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Nikola TeslaNIKOLA TESLA (1856-1943)

Who Was Nikola Tesla?

    In late nineteenth century America, when rival inventors sought to reshape the world, Serbian immigrant Nikola Tesla was king. Six foot six inches tall and lean, he had a photographic memory. He lived a life as ascetic as a monk, eschewing women, coffee and tea, working himself to the point of repeated nervous breakdowns.

    Going head to head, Tesla vanquished Edison and established the format for the generation and transmission of electricity that is still in use today. He fought Marconi over the authorship of the radio, finally winning in the Supreme Court.

    He created a variety of seminal inventions. In a 1947 tribute article in the journal Science, he was credited with:

    Alternating current generators and motors.
    The radio and remote control.
    Neon and fluorescent lighting.
    Radar.
    Fax machines.
    Broadcasting.

    While every mature invention is the work of the combination of many, Tesla was remarkable in his ability to envision the final product. Others started inventions, Tesla finished them and beyond that, he could imagine their place in a world a century in the future—he bested Thomas Edison and Jules Verne. When radio was in its infancy, he described connecting the world, not just with sound, but with images, exchanging information. He imagined the world wide web.

    Tesla was also notorious for pursuing quixotic inventions including those involving the transmission of lightning and the creation of earthquakes. He became obsessed with ending war forever. He proposed a device for recording human thought.

    As he grew older he became more and more eccentric, his business failures and his collection of phobias drove him into seclusion. Ultimately, he imagined himself a machine, an automaton run by the will of the universe.

    He died in debt, nearly forgotten. His papers were seized by the government out of fear of what secrets they might hold.

    Decades after his death, his reputation underwent a resurgence. His uncompromising genius, his brilliant visions of the future, and even his madness are now celebrated.

Tesla, the thinking man
Nikola Tesla, The Thinking Man

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Reference: Accomplishments of Nikola Tesla. Kenneth M. Swezey. Science, May 16, 1948, pp. 1147-59


End note:  The name Tesla is Serbian for "adze," a chopping and digging instrument. Tesla was the sharpest tool in the shed.

More to the story

Who was Nikola Tesla, really?
Tesla versus Einstein
Tesla versus Adrian Monk
Health Tips from Nikola Tesla
Was Tesla anti-Semitic?

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copyright 2013, Martin Hill Ortiz