Nikola Tesla

For other uses, see Nikola Tesla (disambiguation).

Nikola Tesla

Photograph of Nikola Tesla, a slender, moustachioed man with a thin face and pointed chin.

Tesla, circa 1896.
Born (1856-07-10)10 July 1856
Smiljan, Austrian Empire (modern-day Croatia)
Died 7 January 1943(1943-01-07) (aged 86)
New York City, New York, United States
Cause of death Coronary thrombosis
Citizenship Austrian (in 1891 prior to becoming an American citizen)[1]
American (30 July 1891 – 7 January 1943)
Education Graz University of Technology (abandoned)

Engineering career

Discipline Electrical engineering,
Mechanical engineering
Projects Alternating current,
high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments
Significant design Induction motor
Rotating magnetic field
Tesla coil
Radio remote control vehicle (torpedo)[2]

Nikola Tesla (Serbian Cyrillic: Никола Тесла; 10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943) was a Serbian-American[3][4][5][6] inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.[7]

Tesla gained experience in telephony and electrical engineering before emigrating to the United States in 1884 to work for Thomas Edison in New York City. He soon struck out on his own with financial backers, setting up laboratories and companies to develop a range of electrical devices. His patented AC induction motor and transformer were licensed by George Westinghouse, who also hired Tesla for a short time as a consultant. His work in the formative years of electric-power development was involved in a corporate alternating current/direct current "War of Currents" as well as various patent battles. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1891.[8]

Tesla went on to pursue his ideas of wireless lighting and electricity distribution in his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New York and Colorado Springs and made early (1893) pronouncements on the possibility of wireless communication with his devices. He tried to put these ideas to practical use in an ill-fated attempt at intercontinental wireless transmission, his unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower project.[9] In his lab, he also conducted a range of experiments with mechanical oscillators/generators, electrical discharge tubes, and early X-ray imaging. He also built a wireless controlled boat, one of the first ever exhibited.

Tesla was renowned for his achievements and showmanship, eventually earning him a reputation in popular culture as an archetypal "mad scientist".[10] His patents earned him a considerable amount of money, much of which was used to finance his own projects with varying degrees of success.[11] He lived most of his life in a series of New York hotels through his retirement. Tesla died on 7 January 1943 in New York City.[12] His work fell into relative obscurity after his death, but in 1960, the General Conference on Weights and Measures named the SI unit of magnetic flux density the tesla in his honor.[13] There has been a resurgence in popular interest in Tesla since the 1990s.[14]

1856–85: Early years

Tesla wearing a folk costume, c.1880
Rebuilt, Tesla's house (parish hall) in Smiljan, in today Croatia, where he was born, and the rebuilt church, where his father served. During the Yugoslav Wars, several of the buildings were severely damaged by fire. They were restored and reopened in 2006.[15]
Tesla's baptismal record, 28 June 1856
Nikola Tesla's father Milutin, Orthodox priest in the village of Smiljan

Tesla was born on 10 July [O.S. 28 June] 1856 into a Serb family in the village of Smiljan, Austrian Empire (modern-day Croatia).[16][17] His father, Milutin Tesla (1819–1879),[18] was an Orthodox priest.[19][20] [21] [22] Tesla's mother, Đuka Tesla (née Mandić; 1822–1892), whose father was also an Orthodox priest,[23] had a talent for making home craft tools and mechanical appliances and the ability to memorize Serbian epic poems. Đuka had never received a formal education. Nikola credited his eidetic memory and creative abilities to his mother's genetics and influence.[24][25] Tesla's progenitors were from western Serbia, near Montenegro.[26]

Tesla was the fourth of five children. He had an older brother, Dane, and three sisters, Milka, Angelina and Marica. Dane was killed in a horse-riding accident when Nikola was aged five.[27] In 1861 Tesla attended the "Lower" or "primary" school in Smiljan, where he studied German, arithmetic, and religion.[28] In 1862 the Tesla family moved to Gospić, Austrian Empire, where Tesla's father worked as parish priest. Nikola completed "lower" or "primary" school, followed by the "lower real gymnasium" or "normal school".[29]

In 1870 Tesla moved to Karlovac[30] to attend school at the Higher Real Gymnasium. The classes were held in German, as it was a school within the Austro-Hungarian Military Frontier.[31]

Tesla would later write that he became interested in demonstrations of electricity by his physics professor.[32] Tesla noted that these demonstrations of this "mysterious phenomena" made him want "to know more of this wonderful force".[33][34] Tesla was able to perform integral calculus in his head, which prompted his teachers to believe that he was cheating.[35] He finished a four-year term in three years, graduating in 1873.[36]

In 1873 Tesla returned to his birth town, Smiljan. Shortly after he arrived Tesla contracted cholera; he was bedridden for nine months and was near death multiple times. Tesla's father, in a moment of despair, promised to send him to the best engineering school if he recovered from the illness[30][37] (his father had originally wanted him to enter the priesthood).[38]

