Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist who is best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.
Born and raised in the Austrian Empire, Tesla received an advanced education in engineering and physics in the 1870s and gained practical experience in the early 1880s working in telephony and at Continental Edison in the new electric power industry.
He immigrated to the United States in 1884, where he would become a naturalized citizen.
He worked for a short time at the Edison Machine Works in New York City before he struck out on his own.
With the help of partners to finance and market his ideas, Tesla set up laboratories and companies in New York to develop a range of electrical and mechanical devices.
His alternating current (AC) induction motor and related polyphase AC patents, licensed by Westinghouse Electric in 1888, earned him a considerable amount of money and became the cornerstone of the polyphase system which that company would eventually market.
Attempting to develop inventions he could patent and market, Tesla conducted a range of experiments with mechanical oscillators/generators, electrical discharge tubes, and early X-ray imaging. He also built a wireless-controlled boat, one of the first ever exhibited.
Tesla became well known as an inventor and would demonstrate his achievements to celebrities and wealthy patrons at his lab, and was noted for his showmanship at public lectures.
Throughout the 1890s, Tesla would pursue his ideas for wireless lighting and worldwide wireless electric power distribution in his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New York and Colorado Springs.
In 1893, he made pronouncements on the possibility of wireless communication with his devices. Tesla tried to put these ideas to practical use in his unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower project, an intercontinental wireless communication and power transmitter, but ran out of funding before he could complete it.
After Wardenclyffe, Tesla went on to try and develop a series of inventions in the 1910s and 1920s with varying degrees of success. Having spent most of his money, he lived in a series of New York hotels, leaving behind unpaid bills.
The nature of his earlier work and the pronouncements he made to the press later in life earned him the reputation of an archetypal “mad scientist” in American popular culture.
Tesla died in New York City in January 1943. His work fell into relative obscurity following his death, but in 1960, the General Conference on Weights and Measures named the SI unit of magnetic flux density the tesla in his honor. There has been a resurgence in popular interest in Tesla since the 1990s.
Tesla worked every day from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. or later, with dinner from exactly 8:10 p.m., at Delmonico’s restaurant and later the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Tesla would telephone his dinner order to the headwaiter, who also could be the only one to serve him. “The meal was required to be ready at eight o’clock… He dined alone, except on the rare occasions when he would give a dinner to a group to meet his social obligations. Tesla would then resume his work, often until 3:00 a.m.”
For exercise, Tesla walked between 8 and 10 miles per day. He curled his toes one hundred times for each foot every night, saying that it stimulated his brain cells.
Tesla read many works, memorizing complete books, and supposedly possessed a photographic memory. He spoke eight languages.
Tesla related in his autobiography that he experienced detailed moments of inspiration. During his early life, Tesla was repeatedly stricken with illness. He suffered a peculiar affliction in which blinding flashes of light would appear before his eyes, often accompanied by visions. Often, the visions were linked to a word or idea he might have come across; at other times they would provide the solution to a particular problem he had encountered. Just by hearing the name of an item, he would be able to envision it in realistic detail. Tesla would visualize an invention in his mind with extreme precision, including all dimensions, before moving to the construction stage, a technique sometimes known as picture thinking. He typically did not make drawings by hand but worked from memory. Beginning in his childhood, Tesla had frequent flashbacks to events that had happened previously in his life.
Tesla claimed to never sleep more than two hours per night. However, Tesla did admit to “dozing” from time to time “to recharge his batteries.”
During his second year of study at Graz, Tesla developed a passion for (and became very proficient at) billiards, chess and card-playing, sometimes spending more than 48 hours in a stretch at a gaming table.
On one occasion at his laboratory, Tesla worked for a period of 84 hours without sleep or rest.
Kenneth Swezey, a journalist whom Tesla had befriended, confirmed that Tesla rarely slept. Swezey recalled one morning when Tesla called him at 3 a.m.: “I was sleeping in my room like one dead… Suddenly, the telephone ring awakened me… [Tesla] spoke animatedly, with pauses, [as he]… work[ed] out a problem, comparing one theory to another, commenting; and when he felt he had arrived at the solution, he suddenly closed the telephone.”
