Nikola Tesla, one of the greatest inventors the world has ever known, was born in Lika, Croatia in 1856. Lika, which is in the Krajina region of Croatia, has great ethnic and religious diversity. Tesla, who came from a Serbian background within Croatia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was exposed, from his early childhood, to the values of the Serbian Orthodox Church, poetry, folk-dancing, story-telling, and the celebration of saint's days.
Nikola Tesla was greatly influenced by both his mother and father. They always told him never to forget who he was and where he originated from no matter how successful he becomes in life, as if his parents could already sense his greatness from early childhood. His father was the Reverend Milutin Tesla, he is the one who instilled Tesla's sense of national pride. Tesla was taught by his father, through the Church, of Serbia's great history and their people's relentless battle for freedom. According to his father, his career choices were limited, either farming, the Army, or the Church. It was his father, the Rev. Milutin Tesla, who Tesla would say later kept him humble no matter how popular or wealthy he would get. Tesla never forgot his roots, which were sown in Krajina, far from his home in New York, where he moved in 1884. Along with Tesla's father, his mother also had a great influence on him. Tesla always remembered her with great admiration. He saw her work hard from morning to night with close affection. He used to say and strongly believe that he inherited his attentive genius and amazing memory from his mother. Tesla always thought that with hard work and determination a person can achieve one's dreams. All he had to do personally was to remind himself of how hard his mother used to work, which would give him that extra incentive to achieve his deserved greatness.
Happiness was visible everywhere in Tesla's home, but he thought he was the happiest. The source of his happiness, besides his mother, in his own words, " ... was a big, the most beautiful cat in the whole world."1 This cat was responsible, Tesla used to say later, for his inventions and other experiments. One bitterly cold day, he pet his cat and saw something miraculous. He became numb when he saw that over the cat's back his hand produced a shower of sparks that formed light.
His father, who had an answer for everything, was not sure about this phenomenon, but he said that this could be nothing else but electricity- the same kind we see during storms. Another phenomenon occurred with the same cat when it was sitting in a semi-dark room with light above its back, similar to the light above saints' heads in churches. He was amazed and spent days thinking about this occurrence. " Eighty years past since then, and I still think about this phenomenon trying to explain it to myself, but with no success. I knew, since I was three years old that there was electricity, but I couldn't explain it despite my huge practical experience."2 Tesla always spoke about the mysterious fascination of electricity and magnetism, " ... with their seemingly dual character, unique among the forces of nature."3
Tesla moved on to start studying for an engineering career. He attended the Technical University at Graz, Austria and the University of Prague. During his studies, Tesla conceived a way to use the alternating current to advantage, he visualized the principle of the rotating magnetic field, and developed plans for an induction motor that would become the first step toward the successful utilization of the alternating current.4 Tesla's reputation was already rising at his early age. In 1882 Tesla went to work in Paris for the Continental Edison Company. The United States of America was inevitably Tesla's next stop.
In 1884 The United States of America became a new home for one more person who focused his attention in the fields of research and engineering. He arrived with four cents in his pocket, a few of his poems, and calculations for a flying machine. Tesla first found employment with Thomas Edison, but the inventors were far apart in backgrounds and methods, and their separation was inevitable.5 Tesla felt that he was being given neither enough credit nor rightful patents for his findings. Tesla felt that he was being cheated out of his own inventions. They also differed on the direct and alternating current. Edison favored the direct current, while Tesla favored the alternating current which eventually prevailed after a titanic power struggle. This struggle resulted in Tesla's joining the Westinghouse Electric Company, owned by George Westinghouse. Tesla was granted patents on all his inventions and Westinghouse bought the patent rights to Tesla's polyphase system of alternating-current dynamos, transformers, and motors.
The alternating electrical current, we use today, was chosen to illuminate Chicago's World's Fair of 1893, known as the Columbia Exposition- the first electrical fair in history. This achievement made Tesla the proudest, because Edison ridiculed this idea when it was presented to him by Tesla while he was working for him. The Tesla-Westinghouse alternating-current prevailed. His success was a factor in winning Nikola Tesla the contract to install the first power machinery at Niagara Falls. The project carried Tesla's name and eventually power to Buffalo by 1896. This power system revolutionized industry and brought light to every home.