In 1874 Tesla evaded conscription into the Austro-Hungarian Army in Smiljan[39] by running away to Tomingaj, near Gračac. There he explored the mountains wearing hunter's garb. Tesla said that this contact with nature made him stronger, both physically and mentally.[37] He read many books while in Tomingaj and later said that Mark Twain's works had helped him to miraculously recover from his earlier illness.[30]

In 1875 Tesla enrolled at Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, Austria, on a Military Frontier scholarship. During his first year, Tesla never missed a lecture, earned the highest grades possible, passed nine exams[30][37] (nearly twice as many as required[40]), started a Serb culture club,[37] and even received a letter of commendation from the dean of the technical faculty to his father, which stated, "Your son is a star of first rank."[40]

Tesla claimed that he worked from 3 a.m. to 11 p.m., no Sundays or holidays excepted.[30] He was "mortified when [his] father made light of [those] hard won honors." After his father's death in 1879,[39] Tesla found a package of letters from his professors to his father, warning that unless he were removed from the school, Tesla would die through overwork. During his second year, Tesla came into conflict with Professor Poeschl over the Gramme dynamo, when Tesla suggested that commutators were not necessary. At the end of his second year, Tesla lost his scholarship and became addicted to gambling.[30][37] During his third year, Tesla gambled away his allowance and his tuition money, later gambling back his initial losses and returning the balance to his family. Tesla said that he "conquered [his] passion then and there," but later in the US he was again known to play billiards. When examination time came, Tesla was unprepared and asked for an extension to study, but was denied. He never graduated from the university and did not receive grades for the last semester.[39]

In December 1878 Tesla left Graz and severed all relations with his family to hide the fact that he dropped out of school.[39] His friends thought that he had drowned in the Mur River.[41] Tesla went to Maribor (now in Slovenia), where he worked as a draftsman for 60 florins a month. He spent his spare time playing cards with local men on the streets.[39] In March 1879, Milutin Tesla went to Maribor to beg his son to return home, but Nikola refused.[42] Nikola suffered a nervous breakdown at around the same time.[41]

Tesla aged 23, c.1879

On 24 March 1879 Tesla was returned to Gospić under police guard for not having a residence permit. On 17 April 1879, Milutin Tesla died at the age of 60 after contracting an unspecified illness[18] (although some sources say that he died of a stroke[43]). During that year, Tesla taught a large class of students in his old school, Higher Real Gymnasium, in Gospić.[18]

In January 1880 two of Tesla's uncles put together enough money to help him leave Gospić for Prague, where he was to study. He arrived too late to enroll at Charles-Ferdinand University; he had never studied Greek, a required subject; and he was illiterate in Czech, another required subject. Tesla did, however, attend lectures at the university, as an auditor (he did not receive grades for the courses).[44][45][46]

In 1881 Tesla moved to Budapest to work under Tivadar Puskás at a telegraph company, the Budapest Telephone Exchange. Upon arrival, Tesla realized that the company, then under construction, was not functional, so he worked as a draftsman in the Central Telegraph Office instead. Within a few months, the Budapest Telephone Exchange became functional, and Tesla was allocated the chief electrician position.[47] During his employment, Tesla made many improvements to the Central Station equipment and claimed to have perfected a telephone repeater or amplifier, which was never patented nor publicly described.[30]

Working for Edison

In 1882 Tesla moved to France, where he began working for the Continental Edison Company, designing and making improvements to electrical equipment.[48] In June 1884, he emigrated to New York City in the United States.[49][50][51] He was hired by Thomas Edison to work at his Edison Machine Works on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Tesla's work for Edison began with simple electrical engineering and quickly progressed to solving more difficult problems.[52]

Tesla was offered the task of completely redesigning the Edison Company's direct current generators. In 1885, he said that he could redesign Edison's inefficient motor and generators, making an improvement in both service and economy. According to Tesla, Edison remarked, "There's fifty thousand dollars in it for you—if you can do it."[53] [54] This has been noted as an odd statement from Edison, whose company was stingy with pay and who did not have that sort of cash on hand.[55] After months of work, Tesla fulfilled the task and inquired about payment. Edison, saying that he was only joking, replied, "Tesla, you don't understand our American humor."[54] [56] Instead, Edison offered a US$10-a-week raise over Tesla's US$18 per week salary; Tesla refused the offer and immediately resigned.[24]

1886–99: Middle years

After leaving Edison's company, Tesla partnered with two businessmen in 1886, Robert Lane and Benjamin Vail, who agreed to finance an electric lighting company in Tesla's name, Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing.[57] The company installed electrical arc light-based illumination systems designed by Tesla. It also designed dynamo electric machine commutators, the first patents issued to Tesla in the US.[58]