Tesla, a lifelong bachelor, never married; he said his chastity was very helpful to his scientific abilities. He once said in earlier years that he felt he could never be worthy enough for a woman, considering women superior in every way.
His opinion had started to sway in later years when he felt that women were trying to outdo men and make themselves more dominant. This “new woman” was met with much indignation from Tesla, who felt that women were losing their femininity by trying to be in power. In an interview with the Galveston Daily News on 10 August 1924 he stated, “In place of the soft voiced, gentle woman of my reverent worship, has come the woman who thinks that her chief success in life lies in making herself as much as possible like man—in dress, voice and actions, in sports and achievements of every kind… The tendency of women to push aside man, supplanting the old spirit of cooperation with him in all the affairs of life, is very disappointing to me”.
Although he told a reporter in later years that he sometimes felt that by not marrying, he had made too great a sacrifice to his work, Tesla chose to never pursue or engage in any known relationships, instead finding all the stimulation he needed in his work.
Perhaps his phobia of women’s earrings and pearls didn’t help.
Tesla was asocial and prone to seclude himself with his work. However, when he did engage in a social life, many people spoke very positively and admiringly of Tesla.
In middle age, Tesla became a close friend of Mark Twain; they spent a lot of time together in his lab and elsewhere. Twain notably described Tesla’s induction motor invention as “the most valuable patent since the telephone.”
Tesla could be harsh at times and openly expressed disgust for overweight people, such as when he fired a secretary because of her weight. He was quick to criticize clothing; on several occasions, Tesla directed a subordinate to go home and change her dress.
He was a believer in the 19th century concept of an all pervasive ether that transmitted electrical energy.
He was critical of Einstein’s theory of relativity saying that space can’t be curved.
Tesla, like many of his era, became a proponent of an imposed selective version of eugenics. Not his finest hour in my view!
Tesla was raised an Orthodox Christian. Later in life he did not consider himself to be a “believer in the orthodox sense,” said he opposed religious fanaticism, and noted “Buddhism and Christianity are the greatest religions both in number of disciples and in importance”.
He also said “To me, the universe is simply a great machine which never came into being and never will end” and “what we call ‘soul’ or ‘spirit,’ is nothing more than the sum of the functionings of the body. When this functioning ceases, the ‘soul’ or the ‘spirit’ ceases likewise”. Speaking of which…
Tesla’s Death and… Trump?
This goes back to January 7, 1943 – the day Tesla died in the Hotel New Yorker in New York City.
“Two days later the Federal Bureau of Investigation ordered the Alien Property Custodian to seize Tesla’s belongings, even though Tesla was an American citizen. Tesla’s entire estate from the Hotel New Yorker and other New York City hotels was transported to the Manhattan Storage and Warehouse Company under the Office of Alien Property (OAP) seal. John G. Trump, a professor at M.I.T. and a well-known electrical engineer serving as a technical aide to the National Defense Research Committee, was called in to analyze the Tesla items in OAP custody.”
That’s from Wikipedia, not Wikileaks, and John G. Trump is the late uncle of the current president-elect. Dr. Trump died in 1985 but he had a known influence in 2016 on what voters thought of his nephew.
“My father’s brother was a brilliant man . . . We have very good genetics.”
Donald Trump also revealed that his uncle “would tell me many years ago about the power of weapons someday, that the destructive force of these weapons would be so massive, that it’s going to be a scary world.”
Was the “brilliant” Dr. Trump telling his young nephew about what he saw in the things taken from Nikola Tesla’s hotel room – the room whose contents the FBI took possession of in order to look for Tesla’s alleged death ray?
“[Tesla’s] thoughts and efforts during at least the past 15 years were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character often concerned with the production and wireless transmission of power; but did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.”
