Nikola Tesla is best known for contributing to the design of the alternating current (AC). He was an inventor, electrical and mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist from the Austrian Empire, or modern day Croatia. He immigrated to the United States of America in 1884 and began working for Thomas Edison, and later became a U.S. citizen in 1891.
On July 10, 1856, Tesla was born to Serbian parents Milutin, a Serbian Orthodox Priest, and Đuka Tesla in the small village of Smiljan, Austrian Empire (Croatia). He was the fourth of five children and had an older brother and three sisters. Dane, his brother, died when Tesla was five. For a year in 1861, he attended Smiljan’s “Primary” or “Lower” School and studied arithmetic, German, and religion. The following year, Tesla moved to Gospić, Austrian Empire. He completed “Primary”or “Lower” School then went to “Lower Real Gymnasium” or “Normal School”. Eight years later, Tesla moved to Karlovac in 1870 to attend the Higher Real Gymnasium. His teachers often believed he was cheating because he could perform even the most complicated of problems in his head. In three years, he was able to complete a four year term then returned to Smiljan.
Tesla came in contact with Cholera shortly after arriving in his hometown and was bedridden for nine months. More than once, he nearly died, and was promised to be sent to the best engineering school by his father if he got better. Luckily, he was able to recover and just nearly avoided being drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army by running away from home to Tomingaj. While he was in Tomingaj, he read many books and would explore the mountains in hunter’s garb. Tesla even later stated that being in contact with nature made him stronger physically and mentally.
He received a Military Frontier scholarship and enrolled at Austrian Polytechnic located in Graz, Austria in 1875. Tesla worked very hard during his first year at the school, never missing a single lecture, earning the highest grades possible at the school, passing nine exams, and starting a Serb culture club. However, during his second year, Tesla formed a gambling addiction and lost his scholarship. He ended up gambling all his allowance and tuition money in his third year. This led to him being unprepared for exams and never graduating from the school.
After spending three years in Graz, Tesla left and hid from his family so they wouldn’t know he had dropped out of school. All of his friends had believed that he had drowned in the Mur River. For a while, Tesla worked in Maribor, which is now part of Slovenia, as a draftsman. Because he did not have a residence permit, the police made him return to Gospić tin March of 1789. Milutin Tesla, his father, died in April, not long after begging his son to return home. Upon returning to Gospić, Tesla started teaching a class at the Higher Real Gymnasium.
Two of Tesla’s uncles collected enough money in January of 1880 for him to attend school in Prague. He was too late when he arrived to enroll, and also did not know Greek or Czech, two required subjects at the Charles-Ferdinand University. Though he never received any grades for courses, Tesla attended many lectures. Tesla moved to Budapest the following year and worked at the Budapest Telephone Exchange, a telegraph company, under Ferenc Puskás. Because the company was not yet functional, Tesla worked as a draftsman for the Central Telegraph Office. He was then given the chief electrician position at the Budapest Telephone Exchange. While he was there, Tesla claimed to have perfected a telephone repeater or amplifier but it was never patented, so there is no real proof of this.
After a year in Budapest, Tesla moved to France and started working at the Continental Edison Company. He immigrated to the U.S. in June of 1884 when he moved to New York City and was hired to work at Edison Machine Works under Thomas Edison. At first, Tesla did simple work for Edison, but quickly began doing much more complicated problems and tasks. He was even offered to redesign the company’s direct current generators in 1885. Tesla responded that he could improve the inefficient motor and generators. After a few months, Tesla finished and demanded the fifty-thousand dollars Edison had once said. Edison responded that it was only a joke and then offered to give him a raise, but Tesla resigned for not getting paid specifically for the task.
When he stopped working for Edison, Tesla began a partnership with Robert Lane and Benjamin Vail in 1886. The two men promised to finance an electric lighting company for Tesla that he called the Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing. He designed electrical arc light based system, and dynamo electric machine commutators, which Tesla received a patent for. Lane and Vail were both more interested in Tesla developing an electrical utility than new systems like he wanted to. Tesla was left penniless when they eventually forced him out of the company and made him lose his patents. During the winter of 1886/87, he dug ditches and did small jobs at various electrical repair companies.
Alfred S. Brown, a superintendent for Western Union, and Charles F. Peck, an attorney in New York, met Tesla in late 1886. The two agreed to help him out financially and to handle his patents while Tesla worked on new designs. In April of 1887, the Tesla Electric Company was founded by the three of them. They had also agreed ⅓ of profit from each patent would go to Tesla, another third to Peck and Brown, and the final third to fund development. A laboratory for Tesla to work in was also set up in Manhattan. He continued his experiments and works on improving and designing new electric motors, generators, and other similar devices. That year, Tesla developed an induction motor that ran on the growing alternating current power system. His motor had polyphase current that generated a rotating magnetic field that made the motor turn. It was then patented in May of 1888. For a year, Tesla also worked for George Westinghouse, who had been wanting to design something similar, as a consultant at his labs in Pittsburgh. While in Pittsburgh, he helped create an alternating current system that would power streetcars in the city. Other Westinghouse engineers disagreed with Tesla’s ideas, and they were able to agree on a 60-cycle alternating current system. Their idea would not work for streetcars, and they decided on using a DC traction motor.
