Nikola Tesla: The Man who Lit up the World


On the night of July 9-10 in the year 1856, exactly at midnight, when thunder was flashing in the sky over Smiljan, Nikola Tesla was born.

The progressive development of man is vitally dependent on invention. It is the most important product of his creative brain. Its ultimate purpose is the complete mastery of mind over the material world, the harnessing of the forces of nature to human needs. This is the difficult task of the inventor who is often misunderstood and unrewarded. But he finds ample compensation in the pleasing exercises of his powers and in the knowledge of being one of that exceptionally privileged class without whom the race would have long ago perished in the bitter struggle against pitiless elements.

NIKOLA TESLA brilliant mind and exceptional man

Far from his laboratory, his inventions and achievements, Tesla has to this day in his conduct and habits remained a mystery to all who would like to become better acquainted with his life. What lay behind this brilliant mind?

A man, with both weakness and numerous virtues. In his appearances in society, when he spoke, his eloquence left contemporaries speechless. They all longed to be a part of his circle and at least briefly to peek into the private life of the inventor so woven round with stories.
As cosmopolitan and philanthropist, Tesla went into everything with a great deal of ardour, sincerity and probity - features upon which today a value is rarely set. He had very few sincere and close friends. He spent the last years of his life feeding and caring for the pigeons at the window of his hotel room. His all-roundness, his impeccable elegance, his sense for a fine and carefully meditated choice of friends are the main lines of his powerful personality, while on the other hand an exaggerated modesty and an ascetic lifestyle and his eternal obsessions made him extraordinary and inscrutable.

Physically very impressive, almost two metres tall, of an exceptional physical endurance, with brilliant reflexes and very strong even in his eightieth year. His polish and prodigious education left his American friends and foes breathless. He was untouchable and superior in every respect. A man who transcended the boundaries of space and time.

The inventions of Nikola Tesla

Tesla’s inventions and his theoretical work at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century created the conditions for the electrification of the world via the system of multiphase alternating current, which enabled mass production and a new industrial revolution. With discoveries in the realm of high frequency current and the wireless transmission of electromagnetic waves, he laid the foundation for the development of radio technology, telecommunications and remote controlled machinery, which he referred to as tele-automation. Tesla’s vision and research assisted in the invention of radar, and contributed greatly to the development of lighting systems. The wireless transmission of great quantities of energy and the working principles of his turbine are still being researched today in an attempt to employ them to the benefit of humanity.

From his childhood, Tesla’s inventions were inspired by nature. All the inventions that he made were in accordance with nature and had no harmful impact on the environment. Tesla often thought about natural resources, their limitations and the way they were used. His vision of the future of mankind’s energy resources can be seen in this quotation:
The inevitable conclusion is that water-power is by far our most valuable resource. On this humanity must build its hopes for the future. With its full development and a perfect system of wireless transmission of the energy to any distance man will be able to solve all the problems of material existence. Distance, which is the chief impediment to human progress, will be completely annihilated in thought, word and action. Humanity will be united, wars will be made impossible and peace will reign supreme.

Tesla had an uncommon manner of discovering the principles of work and the construction of new devices. First, in his mind, he worked out all the details and actually saw how it worked, and after that, he would sketch everything, prove it in theory, and at the end make a device that would almost immediately start working without any problems. Just how Tesla created his inventions can be seen in this quotation:
When I get a new idea, I start at once building it up in my imagination, and make improvements and operate the device in my mind. When I have gone so far as to embody everything in my invention, every possible improvement I can think of, and when I see no fault anywhere, I put into concrete form the final product of my brain.

Tesla’s laboratories

Tesla spent a large part of his life in laboratories, constructing new devices and showing various experiments to friends and other scientists. He would often spend sleepless nights there until he arrived at a satisfactory solution for some problem or device.

The first laboratory Tesla started up was in 1885, in Rahway, New Jersey, when he founded the firm Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing Company.

It is more than likely that the daily papers will every day, overnight, by wireless transmission, be delivered to households.

In 1887, he opened a laboratory in New York at 89 Liberty Street, and in 1889 at 175 Grand Street. The best-known Tesla laboratory, in which the scientist spent almost five years (1890-1895), was the one at 33-35 South Fifth Avenue. It was in this lab that a tremendous tragedy occurred: in a fire on March 13, 1895, all of Tesla’s drawings, equipment and apparatus disappeared, and he had to start over. Tesla, though, rose phoenix-like from the ashes, and 1895 had not yet drawn to a close when he moved into a laboratory in 46-48 East Houston Street, in which he worked until 1899, when he went off to Colorado Springs. After his return from Colorado Springs, from 1901, Tesla was hard at work on the construction of the World System of Wireless Transmission in Wardenclyffe, Long Island. He stayed there until 1912, when the project finally went under.

Afterwards, Tesla was in constant financial difficulties, and he mainly hired just offices in New York for his work. He opened offices in the Woolworth Building, 165 Broadway and 1 Madison Avenue (202-203 Metropolitan Tower), while in 1915-1924 he occupied an office at 9 West 40th Street (across the road from the New York Public Library). After that, he also used an office at 350 Madison Avenue.

Tesla’s last inventions, letters, decorations and honours

In 1906 Tesla showed how the bladeless turbine worked, later known as the Tesla turbine, and in 1913 he obtained a patent. After the turbine, Tesla also patented the water fountain, three speedometers, a lightning conductor, the valvular conduit, a device for measuring flow and frequency, and an airplane suitable for vertical and horizontal flight. In 1916 he received the Edison Medal, the highest award from the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and next year, he discovered the frequency and power of radar. For Tesla’s 75th birthday, in 1931, “Time” placed him on its cover. Tesla received numerous honorary doctorates for his work, from, for instance, Columbia and Yale Universities, Poitiers University, Graz, Vienna and Bucharest Polytechnics, and the universities in Belgrade, Brno, Grenoble, Paris, Prague, Sofia and Zagreb. In honour of this great inventor, unit for magnetic induction in the International System of Units (SI) bears his name. In 1975 the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers instituted the Nikola Tesla Prize, awarded to people who have made outstanding contributions in the area of power engineering.
Tesla died on January 7, 1943, about 22.30, in suite 3327 on the 33rd floor of the Hotel New Yorker, aged 86. The Supreme Court denied Marconi’s primacy in the invention of radio and ascribed the merits for it to Tesla.

Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine.

Written by: Matea Brstilo Resetar, Croatian History Museum Zagreb
Renato Filipin, Technical Museum, Zagreb
(c) Croatian History Museum, Zagreb -
(c) Technical Museum, Zagreb -

(D.H., 09.01.2009)