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Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla: The Genius Who Lit the World

This program reveals the discoveries of a forgotten genius, many of which went virtually unnoticed for nearly a century. Nikola Tesla is considered the father of our modern technological age and one of the most mysterious and controversial scientists in history. How did this obscure visionary from what is now Croatia, lay the foundation for modern communications and energy research? Nikola Tesla’s contributions to science and technology include the invention of radio, television, radio-astronomy, remote control and robotics, radar, medical x-ray and the wireless transmission of electricity. Many of Nikola Tesla’s inventions were and in some cases still are considered too revolutionary by government agencies and the power brokers of the time and are discussed in detail in this program. Encyclopedia Britannica lists Nikola Tesla as one of the top ten most fascinating people in history. So why is he virtually unknown to the general public? This program is a penetrating study of the life and mind of a scientific superman who, against all odds, dedicated his life to the task of designing and improving technology for the service and advancement of humanity.
Tesla, aged 37, 1893, photo by Napoleon Sarony

Nikola Tesla (10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943) was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineermechanical engineerphysicist, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electrical supply system.

Tesla started working in the telephony and electrical fields before immigrating to the United States in 1884 to work for Thomas Edison. He soon struck out on his own with financial backers, setting up laboratories/companies to develop a range of electrical devices. His patented AC induction motor and transformer were licensed by George Westinghouse, who also hired Tesla as a consultant to help develop an alternating current system. Tesla is also known for his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New York and Colorado Springs which included patented devices and theoretical work used in the invention of radio communication, for his X-ray experiments, and for his ill-fated attempt at intercontinental wireless transmission in his unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower project.

Tesla’s achievements and his abilities as a showman demonstrating his seemingly miraculous inventions made him world-famous.   Although he made a great deal of money from his patents, he spent a lot on numerous experiments over the years. In the last few decades of his life, he ended up living in diminished circumstances as a recluse in Room 3327 of New Yorker Hotel, occasionally making unusual statements to the press.  Because of his pronouncements and the nature of his work over the years, Tesla gained a reputation in popular culture as the archetypalmad scientist.” He died penniless and in debt on 7 January 1943.

Tesla’s work fell into relative obscurity after his death, but since the 1990s, his reputation has experienced a comeback in popular culture.   In 2005, he was listed amongst the top 100 nominees in the TV show “The Greatest American“, an open access popularity poll conducted by AOL and The Discovery Channel.   His work and reputed inventions are also at the center of manyconspiracy theories and have also been used to support various pseudosciences,UFO theories and New Age occultism.

In 1960, in honor of Tesla, the General Conference on Weights and Measures for the International System of Units dedicated the term tesla to the SI unit measure for magnetic field strength.

Early years (1856-1885)

Tesla’s house (parish hall) in Smiljan, where he was born, and the church, where his father served.

Tesla’s baptismal record, c. 28 June 1856.

Nikola Tesla was born on 10 July (O.S. 28 June) 1856 to Serb parents in the village of Smiljan, Austrian Empire (modern-day Croatia). His father, Milutin Tesla, was a priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church.   Tesla’s mother, Đuka Tesla (née Mandić), whose father was also a Serbian Orthodox priest, had a talent for making home craft tools and for memorizing many Serbian epic poems, even though she had never learned how to read.   Tesla’s progenitors were from Western Serbia, near Montenegro.

Nikola was the fourth of five children, an older brother, Dane, who was killed in a horse-riding accident when Nikola was five, and three sisters, Milka, Angelina and Marica.  Some accounts claim that Tesla had caused the accident by frightening the horse.

In 1861, Nikola attended the “Lower” or “Primary” School in Smiljan, Austrian Empire, where he studied German, arithmetic, and religion.

In 1862, the Tesla family moved to Gospić, Austrian Empire, where Nikola’s father worked as a pastor. Nikola completed “Lower” or “Primary” School, followed by the “Lower Real Gymnasium” or “Normal School.”

In 1870, Tesla moved to Karlovac, Croatia to attend school at Higher Real Gymnasium, where he was profoundly influenced by a math teacher, Martin Sekulić.   Tesla was able to perform integral calculus in his head, which prompted his teachers to believe that he was cheating.  He finished a four-year term in just three years, graduating in 1873.

In 1873, after he graduated from Higher Real Gymnasium, Tesla returned to his hometown, Smiljan, Croatia. Shortly after he arrived, Tesla contracted cholera; he was bedridden for nine months and was near death multiple times. Nikola’s father, in a moment of despair, promised to send him to the best engineering school if he recovered from the illness (his father had originally wanted him to enter the priesthood).

In 1874, Tesla evaded being drafted into the army in Smiljan by running away to Tomingaj, near Gračac. In Tominga, he explored the mountains, dressed in hunter’s garb. Tesla claimed that this contact with nature made him stronger, both physically and mentally.   He read many books while in Tomingaj, and later claimed that Mark Twain’s works had helped him to miraculously recover from his earlier illness.

In 1875, Tesla enrolled at Austrian Polytechnic in GrazAustria on a Military Border scholarship. During his first year Tesla never missed a lecture, earned the highest grades possible, passed nine exams (nearly twice as many required), started a Serbian culture club, and even received a letter of commendation from the dean of the technical faculty to his father, which stated, “Your son is a star of first rank.”  Tesla claimed that he worked from 3 A.M. to 11 P.M., no Sundays or holidays excepted.   He was “mortified when [his] father made light of [those] hard won honors.” After his father’s death in 1879, Tesla found a package of letters from his professors to his father, warning that unless he were removed from the school, Tesla would be killed through overwork.  During his second year, Tesla came into conflict with Professor Poeschl over the Gramme dynamo when Tesla suggested that commutators weren’t necessary. At the end of his second year, Tesla lost his scholarship and became addicted to gambling.   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 claimed that he “conquered [his] passion then and there”, but he was known to play billiards in the U.S.. When exam 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.

In December 1878, Tesla left Graz and severed all relations with his family. He didn’t want his parents to know that he had dropped out of school.   His friends thought that he had drowned in the Mur River.   Tesla went to Maribor (now in Slovenia), where he worked as a draftsman for 60 florins a month. He spent his spare time playing cards with local men on the streets.  In March 1879, Milutin Tesla went to Maribor to beg his son to return home, but Nikola refused.   Nikola suffered a nervous breakdown at around the same time.

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