So John G. Trump saw no value in the papers of Nikola Tesla – despite what others thought – and claimed a box containing part of the “death ray” only held a 45-year-old multidecade resistance box. Dr. Trump also didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with how Tesla’s belongings were confiscated – by an order of the Office of Alien Property even though Tesla was not an alien but an American citizen and a fellow New Yorker. Perhaps Uncle John had more influence on his nephew than just “genetics.”
Tesla had a love hate relationship with animals and birds, even before his infamous pigeon phase. He had great love for the family cat and (most) of the farm animals growing up, but those he fought with included a gander, wolf, cow and giant ravens.
As a child, after his brother’s death, Tesla began to have what today are known as out-of-body experiences, although he never ascribed anything mystical or paranormal to them. “Blurred [at first]…I would [see]…on my journeys…new places, cities and countrieslive there, meet people and make friendships…and, however unbelievable, it is a fact that they were just as dear to me as those in actual life and not a bit less intense in their manifestations.”
He also had a near fatal illness which may have included seizures, where he was then prone to intense visualisations, some have speculated that his pineal gland may have been activated. He continued to experience what he called “luminous manifestations”.
One favourite bitter rivalry was with his original boss, the inventor Edison who was fond of DC electricity, with Tesla pioneer of AC.
When Tesla started to make it rich, his Uncle Pajo occasionally shipped European bottles of wine to his finicky nephew, unhappy with the selection in the United States. Impatiently waiting for these bottles was, for Tesla, like “waiting for the messiah.”
Slightly disturbingly, Tesla moved from manipulating light in fluorescent bulbs to lasers to artificial lightning to particle beam accelerators to death rays. Didn’t know when to stop.
His lucky number was 13, and favourite date Friday the 13th.
But creating wireless technology in the 1890s was quite something. I can’t even get a signal in my office sometimes.
Speaking of another type of wireless, my current city of Chelmsford boasts that Marconi invented the radio here when you enter it, but in fact it was Tesla.
His beef with Marconi sometimes went out of control, in the end the construction of Wardenclyffe Tower got totally out of hand with the intention to crush him. Did he use that tower to flatten forty square miles of forest in Tunguska, Siberia?
The tower was to have been surrounded by Tesla’s Telegraph Town…
Often an introvert, but keen for a while to send signals to Martians, but then everyone was into that at the time. One biographer insisted Tesla was not born on Earth but aboard a spaceship coming here from Venus. I thought Men Are From Mars and Women Are From Venus?
Apparently Tesla undertook a self-imposed vow of chastity, having been influenced in part by Swami Vivekananda, who preached chastity as the path to self-transformation and enlightenment.
Tesla thought of the universe and himself as being purely a machine, and such principles were behind the telautomaton, his first attempt at a machine that can think for itself.
Despite the success of his inventions such as the AC motor, oscillators, fluorescent light, Tesla coil, AC polyphase system, harnessing hydroelectric power from the Niagara Falls and more, many frequently pirated by others, Tesla’s head was often up in the clouds with more glamorous inventions still, to the frustration of financial backers such as J.P. Morgan who just wanted him to come up with the original goods he promised. Or was Morgan scared Tesla was to provide the world with free energy?
Tesla was in love at least once, had some platonic friendships with the ladies, but sometimes things got a little weird:-
“I loved that pigeon as a man loves a women, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was purpose to my life.”
Want to try the Tesla diet? Moving from meat to fish to vegetables and finally to warm milk, bread, and something he called “factor actus.” Eliminating solid food altogether, the thinning wizard had concocted a health potion made up of a dozen vegetables, including white leeks, cabbage hearts, flower of cauliflower, white turnips, and lettuce hearts.
What of Tesla receiving signals from other planets in 1899 and continued attempts at interstellar communication with the Teslascope? Were the most important papers taken from his many trunks and censored by Uncle Trump and his friends at his death?
I had best say no more, or the Men In Black will come visiting. Or have they already and wiped my brain. Would explain a lot.
New podcast ep:-
Tesla Tantalising Titbits and… Trump?