The investors showed little interest in Tesla's ideas for new types of motors and electrical transmission equipment. They were more interested in developing an electrical utility than inventing new systems.[59] They eventually forced Tesla out, leaving him penniless. He even lost control of the patents he had generated, since he had assigned them to the company in lieu of stock.[59] He had to work at various electrical repair jobs and as a ditch digger for $2 per day. Later in life Tesla would recount the winter of 1886/1887 as a time of hardship, writing “My high education in various branches of science, mechanics and literature seemed to me like a mockery".[60][58][61]

AC and the induction motor

Drawing from U.S. Patent 381,968, illustrating principle of Tesla's alternating current induction motor

In late 1886, Tesla met Alfred S. Brown, a Western Union superintendent, and New York attorney Charles F. Peck. The two men were experienced in setting up companies and promoting inventions and patents for financial gain.[62] Based on Tesla's patents and other ideas, they agreed to back him financially and handle his patents. Together they formed the Tesla Electric Company in April 1887, with an agreement that profits from generated patents would go 1/3 to Tesla, 1/3 to Peck and Brown, and 1/3 to fund development.[62] They set up a laboratory for Tesla at 89 Liberty Street in Manhattan, where he worked on improving and developing new types of electric motors, generators, and other devices.

In 1887 Tesla developed an induction motor that ran on alternating current, a power system format that was starting to be built in Europe and the United States because of its advantages in long-distance, high-voltage transmission. The motor used polyphase current, which generated a rotating magnetic field to turn the motor (a principle that Tesla claimed to have conceived in 1882).[63][64][65] This innovative electric motor patented in May 1888 was a simple self-starting design that did not need a commutator, thus avoiding sparking and the high maintenance of constantly servicing and replacing mechanical brushes.[66][67]

In 1888 Electrical World magazine editor Thomas Commerford Martin (a friend and publicist) arranged for Tesla to demonstrate his alternating current system, including his induction motor, at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (now IEEE).[68] Engineers working for the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company reported to George Westinghouse that Tesla had a viable AC motor and related power system — something for which Westinghouse had been trying to secure patents. Westinghouse looked into getting a patent on a similar commutator-less, rotating magnetic field-based induction motor developed in 1885 and presented in a paper in March 1888 by Italian physicist Galileo Ferraris, but decided that Tesla's patent would probably control the market.[69][70]

Nikola Tesla's AC dynamo-electric machine (AC Electric generator) in an 1888 U.S. Patent 390,721

In July 1888, Brown and Peck negotiated a licensing deal with George Westinghouse for Tesla's polyphase induction motor and transformer designs for $60,000 in cash and stock and a royalty of $2.50 per AC horsepower produced by each motor. Westinghouse also hired Tesla for one year for the large fee of $2,000 ($52,800 in today's dollars[71]) per month to be a consultant at the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company's Pittsburgh labs.[72]

During that year Tesla worked in Pittsburgh, helping to create an alternating current system to power the city's streetcars. He found it a frustrating period because of conflicts with the other Westinghouse engineers over how best to implement AC power. Between them, they settled on a 60-cycle AC current system that Tesla proposed (to match the working frequency of Tesla's motor), but they soon found that it would not work for streetcars, since Tesla's induction motor could run only at a constant speed. They ended up using a DC traction motor instead.[73][74]

War of Currents

Tesla's demonstration of his induction motor and Westinghouse's subsequent licensing of the patent, both in 1888, put Tesla firmly on the AC side of the War of Currents,[75] an electrical distribution battle being waged between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse that had been simmering since Westinghouse's first AC system in 1886. [76][77][78] This started out as a competition between rival lighting systems, with Edison holding all the patents for DC and the incandescent light, and Westinghouse using his own patented AC system to power arc lights, as well as incandescent lamps of a slightly different design, to get around the Edison patent.[79]

The acquisition of a feasible AC motor gave Westinghouse a key patent in building a completely integrated AC system, but the financial strain of buying up patents and hiring the engineers needed to build it meant development of Tesla's motor had to be put on hold for a while.[80] The competition resulted in Edison Machine Works pursuing AC development in 1890; by 1892, Thomas Edison was no longer in control of his own company, which was consolidated into the conglomerate General Electric and converting to an AC delivery system at that point.

<span id="The "Tesla Polyphase System"">"Tesla Polyphase System"

A Westinghouse display of the "Tesla Polyphase System" at Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exposition

At the beginning of 1893, Westinghouse engineer Benjamin Lamme had made great progress developing an efficient version of Tesla's induction motor, and Westinghouse Electric started branding their complete polyphase phase AC system as the "Tesla Polyphase System". They believed that Tesla's patents gave them patent priority over other AC systems.[81]

In 1893 George Westinghouse won the bid to light the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago with alternating current, beating out a General Electric bid by one million dollars.[82] This World's Fair devoted a building to electrical exhibits. It was a key event in the history of AC power, as Westinghouse demonstrated to the American public the safety, reliability, and efficiency of a fully integrated alternating current system.[83][84] Tesla demonstrated a series of electrical effects at the Columbian Exposition under a banner announcing the "Tesla Polyphase System", which had previously been performed throughout America and Europe;[85] these included using high-voltage, high-frequency alternating current to light a wireless gas-discharge lamp.[86]