In 1891, Tesla delivered his famous Lecture before The American Institute of Electrical Engineers at Columbia College saying, " The spark of an induction coil, the glow of an incandescent lamp, the manifestations of the mechanical forces of currents and magnets are no longer beyond our grasp; instead the incomprehensible, as before, their observations suggest now in our minds a simple mechanism, and although as to its precise nature all is still conjective, yet we know that the truth can no longer be hidden, and instinctively we feel that the understanding is dawning upon us. We still admire these beautiful phenomena, these strange forces, but we are helpless no longer..."6
Nikola Tesla worked on many things at the same time. Tesla was about to disclose a whole new direction of modern electronics. He went on to build, what is known as the "Tesla coil", an air coil transformer with primary and secondary coils tuned to a resonate- a transformer which converts high-voltage low current at high frequencies. The "Tesla coil" is still used as a major component in numerous electronic devices today. Working with hundreds and thousands of volts of high-frequency, he announced the therapeutic importance of the high-frequency current on the human body. This insight led to the eventual discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Roentgen.
By 1883 Tesla conceived, explained, and demonstrated the "Four tuned circuits", making possible the theories of Maxwell and Hertz on the transmission of intelligence. The "four tuned circuit" is the essential idea that exists today in all modern radios. This invention led the Supreme Court to find Tesla's patents having priority over Marconi's patents. Tesla did much of the pioneering work. He laid the foundations down for future advancements on the radio. Most people tend to attribute the birth of the radio to early technologists who made refinements, but it was Tesla who laid down the foundation. This is why people have a distorted understanding of just who was the real inventor of the radio. priority.7
The media, and textbooks raised the flag of victory for Marconi, this is why we do not hear much about Tesla and his findings concerning the radio. The Supreme Court rendered invalid Marconi's basic patent No. 763,772 dated June 28,1904. Tesla's patent for apparatus No. 649,576 dated March 20,1900, and its subdivision patent for apparatus No. 649,621 dated May 15,1900, had
There are many more experiments which Tesla worked on. It is a shamed that because of lack of funds many of Tesla's ideas were left in notebooks, which are still examined by engineers for unexploited clues. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1915, and ironically received the Edison Medal in 1917, the highest honor that The American Institute of Electrical Engineers could bestow.8 Even with all that Tesla has done for the world today and in light of all the highest honors he received, Tesla still remains in relative obscurity. For example The Smithsonian Book of Inventions is a prodigious 3/4 inch book of America's greatest inventors and their inventions.
Tesla's name does not appear anywhere in the publication. Even with all of his inventions, he is not acknowledged.9 It seems that only professionals and intellectuals recognize what Tesla has done for our society. The United States of America easily forgot one of its greatest citizens, but he is remembered as a legend in Yugoslavia.
Nikola Tesla is honored and respected by the Serbian people. They see Nikola Tesla as a person who achieved greatness not only for himself but for the whole Serbian nation. Tesla always remembered his roots and never forgot that he was first and foremost a Serb. The people of Serbia also did not forget one of their greatest and most prominent men in history. All his papers, letters, notes, diplomas, and honors are now housed in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade. The College of Engineering at Belgrade University, the University of Krajina, the National Electric Company (Pancevo), and all the Thermoelectric plants are all named after the great inventor, Nikola Tesla. Today Nikola Tesla lives on. He is, " ... an integral part of our civilization, our daily lives... his life is a triumph."10 The most important of Tesla's life lies in his achievements. In his own words he said, "... the future, for which I really worked for, is mine."11
1. Dusan Petricic, Nikola Tesla, The Story of his Childhood (Beograd: BIGZ Press, 1980), p. 10
2. Margaret Cheney, Tesla: Man Out of Time (New York: Dell Publishing, 1981), p. 35
3. Margaret Cheney, Tesla: Man Out of Time (New York: Dell Publishing, 1981), p. 37
4. "Nikola Tesla," Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1992 ed.
5. "Nikola Tesla," Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1992 ed.
6. Margaret Cheney, Tesla: Man Out of Time (New York: Dell Publishing, 1981) p. 52
7. John W. Wagner, "Nikola Tesla: Real Inventor of the Radio," The Monitoring Magazine, Jun. 1995
8. "Nikola Tesla," Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1992 ed.
9. John W. Wagner, "Nikola Tesla: Real Inventor of the Radio," The Monitoring Magazine, Jun. 1995
10. Margaret Cheney, Tesla: Man Out of Time (New York: Dell Publishing , 1981) p. 267
11. Margaret Cheney, Tesla: Man Out of Time (New York: Dell Publishing, 1981) p. 267
Cheney, Margaret. Tesla: Man Out of Time. New York: Dell Publishing, 1981.
Petricic, Dusan. Nikola Tesla, Story of his Childhood. Beograd: BIGZ, 1980.
"Nikola Tesla." Encyclopedia Brittanica. 1992 ed.
Wagner, John. "Nikola Tesla: Real Inventor of the Radio." The Monitoring Magazine, Jun. 1995.