Nikola Tesla. The ultimate mad genius scientist. Inventor of alternating current (A/C), the radio and the remote control, he died penniless working on the ultimate weapon – the ‘death beam’.
Criminally forgotten by the general public, in favour of his great rivals Thomas Edison and Guglielmo Marconi, Tesla’s inventions power the world we live in today.
He was a simply extraordinary man and, literally, a visionary genius. He had the rare ability to visualise objects (motors, say) in 3D in front of his eyes and see how they would work before they were ever built. He participated in his own experiments. Wearing cork-soled shoes he would light up on stage as countless volts surged through his body in front of astonished audiences. He harnessed lighting.
He forewent fortune from great American industrialists on more than one occassion. Not business minded and seemingly disinterested in money, he failed to secure the fortune owed to him by George Westinghouse. Later in life he received a considerable sum of money from J.P. Morgan to build a transatlantic radio transmitter, a feat he could have easily achieved and beaten Marconi to the punch. Instead Tesla used the money to build a tower from which to shoot electricty into the clouds in the hope of transmitting energy wirelessly. Morgan found out and withdrew his funding.
He originally went to America to meet his hero Thomas Edison, the one man who would understand the possibilities of alternating current. What he got was war. Edison had powered New York’s financial district, but direct current (D/C) electricity only worked over very short distances which meant power stations had to be built in the centre of town and could only power the few blocks around them. Tesla’s alternating current (A/C) on the otherhand allowed electricity to travel far greater distances allowing for power stations out of town which could power the entire surrounding area.
In his last ditch attempts to promote the ‘safer’ option of direct current, Edison resorted to a particularly grotesque form of negative campaigning – the public execution of animals using A/C to show how dangerous it was. It didn’t work, Tesla and Westinghouse built the Niagara hydroelectric power plant, and A/C went on to power the world.
This excellent PBS documentary gives you all the details of his incredible life, achievements and eccentricities. For a deeper look inside this unique mind, read his short autobiography “My Inventions” by Nikola Tesla.
Nikola Tesla – Master of Lightning