An observer noted:

Within the room was suspended two hard-rubber plates covered with tin foil. These were about fifteen feet apart, and served as terminals of the wires leading from the transformers. When the current was turned on, the lamps or tubes, which had no wires connected to them, but lay on a table between the suspended plates, or which might be held in the hand in almost any part of the room, were made luminous. These were the same experiments and the same apparatus shown by Tesla in London about two years previous, "where they produced so much wonder and astonishment".[87]

Tesla also explained the principles of the rotating magnetic field in an induction motor by demonstrating how to make a copper egg stand on end, using a device that he constructed known as the Egg of Columbus.[88]

Niagara and patents

In 1893 Edward Dean Adams headed up the Niagara Falls Cataract Construction Company, and he sought Tesla's opinion on what system would be best to transmit power generated at the falls. Over several years, there had been a series of proposals and open competitions on how best to use power generated by the falls. Among the systems proposed by several US and European companies were two-phase and three-phase AC, high-voltage DC, and compressed air. Adams pumped Tesla for information about the current state of all the competing systems. Tesla advised Adams that a two-phased system would be the most reliable, and that there was a Westinghouse system to light incandescent bulbs using two-phase alternating current. The company awarded a contract to Westinghouse Electric for building a two-phase AC generating system at the Niagara Falls, based on Tesla's advice and Westinghouse's demonstration at the Columbian Exposition that they could build a complete AC system. A further contract was awarded to General Electric to build the AC distribution system.[89]

In the mid-1890s the conglomerate General Electric, backed by financier J. P. Morgan, was involved in takeover attempts and patent battles with Westinghouse Electric. A patent-sharing agreement was signed between the two companies in 1896,[90] but Westinghouse was still cash-strapped from the financial warfare. To secure further loans, Westinghouse was forced to revisit Tesla's AC patent, which bankers considered a financial strain on the company.[91][92] (At that point, Westinghouse had paid out an estimated $200,000 in licenses and royalties to Tesla, Brown, and Peck.[93]) In 1897, Westinghouse explained his financial difficulties to Tesla in stark terms, saying that, if things continued the way they were, he would no longer be in control of Westinghouse Electric and Tesla would have to "deal with the bankers" to try to collect future royalties. Westinghouse convinced Tesla to release his company from the licensing agreement over Tesla's AC patents, in exchange for Westinghouse Electric purchasing the patents for a lump sum payment of $216,000.[94] This provided Westinghouse a break from what had turned out to be an overly generous $2.50 per AC horsepower royalty, due to alternating current's rapid gain in popularity.[72]

American citizenship

On 30 July 1891, aged 35, Tesla became a naturalized citizen of the United States.[8] He established his South Fifth Avenue laboratory in New York City, and later another at 46 E. Houston Street. He lit electric lamps wirelessly at both locations, demonstrating the potential of wireless power transmission.[95] In the same year, he patented the Tesla coil.[96]

Tesla served as a vice-president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers from 1892 to 1894, the forerunner of the modern-day IEEE (along with the Institute of Radio Engineers).[97]

X-ray experimentation

X-ray of a hand, taken by Tesla

Starting in 1894, Tesla began investigating what he referred to as radiant energy of "invisible" kinds after he had noticed damaged film in his laboratory in previous experiments[98][99] (later identified as "Roentgen rays" or "X-Rays"). His early experiments were with Crookes tubes, a cold cathode electrical discharge tube. Soon after, much of Tesla's early research—hundreds of invention models, plans, notes, laboratory data, tools, photographs, valued at $50,000—was lost in the 5th Avenue laboratory fire of March 1895. Tesla is quoted by The New York Times as saying, "I am in too much grief to talk. What can I say?"[100] Tesla may have inadvertently captured an X-ray image—predating, by a few weeks, Wilhelm Röntgen's December 1895 announcement of the discovery of x-rays—when he tried to photograph Mark Twain illuminated by a Geissler tube, an earlier type of gas discharge tube. The only thing captured in the image was the metal locking screw on the camera lens.[101]

In March 1896, after hearing of Wilhelm Röntgen's discovery of X-ray and X-ray imaging (radiography),[102] Tesla proceeded to do his own experiments in X-ray imaging, developing a high energy single terminal vacuum tube of his own design that had no target electrode and that worked from the output of the Tesla Coil (the modern term for the phenomenon produced by this device is bremsstrahlung or braking radiation). In his research, Tesla devised several experimental setups to produce X-rays. Tesla held that, with his circuits, the "instrument will ... enable one to generate Roentgen rays of much greater power than obtainable with ordinary apparatus."[103]

