Tesla was hired, and worked for Edison for a time before the two engaged in the “war of currents” as equals. Tesla prevailed to become the man who shaped the 20th century. He claimed to have invented a “death ray” that could “send concentrated beams of particles through the free air, of such tremendous energy that they will bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 250 miles from a defending nation’s border and will cause armies of millions to drop dead in their tracks”. You’ve used one of his inventions today. However, despite celebrity and wide acclaim, a bumpy road led him to die destitute and alone.
From a young age, Tesla encountered moments of elaborate inspiration-- able to picture a the workings of something from a mere concept. He worked for a time for the American Telephone Company before he moved on to Edison Machine Works in Paris. While there he first conceptualized the induction motor–the device that brought about the Second Industrial Revolution. Not knowing that he’d changed the world with that one invention, Tesla continued working, and in 1884 moved to the United States bearing the aforementioned letter of recommendation. Thomas Edison did give Nikola Tesla a job–a job at which the young man excelled, and was soon entrusted to work on some of the company’s most vexing problems. Among the problems that Edison’s company faced was a need to redesign his DC generators. Tesla reported that Edison promised $50,000 for redesign and improvement of the generator, which Tesla did. However, when he inquired after the promised bounty, he claimed that Edison scoffed and said: “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor.” He later quit Edison Machine Works when he was refused a raise.
Despite the propaganda, DC proved less effective, and Tesla’s AC became the current used throughout the world’s electrical grids today. Nevertheless, the conflict left both participants nearly bankrupt. Tesla wasn’t one to stay down for long; he wasted no time in conducting further research, and laid the groundwork for radio, wireless remote control, wireless power transmission, the spark plug, use of the ionosphere in manipulating radio, and many other concepts. Some ideas were financial failures, but for all those that made money, he ended up reinvesting it in further experiments. Eventually, “The Great War” (World War I, as it would later be known) robbed Tesla of his European investors, and many of his works had to be torn down to either use the metal for the war effort, or because people feared his inventions could be used by the enemy.
Upon Edison’s death, most of the remarks made in his epitaph were kind, save those from Tesla, who said of his former employer: “He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene.”
The last time Tesla was seen alive, he was retiring to room in The New Yorker Hotel on the evening of 5 January 1943. Sometime thereafter he died of heart failure, and was not discovered until the maid was required to open the door and found him three days later. Almost immediately, the US Office of Alien Property moved into Tesla’s home and labs to take possession of all his notes and property–it was a highly unorthodox move since Tesla was a citizen.
10 July 2006 marks what would be the 150th birthday of the great inventor Nikola Tesla. For those who could make it, Tesla is immortalized as a statue at Niagara, New York depicting the master of lighting; a Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, Serbia; and he is featured on the Serbian 100 dinar banknote. For those who cannot reach such exotic locales, later this year a movie by Christopher Nolan (who really should be working on a follow up to “Batman Begins”) will depict David Bowie as the good Mr Tesla.
Despite the fact that Nikola was a bit of a nutter, it was his work that allowed the 20th century to unfold as it did. His contribution far exceeds what one could convey in a short article.