Nicola Tesla is one of our favorite revolutionary inventors, which is why it never ceases to shock us when we hear people ask, “who?” It’s astounding how few people are familiar with this man’s achievements and contributions both to our industry and to the world. Earning over 700 patents over the course of his lifetime (and major ones, at that), Tesla is arguably the most important contributor to commercial electricity as we know it today. We think this guy is so cool that we named one of our office dogs after him. Intrigued yet?
Born in Croatia in 1856 to a Serbian clergyman and an inventive mother (to whom Tesla dedicated his ingenious imagination), Nikola Tesla always had a mind that was inclined toward all things science. He studied engineering at various universities, the most well-known being the Austrian Polytechnic School, and worked for many years as an electrical engineer in Budapest. It was here that Tesla experienced his epiphany about electrical current. He believed that two things were true: (1) energy was cyclical and (2) energy was able to change direction, hence the word alternating in the familiar term “alternating current” (more commonly known as AC). Tesla emigrated to the U.S. to work for Thomas Edison’s company, Edison Machine Works. He hoped to have better success developing his AC system in America and gaining support for it.
But brilliance causes jealousy, and jealousy earns rivals. Thomas Edison, standing firmly behind his direct current (DC) system, fiercely opposed Tesla’s AC system. Motivated by fear that AC would commercially replace DC, Edison launched propaganda against the AC system, beginning the “War on Currents.” Edison went as far as to electrocute animals using alternating current in order to instill fear in the public of Tesla’s system (electricity was still a new phenomenon, and many had preexisting fears). Fortunately, an entrepreneur named George Westinghouse recognized Tesla’s genius and bought rights to his patented system of AC generators, transformers, and motors. Thanks to help from American investor J.P. Morgan, Tesla and Westinghouse used the polyphase AC system in 1883 to light the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, revealing the wonders and benefits of Tesla’s high-voltage AC. With increased support, the duo was then able to design the first hydroelectric power plant in Niagara Falls.
At the time of his death, Tesla’s patents included the Tesla coil, the first X-Ray photo, the modern electric motor, the remote control, the basic laser, a wireless vacuum tube, FM radio, fluorescent lights, the air-friction speedometer for cars, and wireless transmission of energy. Leaving the world penniless as most genius minds do, Nikolas Tesla completely redefined the meaning of a true pioneer. His reputation deemed him crazy, strange, and a bit socially inept, but without his inventions, who knows if another brilliant mind could have rivaled his? Who knows what our world would look like today?