Tesla noted the hazards of working with his circuit and single-node X-ray-producing devices. In his many notes on the early investigation of this phenomenon, he attributed the skin damage to various causes. He believed early on that damage to the skin was not caused by the Roentgen rays, but by the ozone generated in contact with the skin, and to a lesser extent, by nitrous acid. Tesla incorrectly believed that X-rays were longitudinal waves, such as those produced in waves in plasmas. These plasma waves can occur in force-free magnetic fields.[104][105]

On 11 July 1934 the New York Herald Tribune published an article on Tesla, in which he recalled an event that would occasionally take place while experimenting with his single-electrode vacuum tubes; a minute particle would break off the cathode, pass out of the tube, and physically strike him. "Tesla said he could feel a sharp stinging pain where it entered his body, and again at the place where it passed out." In comparing these particles with the bits of metal projected by his "electric gun," Tesla said, "The particles in the beam of force ... will travel much faster than such particles ... and they will travel in concentrations."[106]


Wireless transmission of power and energy demonstration during his 1891 lecture on high frequency and potential

Tesla's theories on the possibility of the transmission by radio waves go back as far as lectures and demonstrations in 1893 in St. Louis, Missouri, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the National Electric Light Association.[107] Tesla's demonstrations and principles were written about widely through various media outlets.[108] Many devices such as the Tesla Coil were used in the further development of radio.[109]

In 1898, Tesla demonstrated a radio-controlled boat (U.S. Patent 613,809 Method of an Apparatus for Controlling Mechanism of Moving Vehicle or Vehicles).

Tesla's radio wave experiments in 1896 were conducted in Gerlach Hotel (later renamed The Radio Wave building), where he resided.[110]

In 1898 Tesla demonstrated a radio-controlled boat—which he dubbed "teleautomaton"—to the public during an electrical exhibition at Madison Square Garden.[58] The crowd that witnessed the demonstration made outrageous claims about the workings of the boat, such as magic, telepathy, and being piloted by a trained monkey hidden inside.[111] Tesla tried to sell his idea to the U.S. military as a type of radio-controlled torpedo, but they showed little interest.[112] Remote radio control remained a novelty until World War I and afterward, when a number of countries used it in military programs.[113] Tesla took the opportunity to further demonstrate "Teleautomatics" in an address to a meeting of the Commercial Club in Chicago, while he was travelling to Colorado Springs, on 13 May 1899.[28]

In 1900 Tesla was granted patents for a "system of transmitting electrical energy" and "an electrical transmitter." When Guglielmo Marconi made his famous first-ever transatlantic radio transmission in 1901, Tesla quipped that it was done with 17 Tesla patents, though there is little to support this claim.[114] This was the beginning of years of patent battles over radio with Tesla's patents being upheld in 1903, followed by a reverse decision in favor of Marconi in 1904. In 1943, a Supreme Court of the United States decision restored the prior patents of Tesla, Oliver Lodge, and John Stone.[115] The court declared that their decision had no bearing on Marconi's claim as the first to achieve radio transmission, just that since Marconi's claim to certain patents were questionable, he could not claim infringement on those same patents[116] (there are claims the high court was trying to nullify a World War I claim against the U.S. government by the Marconi Company via simply restoring Tesla's prior patent).[115]

Colorado Springs

A multiple exposure picture (one of 68 images created by Century Magazine photographer Dickenson Alley) of Tesla sitting in his Colorado Springs laboratory with his "magnifying transmitter" generating millions of volts. The 7-metre (23 ft) long arcs were not part of the normal operation, but only produced for effect by rapidly cycling the power switch.[117]
Another Alley photograph from Colorado Springs documenting three lights receiving power by means of electrodynamic induction from an oscillator 60 feet (18 m) from the bulbs (placed on the ground outside the building to demonstrate they had no connection to the power source).[117]

On 17 May 1899, Tesla moved to Colorado Springs, where he would have room for his high-voltage, high-frequency experiments;[28] his lab was located near Foote Ave. and Kiowa St.[118] He chose this location because the polyphase alternating current power distribution system had been introduced there and he had associates who were willing to give him all the power he needed without charging for it.[119] Upon his arrival, he told reporters that he planned to conduct wireless telegraphy experiments, transmitting signals from Pikes Peak to Paris.[120]

The 1978 book Colorado Springs Notes, 1899–1900 contains descriptions of Tesla's experiments. On 15 June 1899, Tesla performed his first experiments at his Colorado Springs lab; he recorded his initial spark length at five inches long, but very thick and noisy.[28] Tesla investigated atmospheric electricity, observing lightning signals via his receivers. He stated that he observed stationary waves during this time.[121] The great distances and the nature of what Tesla was detecting from lightning storms confirmed his belief that the earth had a resonant frequency.[122][123]

