The brilliant and tortured world of Nikola Tesla

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A collection of scientific papers and articles by Tesla and others
about Tesla's work primarily in the field of electrical engineering.

 With Comment by Adam Trombly

May 29, 2012 | Author:Freelance Writer Susan Borowski

Imagine being stricken with blinding flashes of light that envelop your mind and fill your brain, but in those blinding flashes is contained a vision that solves a problem that has been racking your brain, or the idea for an invention.

Such was the inspiration for Nikola Tesla, best known for his work with alternating current electricity. He gained inspiration from those visions, which propelled him to be a prolific inventor. Like many great minds in scientific history, he had a somewhat tortured life.

Tesla was born in 1856 to Serbian parents in what is now Croatia. Tesla finished high school early, in three years instead of four. He studied electrical engineering at the Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, where he first studied alternating currents, but left in his third year and did not receive a degree.

Tesla eventually moved to the United States to work with Thomas Edison, but the two eventually became rivals, with Edison championing direct current as opposed to Tesla’s alternating current, in what became known as the “War of Currents.”

Tesla had left Edison to work for George Westinghouse, who saw the value in Tesla’s inventions. The “war” culminated in the Columbian Exposition (the Chicago World’s Fair) in 1893, when it was determined that Tesla’s alternating current via Westinghouse would power the fair, as opposed to Edison’s more pricey and bulky direct current through General Electric Company.

Tesla’s accomplishments are today still underrated. While Edison is credited with being the inventor of the light bulb, it is Tesla’s alternating current that powers much of the world. Likewise, while Guglielmo Marconi is popularly credited with inventing the radio, Tesla’s work was instrumental in its development. In fact, the Supreme Court overturned Marconi’s patent in 1943, crediting Tesla with being the first to patent radio technology.

Tesla used his eponymous Tesla coil, a high frequency transformer, as the basis for experiments in electrical lighting, x-rays, phosphorescence, electrotherapy, and the wireless transmission of electric energy. He is credited with inventing the fluorescent bulb and neon light, as well as the spark plug for internal combustion engines. He provided the basis for radar, the electron microscope, and microwave ovens. He even dabbled in robotics, far ahead of his time.

Tesla read voraciously and is reported to have had an eidetic memory, going beyond the visual recall of a photographic memory. He is said to have envisioned complete diagrams of inventions, sometimes working only from memory, not bothering to draw them. He spoke seven languages. Like many great scientific minds, he required little sleep, and is reported once to have worked 84 hours straight without stopping to eat or rest.

With brilliance often comes eccentricity. Tesla had obsessive compulsive disorder, which compelled him to do things in threes, including only inhabiting a hotel room that was divisible by the number three. He had an obsession with pigeons and an aversion to women wearing earrings, contributing to his reputation as eccentric. He suffered a nervous breakdown when he was young, and may have had dementia before he died. He never married.

After his death at the age of 86 alone in the New York hotel room he called his home, much of his work was confiscated by the U.S. government and declared “top secret,” in part because for years Tesla had worked on a “death ray” that was intended to be a “superweapon” to end all wars. Years later, much of his work was released, and it can be seen in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, which holds more than 160,000 original documents and over 1,000 plans and drawings of his work.

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1 comment


June 9, 2012 - 3:46am

A walk through the Smithsonian Institute's Museum of American History reveals a glaring misappropriation of resources which direct museum goers attention to many life size images of Thomas Edison, whose actual contribution to science and technology were minor compared to Nikola Tesla's.

One must but wonder why it is so difficult to find any mention of Tesla or of his work in that environ. His name does appear many, many times on the plaque commemorating the power plant at Niagra Falls. There Edison suffered the greatest humiliation of his life i.e. the final defeat of commercial direct current power. It is Tesla Patents and not Edison's which are sited there. They remind us quietly of the fact that the entire world is still illuminated by Tesla's alternating current. Niagra Falls is where the "battle of the currents" ended in Edison's utter defeat except of course in the National Hall of Carnival Mirrors.

The pity is that Tesla's greatest inventions are utterly ignored in this hall of badly edited memories. His Totally Fuel Free Pierce Arrow car, which was powered by what Tesla called "a cosmic energy power receiver" which in turn powered an electric drive train the heart of which was a brushless electric motor. No fuel, no combustion, no pollution and because of the vice grip of the robber barons who had siezed control of America's and the world's economy, no future.

Tesla threatened the entire fossil fuel economy with his very special Pierce Arrow. George Westinghouse, who owed Tesla millions of dollars (which he never paid) condescended to aid in the manufacture of a handful of power plants for these potentially fossil fuel slaying inventions. They vanished, as did Tesla, driven into obscurity by the greed and parasitic mentality which continues to poison our air, our water and destabilize our global climate.

Tesla refused to kow tow to the beastly industrial powers which continue to devour the earth. Now the United States of America and the entire world economy has been driven to brink of global bankruptcy because Nikola Tesla, who President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called, "the greatest inventor who ever lived", has been all but forgotten. Tesla's vision of a future of universal abundance for all has been systematically obscured by the ever growing atmospheric haze and intellectual mediocrity of those who would rather his name and his vision be ignored.

I thank the author above for at least remembering his name and a few of his many actual contributions.

Adam Trombly

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