit high-frequency radio waves that would reflect off the hulls of vessels and appear on a fluorescent screen. The idea was too far ahead of its day, but it was one of the first descriptions of what we now call radar. Tesla was also the first to warn of an era when flying vehicles without wings could be remotely controlled to land with an explosive charge on an unsuspecting enemy.
Tesla’s business with the U. S. Patent Office was still not finished. In 1928, at the age of seventy-two, he received his last patent, number 6,555,114, “Apparatus For Aerial Transportation.” This brilliantly designed flying machine resembled both a helicopter and an airplane. According to the inventor, the device would weigh eight-hundred pounds. It would rise from a garage, a roof, or a window as desired, and would sell at $1,000 for both military and consumer uses. This novel invention was the progenitor of today’s tiltrotor or VSTOL (vertical short takeoff and landing) plane. Unfortunately, Tesla never had the money to build a prototype.
Such a sad story.
I am writing this post because I recently read the book Nikola Tesla: Imagination and the Man That Invented the 20th Century