He produced artificial lightning, with discharges consisting of millions of volts and up to 135 feet long.[124] Thunder from the released energy was heard 15 miles away in Cripple Creek, Colorado. People walking along the street observed sparks jumping between their feet and the ground. Sparks sprang from water line taps when touched. Light bulbs within 100 feet of the lab glowed even when turned off. Horses in a livery stable bolted from their stalls after receiving shocks through their metal shoes. Butterflies were electrified, swirling in circles with blue halos of St. Elmo's fire around their wings.[125]

While experimenting, Tesla inadvertently faulted a power station generator, causing a power outage. In August 1917, Tesla explained what had happened in The Electrical Experimenter: "As an example of what has been done with several hundred kilowatts of high frequency energy liberated, it was found that the dynamos in a power house six miles away were repeatedly burned out, due to the powerful high frequency currents set up in them, and which caused heavy sparks to jump through the windings and destroy the insulation!"[126]

An Alley photo of a grounded tuned coil in resonance with a transmitter, illuminating a light near the bottom of the picture.[127] Tesla did not disclose how far away the transmitter was.[117][127]

During his time at his laboratory Tesla observed unusual signals from his receiver which he concluded may be communications from another planet. He mentioned them in a letter to reporter Julian Hawthorne at the Philadelphia North American on 8 December 1899[128] and in a December 1900 letter about possible discoveries in the new century to the Red Cross Society where he referred to messages "from another world" that read "1... 2... 3...".[129][130] Reporters treated it as a sensational story and jumped to the conclusion Tesla was hearing signals from Mars.[129] He expanded on the signals he heard in a 9 February 1901 Collier's Weekly article "Talking With Planets" where he said it had not been immediately apparent to him that he was hearing "intelligently controlled signals" and that the signals could come from Mars, Venus, or other planets.[130] It has been hypothesized that he may have intercepted Marconi's European experiments in July 1899—Marconi may have transmitted the letter S (dot/dot/dot) in a naval demonstration, the same three impulses that Tesla hinted at hearing in Colorado[130]—or signals from another experimenter in wireless transmission.[131]

In 1899 John Jacob Astor IV invested $100,000 for Tesla to further develop and produce a new lighting system. Instead, Tesla used the money to fund his Colorado Springs experiments.[132]

On 7 January 1900 Tesla made his final entry in his journal while in Colorado Springs.[133] His lab was torn down in 1904, and its contents were sold two years later to satisfy a debt.[134][135]

The Colorado experiments had prepared Tesla for the establishment of the trans-Atlantic wireless telecommunications facility known as Wardenclyffe near Shoreham, Long Island.[136]

1900–17: Wardenclyffe years

Tesla Ready for Business – 7 August 1901 New-York Tribune article
The Tesla coil wireless transmitter
U.S. Patent 1,119,732
Tesla's Wardenclyffe plant on Long Island in 1904. From this facility, Tesla hoped to demonstrate wireless transmission of electrical energy across the Atlantic.

In 1900, with $150,000 ($4,273,800 in today's dollars[71]; 51% from J. Pierpont Morgan), Tesla began planning the Wardenclyffe Tower facility to be built in Shoreham, New York, 100 miles east of the city on the North Shore of Long Island.[137]

Tesla later approached Morgan to ask for more funds to build a more powerful transmitter. When asked where all the money had gone, Tesla responded by saying that he was affected by the Panic of 1901, which he (Morgan) had caused. Morgan was shocked by the reminder of his part in the stock market crash and by Tesla's breach of contract by asking for more funds. Tesla wrote another plea to Morgan, but it was fruitless. Morgan still owed Tesla money on the original agreement, and Tesla had been facing foreclosure even before construction of the tower began.[131]

In December 1901 Marconi successfully transmitted the letter S from England to Newfoundland, defeating Tesla in the race to be first to complete such a transmission. Over the next five years, Tesla wrote more than 50 letters to Morgan, pleading for and demanding additional funding to complete the construction of Wardenclyffe. Tesla continued the project for another nine months into 1902. The tower was erected to its full 187 feet (57 m).[131] In July 1903, Tesla wrote to Morgan that in addition to wireless communication, Wardenclyffe would be capable of wireless transmission of electric power.[137] On 14 October 1904, Morgan finally replied through his secretary, stating, "It will be impossible for [me] to do anything in the matter," after Tesla had written to Morgan when the financier was meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury in an attempt to appeal to his Christian spirit.[131]

In June 1902 Tesla moved his lab operations from Houston Street to Wardenclyffe.[137]

On his 50th birthday, in 1906, Tesla demonstrated his 200 horsepower (150 kilowatts) 16,000 rpm bladeless turbine. During 1910–1911 at the Waterside Power Station in New York, several of his bladeless turbine engines were tested at 100–5,000 hp.[138]

