Nikola Tesla
Serbian/American Inventor

1856 - 1943


Nikola Tesla was born precisely at midnight on July 9, 1856, in the village of Smiljan, in the province of Lika in Croatia, Yugoslavia. Tesla discovered the principle of the rotating magnetic field which is the basis of most alternating-current technology, and is regarded as the genius who ushered in the age of electrical power.

Tesla had an intuitive way of sensing scientific secrets, and using his inventive talents to prove and apply his hypotheses. After seeing the Gramme dynamo (which, operated in one direction is a generator, and when reversed, is an electric motor), Tesla visualized a rotating magnetic field, and then developed plans for an induction motor applying the concept. The induction motor would become the first step toward the successful use of alternating-current.

Tesla immigrated to America in 1884, arriving in New York City with four cents in his pocket. He found employment with Thomas Edison in New Jersey, but differences in style between the two men soon lead to their separation. In 1885, George Westinghouse, founder of the Westinghouse Electric Company, bought patent rights to Tesla's system of alternating-current. The advantages of alternating-current over Edison's system of direct-current became apparent when Westinghouse successfully used Tesla's system to light the World Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893.

Tesla established a laboratory in New York City in 1887. His experiments ranged from an exploration of electrical resonance to studies of various lighting systems. To counter fears of alternating-current, Tesla gave exhibitions in his laboratory in which he lighted lamps without wires by allowing electricity to flow through his body.

When Tesla became a United States citizen in 1891, he was at the peak of his creative powers. He developed in rapid succession the induction motor, new types of generators and transformers, a system of alternating-current power transmission, fluorescent lights, and a new type of steam turbine. He also became intrigued with wireless transmission of power.

In 1900, Tesla began construction on Long Island of a wireless broadcasting tower. The project was funded with $150,000 capital from financier J. Pierpont Morgan. The project was abandoned when Morgan withdrew his financial support. Tesla's work shifted to turbines and other projects, but his ideas remained on the drawing board due to a lack of funds. Tesla's notebooks are still examined by engineers in search of unexploited ideas.

Tesla allowed himself few close friends, one of which was the writer Mark Twain, however, when he died in New York City on January 7, 1943, hundreds of admirers attended his funeral services, mourning the loss of a great genius. At the time of his death Tesla held over 700 patents.

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Books About Nikola Tesla

  • Tesla: Man Out of Time - Author: Margaret Cheney

    Description: Nikola Tesla was flamboyant, eccentric, almost supernaturally gifted. Had he been born today he would still be ahead of his time. This fascinating biography has been acclaimed by "American Scientist" magazine as "excellent ... a significant contribution to recent history of science."

    Publisher: Laureleaf - Publish Date: December 1993
    Dimensions (in inches): 6.72 x 4.15 x .95 - ISBN: 044039077X - Price: US$6.29

  • Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla: Biography of a Genius
    Author: Marc J. Seifer

    Description: Nikola Tesla's amazingly creative intellect gave us alternating current, fluorescent lighting, wireless communication, cheap electrical power, and the rudiments of computer science and robotics. Seifer does an admirable job of explaining Tesla's technical feats and analyzing his psychological idiosyncrasies. This meticulously researched biography deserves attention from all who would understand the triumph and tragedy Nikola Tesla's life.

    Publisher: Birch Lane Press - Publish Date: November 1, 1996
    Dimensions (in inches): 9.29 x 6.31 x 1.44 - ISBN: 1559723297 - Price: US$28.80

  • Tesla: A Novel - Author: Tad Wise

    Description: A vibrant and compelling historical novel about the bizarre and tragic life of one of the great scientific minds of all time. 381 pages

    Publisher: Turner Publishing - Publish Date: May 1, 1994
    Dimensions (in inches): 9.36 x 6.45 x 1.29 - ISBN: 1878685368 - Price: US$19.76

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Article written by Robin Chew - July 1996

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