At the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 located in Chicago, Tesla demonstrated many electrical effects to announce the “Tesla Polyphase System” Westinghouse, who lit the fair, had patented. Tesla also advised Edward Dean Adams in 1893 for the best system for transmitting power for the Niagara Falls Cataract Construction Company. Westinghouse also worked to redesign Tesla’s AC system in the mid-1890s. The company was not doing well financially, and Westinghouse told Tesla that if he lost the company, Tesla would have to deal with bankers if he wanted to collect royalties. After some convincing, Tesla removed his company from the AC patent licensing agreement and Westinghouse Electric purchased the patents.
Tesla became a naturalized citizen of the United States on July 30, 1891 at thirty-five years old after living in the U.S. for seven years. Soon after, he was able to establish a laboratory on South Fifth Avenue in New York City and another on E. Houston Street. Electric lamps were lit wirelessly at both of his laboratories and demonstrated the potential wireless power transmission systems had. The Tesla coil, an electrical resonant transformer circuit, was also patented in 1891. From 1892-94, Tesla also served as the American Institute of Electrical Engineer’s vice president.
After noticing damaged film from previous experiments, Tesla began investigating with what he called a radiant energy of “invisible” kinds in 1894. Early on he experimented with Crookes tubes. In March of 1895, his 5th Avenue laboratory burnt down, resulting in a loss of many valuable items that cost over $50,000 overall. The following year, Tesla continued on his X-ray experiments after Wilhelm Röntgen announced he had discovered X-ray imaging in 1896. He developed a vacuum tube that worked from the output of the Tesla coil, entirely designed by himself. Tesla continued experimenting to produce X-rays, and found out quite a lot of information about them as he did so. He also experimented with radio waves in 1896 and demonstrated his radio-controlled boat two years later. People afterwards made claims that it was magic and something inside had been operating it. In 1900, Tesla was also granted patents for a system he had designed that transmitted electrical energy and another than was an electrical transmitter. When he claimed Guglielmo Marconi made his first-ever transatlantic radio transmission in 1901, Tesla claimed that it used seventeen of his patents. This started a long time of patent battles over Tesla’s radio patents.
After living in New York City from the time of his immigration to the U.S., Tesla moved to Colorado Springs in May of 1899. There, he knew there would be enough room to make high-voltage, high-frequency experiments. He told reporters that he was working on wireless telegraphy experiments to transmit signals to Paris. In June of 1899, his first experiments were performed at the Colorado Springs lab. Artificial lighting was produced by Tesla that caused thunder that could be heard fifteen miles from his labs. Tesla also caused a power outage after failed experiments, and later explained it in 1917. He also observed unusual signals coming from his receiver at his lab that he speculated may have been coming from a different planet. This was mentioned in a letter dated to December of 1899. On January 7, 1900, Tesla left Colorado Springs and his lab was torn down four years later. He also eventually sold all the contents of the lab to repay debts.
He began to plan to build a new lab on the North Shore of Long Island in 1900. It was called the Wardenclyffe Tower facility. J. Pierpont Morgan, who was providing Tesla with funds for the new lab, ended up causing the stock market crash in 1901 and was unable to provide Tesla with more money because of it. Then, in December of 1901, Tesla was beat by Marconi was the first to successfully transmit a signal overseas. He continued to beg Morgan for money to finish the Wardenclyffe lab. In June of 1902, Tesla began using the lab and told Morgan that it would be able to achieve wireless communication and wireless transmission of electric power. When he turned fifty, he demonstrated a 200 horsepower 16,000 rpm blade-less turbine he had developed in 1906.
Once World War I began, Tesla lost funding and patents from many European countries, and had to eventually sell Wardenclyffe. It was then demolished around 1917. Before that, rumors had begun to spread about Tesla receiving a Nobel Prize, though he never did. From 1919-1922, he worked for Allis-Chalmers in Milwaukee. Tesla was granted his last patent in 1928 for a biplane that could take off vertically. In 1934, the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company also started paying him and also paid his Hotel New Yorker rent. Three years later, he was unable to avoid a moving taxicab, and broke three ribs and had his back severely wrenched from being thrown to the ground. He never received any medical attention or asked for a doctor, he just stayed in bed for a few months until early 1938 when he began to feel well enough to move again. Tesla also claimed to be working on a teleforce weapon, and that people had tried to steal his invention. They were unable to do so because the blueprint was in his mind, and there was nothing on paper.
Nikola Tesla died at the New Yorker Hotel on January 7, 1943 at eighty-six years old. Alice Monaghan, a maid, found his body when she entered his room after a do not disturb sign had been left there for a few days. The body was examined and it was found that the cause of death was coronary thrombosis.