Tesla invented a steam-powered mechanical oscillator—Tesla's oscillator. While experimenting with mechanical oscillators at his Houston Street lab, Tesla allegedly generated a resonance of several buildings. As the speed grew, it is said that the machine oscillated at the resonance frequency of his own building and, belatedly realizing the danger, he was forced to use a sledge hammer to terminate the experiment, just as the police arrived.[139] In February 1912, an article—"Nikola Tesla, Dreamer" by Allan L. Benson—was published in World Today, in which an artist's illustration appears showing the entire earth cracking in half with the caption, "Tesla claims that in a few weeks he could set the earth's crust into such a state of vibration that it would rise and fall hundreds of feet and practically destroy civilization. A continuation of this process would, he says, eventually split the earth in two."[106]

Tesla theorized that the application of electricity to the brain enhanced intelligence. In 1912, he crafted "a plan to make dull students bright by saturating them unconsciously with electricity," wiring the walls of a schoolroom and, "saturating [the schoolroom] with infinitesimal electric waves vibrating at high frequency. The whole room will thus, Mr. Tesla claims, be converted into a health-giving and stimulating electromagnetic field or 'bath.'"[140] The plan was at least provisionally approved by then superintendent of New York City schools, William H. Maxwell.[140]

Second banquet meeting of the Institute of Radio Engineers, 23 April 1915. Tesla seen standing in the center.

Before World War I Tesla sought overseas investors. After the war started, Tesla lost the funding he was receiving from his patents in European countries. Eventually, he sold Wardenclyffe for $20,000 ($473,300 in today's dollars[71]).[137] In 1917, around the time that the Wardenclyffe Tower was demolished by Boldt to make the land a more viable real estate asset, Tesla received AIEE's highest honor, the Edison Medal.[141]

In the August 1917 edition of the magazine Electrical Experimenter Tesla postulated that electricity could be used to locate submarines via using the reflection of an "electric ray" of "tremendous frequency," with the signal being viewed on a fluorescent screen (a system that has been noted to have a superficial resemblance to modern radar).[142] Tesla was incorrect in his assumption that high frequency radio waves would penetrate water.[143] But Émile Girardeau, who helped develop France's first radar system in the 1930s, noted in 1953 that Tesla's general speculation that a very strong high-frequency signal would be needed was correct. Girardeau said, "(Tesla) was prophesying or dreaming, since he had at his disposal no means of carrying them out, but one must add that if he was dreaming, at least he was dreaming correctly."[144]

Nobel Prize rumors

On 6 November 1915 a Reuters news agency report from London had the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla; however, on 15 November, a Reuters story from Stockholm stated the prize that year was being awarded to Sir William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg "for their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays."[145][146][147] There were unsubstantiated rumors at the time that Tesla and/or Edison had refused the prize.[145] The Nobel Foundation said, "Any rumor that a person has not been given a Nobel Prize because he has made known his intention to refuse the reward is ridiculous"; a recipient could only decline a Nobel Prize after he is announced a winner.[145]

There have been subsequent claims by Tesla biographers that Edison and Tesla were the original recipients and that neither was given the award because of their animosity toward each other; that each sought to minimize the other's achievements and right to win the award; that both refused ever to accept the award if the other received it first; that both rejected any possibility of sharing it; and even that a wealthy Edison refused it to keep Tesla from getting the $20,000 prize money.[145][25]

In the years after these rumors, neither Tesla nor Edison won the prize (although Edison did receive one of 38 possible bids in 1915 and Tesla did receive one of 38 possible bids in 1937).[148]

1918–43: Later years

Tesla spent the period 1919-1922 working in Milwaukee for Allis-Chalmers.[149] He spent most of his time working on perfecting the Tesla turbine with Hans Dahlstrand, the head engineer at the company.[150]

In 1928 Tesla received his last patent, U.S. Patent 1,655,114, for a biplane capable of taking off vertically (VTOL aircraft) and then be "gradually tilted through manipulation of the elevator devices" in flight until it was flying like a conventional plane.[151] Tesla thought the plane would sell for less than $1,000.[152] Although the aircraft was probably impractical, it may be the earliest known design for what became the tiltrotor/tilt-wing concept as well as the earliest proposal for the use of turbine engines in rotor aircraft.[153]

Starting in 1934, the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company began paying Tesla $125 per month as well as paying his rent at the Hotel New Yorker, expenses the Company would pay for the rest of Tesla's life. Accounts on how this came about vary. Several sources say Westinghouse was worried about potential bad publicity surrounding the impoverished conditions their former star inventor was living under.[154][155][156] It has been described as being couched in the form of a "consulting fee" to get around Tesla's aversion to accept charity, or by one biographer (Marc Seifer), as a type of unspecified settlement.[156]

In 1935, in an annual birthday celebration interview, Tesla announced a method of transmitting mechanical energy with minimal loss over any terrestrial distance, a related new means of communication, and a method of accurately determining the location of underground mineral deposits.[106]

