Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.
As I mentioned a few days ago, I’ve been working on a new project and doing some online research in regards to steampunk. One of the key components of steampunk are those nifty Tesla coils, named for their inventor Nikola Tesla. He was not famous during his lifetime and has only received some acclaim in the last decade. Since I did some research, I thought I’d share it with my friends.
July 10, 1856 – January 7, 1943
Nikola Tesla was the fourth of five children born to Serbian parents in Smiljan, in modern-day Croatia. His father was an Eastern Orthodox priest, and his mother, despite her lack of formal education, had a talent to make household appliances and an eidetic memory for Serbian epic poetry. During his school years, he studied mathematics, religion, and German, and demonstrated a gift for calculus.
After surviving a long bout with cholera, Tesla dodged being drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1874 by hiding in the mountains and reading Mark Twain’s works. In 1875, he attended the Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, Austria on a scholarship and showed himself to be an exemplary student his first year, but some professors were concerned that he was overworked. His second year, Tesla became addicted to gambling and lost his tuition money. He was able to regain his initial loses, but was unprepared when exam time came. He did not receive grades for his last semester and never graduated from university. Embarrassed, he severed all connections he had made at Austrian Polytechnic to hide that he had dropped out of school.
Tesla experienced a nervous breakdown after returning home. In 1881, he moved to Budapest to work at the Budapest Telephone Exchange, a telegraph company, as a draftsman, but was soon promoted to the chief electrical position. In 1882, he moved to France and was working for the Continental Edison Company, and in 1884 he immigrated to New York City to directly with Thomas Edison at his Edison Machine Works.
Thomas Edison, an American inventor and businessman, supposedly offered Tesla fifty thousand dollars if he could redesign Edison’s direct current generators to make them more efficient. Tesla worked for months and successfully completed his assignment. However, when he inquired about the payment, Edison said that it was a joke and that the new immigrant did not understand American humor. Telsa turned down a raise and resigned.
Tesla partnered with two businessmen, who financed an electric lighting company in his name, Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing. The investors only saw profits in the development of electrical utilities and not in new types of motors and electrical transmission equipment, and they forced Tesla out of the company. Completely broke after having lost all his patents, he worked as an electrician and ditch digger for a year. In 1887, Tesla found two new partners whose views were in line with his own, and they began the Tesla Electric Company.
Tesla spent most of his life staying in New York hotels. When he dined at Delmonico’s restaurant or the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, he would telephone his order to the headwaiter in advance of his arrival so that it would be ready at exactly 8:10 PM. He became a vegetarian in the last part of his life, eating bread and honey and drinking only milk and vegetable juices.
He was tall, remarkably thin, and fastidious in grooming and clothing. He followed a regimented schedule, which included sleeping two hours at night and taking long walks in the park each day. He would feed the pigeons in the park and rescued injured ones, which he nursed back to health. Tesla never married, claiming that chastity was helpful in focusing his scientific abilities.
In the late 1880s, George Westinghouse, who had acquired some of Tesla’s patents for alternating current (AC), began fighting with Thomas Edison and his development of direct current (DC). This battle of electric currents determined which method would be standard in the US and throughout Europe. Ultimately, alternating current was shown to be more cost-effective when transmitting power over long distances, and Westinghouse won the commercial rivalry. However, direct current power is used when distances are short, such as in computers, phones, and car systems.
As an inventor and electrical engineer, Tesla held over 300 patents and left a significant legacy. His collection of inventions includes alternating current, the electric motor, fluorescent light bulbs, the laser, hydroelectric power, radio, the remote control, and x-rays.