July 10th, 1856 - January 7, 1943


     Nikola Tesla was one of the most interesting inventors of all time, and has been elevated by some to almost a cult hero.  Part inventor and part showman, Tesla earned himself the reputation as the archetypal “mad scientist”.  He was an inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist and futurist.

     Tesla is perhaps best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) supply system.

     Nikola Tesla was the fourth of five children, and came from a family of priests.  His grandfather was an orthodox priest, as was his father.  His father had wanted him to become a priest as well, however, Tesla came down with Cholera, and was near death several times.  His father, in a moment of despair, promised to send him to the best engineering school if he recovered from the illness.

     Just prior to his illness Tesla became interested in electricity following a demonstration by his physics professor.  He would later comment that this demonstration of this “mysterious phenomenon” had caused him to want “to know more of this wonderful force.”

     Tesla had an eidetic memory which he credited to his mother’s genes and influence.  He was able to perform integral calculus in his head, which prompted his teachers to believe that he was cheating.  Nevertheless, he finished a four year term in three years.

     In  1875 Tesla returned to school on a scholarship.  During the first year, he never missed a lecture, earned the highest grades possible, passed nine exams (nearly twice as many as required), and received a letter of commendation from the dean to his father; which stated, “Your son is a star of the first rank.” However, during Tesla’s second year he came into conflict with Professor Poeschl over the Gramme dynamo, when Tesla suggested that commutators were not necessary. 

     Tesla was a tireless worker, so much so that professors wrote to Tesla’s father, warning that unless he were removed from school, Tesla would die from overwork.

     During his third year, Tesla gambled away his allowance and his tuition money, later gambling back his initial losses and returning the balance to his family.  Tesla said that he conquered {his} passion then and there”.   When examination time came, Tesla was unprepared and asked for an extension to study, but was denied.  He never graduated from the university and did not receive grades for the last semester.

     Like Edison, Tesla worked for a telegraph company.  And in 1882 he began working for the Continental Edison company in Paris.  There he gained a great deal of practical experience in hands on electrical engineering.  Management took notice of his advanced knowledge in engineering and soon had him designing and building improved versions of generating dynamos and motors.  They also sent him to trouble-shoot engineering problems at other Edison utilities.  Tesla would leave Edison over what seems to have been a dispute in pay.

     After leaving Edison, Tesla and two investors started Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing.  It failed and Tesla was left penniless.  However, in 1886, Tesla met two other investors and they started Tesla Electric Company in 1887. 

     In 1887 Tesla developed an induction motor that ran on alternating current.  This innovative motor was a simple self-starting design that did not need a commutator, thus avoiding sparking and the high maintenance of constantly servicing and replacing mechanical brushes.  This motor brought Tesla into contact with George Westinghouse, who licensed Tesla’s designs and who brought Tesla in as a consultant at Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company.

     Tesla would invent the Tesla coil with an air gap instead of insulating material between the primary and secondary windings and an iron core that could be moved to different positions in or out of the coil. 

     In 1890, Tesla experimented with transmitting power by inductive and capacitive coupling using high AC voltages generated with his Tesla coil.  He attempted to develop a wireless lighting system based on near-field inductive and capacitive coupling.

     In 1893, Tesla proposed that he was certain that a system like his could eventually conduct “intelligible signals or perhaps even power to any distance without the use of wires” by conducting it through the Earth.

     Perhaps Tesla’s most controversial project was the Wardenclyffe plant, where Tesla hoped to demonstrate wireless transmission of electrical energy across the Atlantic.  This project ended in failure and arguments are made that it was too futuristic to attract the kind of financial supported needed for such a monumental task.

     Tesla was a true visionary who helped light the world we live in today and who pushed the boundaries of our imagination.. He had over 300 patents and spoke eight different languages. v