The first thing I remember learning about Nikola Tesla that stuck with me for a long time was his invention the Tesla Coil. At the time, I didn’t exactly know what it was, but I knew that it had something to do with electricity. When I later found out that many people were not even aware of that much, let alone knowing the man’s name, I decided to do some research on the scientist to satisfy my curiosity regarding who he really was and why he wasn’t as famous as Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton. What I remember discovering about Tesla even in just my initial findings was extraordinary. He was a brilliant scientist – though perhaps rather crazy as well – but how many scientists are any different?

The reason why many don’t know of him is because he was outshined by Thomas Edison, a rival of Tesla’s but in no way his superior. Tesla was brighter and had thousands more revolutionary inventions than Edison, yet Edison is remembered for plenty while Tesla is not. Tesla was born in modern day Croatia and lived from 1856-1943, yet he thought of the concept of wireless power transmission and experimented with it long before scientists today ever even considered experimenting with the idea. Tesla was so ahead of his time with all of his crazy inventions that he has simply become a fascinating man to learn about.

Even at a young age, a mere three years old, Tesla was already philosophizing about things that were far bigger than him. Simply observing static electricity around his cat was enough to pique his interest in the phenomenon for years to come. That wasn’t the only thing on the boy’s mind either, as he was a child prodigy, a genius from the start who had seemed to have inherited his gift of creativity and the ability to come up with unique inventions from his mother, Djuka. Tesla’s mind was so active that in school he was able to perform integral calculus entirely in his head, a feat that could be categorized as amazing, and was so much so that his teachers thought he was cheating when he did not show his work.

Nikola Tesla had many passions, but mainly his mind was set on mathematics and on what he could learn by delving into the various sciences. So, he set his mind on becoming an engineer, and in that way he would be able to satisfy his interests. Unfortunately for the young Tesla, his father was a priest and was opposed to the idea, wanting his son to follow in his footsteps and for him to become a priest as well. Obviously this hardly sat well with Tesla, who aspired to become a man of science not a man of faith. Coincidentally, as fate would have it, a seventeen year old Tesla managed to contract cholera and, while his fate seemed dire, he managed to get his father to promise him that if he survived, he would be allowed to attend the renowned Austrian Polytechnic School at Graz to study engineering. As good fortune would have it, Tesla made a full recovery and his father had no choice but to see his promise through.

While in attendance at the Polytechnic school, Nikola Tesla had the opportunity to study mechanical and electrical engineering. Even while he was a mere student, he was able to offer unique suggestions to his teachers about topics that were likely beyond many of the other students’ capacities to understand at their current level. It was during that time, when a physics teacher at the school demonstrated to the students a new Gramme Dynamo that used direct current in order to act as a motor and generator, that Tesla made the suggestion that it the entire device could be designed in a different way and be capable of using alternating currents rather than direct. It probably came as a shock to him when the teacher’s response to his idea was not one of someone who had very much faith in what had been suggested, unfortunately, the physics teacher did not believe that it could be done. However, that only made the young Tesla challenge himself even more with figuring out a way to make it a reality over the next few years.

But Tesla was not completely consumed by his work just yet. He was twenty four years old and working for the Central Telephone Exchange in Budapest, while the other pieces of his time were devoted toward his love, science. Then it hit him, the answer he had been looking for finally presented itself to him out of the blue one day. Nikola Tesla described the memory as follows:

 

One afternoon, which is ever present in my recollection, I was enjoying a walk with my friend in the city park and reciting poetry. At that age I knew entire books by heart, word for word. One of these was Goethe’s Faust. The sun was just setting and reminded me of a glorious passage:

The glow retreats, done is the day of toil;
It yonder hastes, new fields of life exploring;
Ah, that no wing can lift me from the soil
Upon its track to follow, follow soaring!

As I uttered these inspiring words the idea came like a flash of lightning and in an instant the truth was revealed. I drew with a stick on the sand the diagram shown six years later in my address before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

patent #555,190Image from: http://www.pbs.org/tesla/res/555190.html

Information from: http://www.pbs.org/tesla/ll/index.html

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