In the fall of 1937, after midnight one night, Tesla left the Hotel New Yorker to make his regular commute to the cathedral and the library to feed the pigeons. While crossing a street a couple of blocks from the hotel, Tesla was unable to dodge a moving taxicab and was thrown heavily to the ground. Tesla's back was severely wrenched and three of his ribs were broken in the accident (the full extent of his injuries will never be known; Tesla refused to consult a doctor — an almost lifelong custom). Tesla didn't raise any question as to who was at fault and refused medical aid, only asking to be taken to his hotel via cab. Tesla was bedridden for some months and was unable to continue feeding pigeons from his window; soon, they failed to come. In early 1938, Tesla was able to get up. He at once resumed the pigeon-feeding walks on a much more limited scale, but frequently had a messenger act for him.[40]

Directed-energy weapon

Main article: Teleforce

Later in life Tesla made claims concerning a "teleforce" weapon, after studying the Van de Graaff generator.[157][158] The press variably referred to it as a "peace ray" or death ray.[159][160] Tesla described the weapon as capable of being used against ground-based infantry or for anti-aircraft purposes.

Tesla gives the following description concerning the "particle gun"'s operation:

[The nozzle would] send concentrated beams of particles through the free air, of such tremendous energy that they will bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 200 miles from a defending nation's border and will cause armies to drop dead in their tracks.[161][162]

In total, the components and methods included:

Tesla claimed to have worked on plans for a directed-energy weapon from the early 1900s until his death.[166][167]

In 1937, at a luncheon in his honor concerning the death ray, Tesla stated, "But it is not an experiment ... I have built, demonstrated and used it. Only a little time will pass before I can give it to the world." His records indicate that the device is based on a narrow stream of small tungsten pellets that are accelerated via high voltage (by means akin to his magnifying transformer).[158]

In the same year Tesla wrote a treatise, The New Art of Projecting Concentrated Non-dispersive Energy through the Natural Media, concerning charged particle beam weapons.[168] Tesla published the document in an attempt to expound on the technical description of a "superweapon that would put an end to all war." This treatise is currently in the Nikola Tesla Museum archive in Belgrade. It describes an open-ended vacuum tube with a gas jet seal that allows particles to exit, a method of charging particles to millions of volts, and a method of creating and directing non-dispersive particle streams (through electrostatic repulsion).[168] Tesla tried to interest the US War Department,[169] the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia in the device.[170]

During the period in which the negotiations were being conducted, Tesla said that efforts had been made to steal the invention. His room had been entered and his papers had been scrutinized, but the thieves, or spies, left empty-handed. He said that there was no danger that his invention could be stolen, for he had at no time committed any part of it to paper; the blueprint for the teleforce weapon was all in his mind.[171]


Gilded urn with Tesla's ashes, in his favorite geometrical object, a sphere (Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade)

On 7 January 1943, at the age of 86, Tesla died alone in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel. His body was later found by maid Alice Monaghan after she had entered Tesla's room, ignoring the "do not disturb" sign that Tesla had placed on his door two days earlier. Assistant medical examiner H.W. Wembly examined the body and ruled that the cause of death had been coronary thrombosis.[29] Tesla's remains were taken to the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home at Madison Ave. and 81st St. A long-time friend and supporter of Tesla, Hugo Gernsback, commissioned a sculptor to create a death mask, now displayed in the Nikola Tesla Museum.[29]

Two days later the Federal Bureau of Investigation ordered the Alien Property Custodian to seize Tesla's belongings,[29] even though Tesla was an American citizen.[172] Tesla's entire estate from the Hotel New Yorker and other New York City hotels was transported to the Manhattan Storage and Warehouse Company under the Office of Alien Property (OAP) seal.[29] John G. Trump, a professor at M.I.T. and a well-known electrical engineer serving as a technical aide to the National Defense Research Committee, was called in to analyze the Tesla items in OAP custody.[29] After a three-day investigation, Trump's report concluded that there was nothing which would constitute a hazard in unfriendly hands, stating:

[Tesla's] thoughts and efforts during at least the past 15 years were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character often concerned with the production and wireless transmission of power; but did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.[173]

In a box purported to contain a part of Tesla's "death ray", Trump found a 45-year-old multidecade resistance box.[174]

On 10 January 1943 New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia read a eulogy written by Slovene-American author Louis Adamic live over the WNYC radio while violin pieces "Ave Maria" and "Tamo daleko" were played in the background.[29] On 12 January, two thousand people attended a state funeral for Tesla at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. After the funeral, Tesla's body was taken to the Ferncliff Cemetery in Ardsley, New York, where it was later cremated. The following day, a second service was conducted by prominent priests in the Trinity Chapel (today's Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sava) in New York City.[29]


In 1952, following pressure from Tesla's nephew, Sava Kosanović, Tesla's entire estate was shipped to Belgrade in 80 trunks marked N.T.[28] In 1957, Kosanović's secretary Charlotte Muzar transported Tesla's ashes from the United States to Belgrade.[28] The ashes are displayed in a gold-plated sphere on a marble pedestal in the Nikola Tesla Museum.[175]


Newspaper representation of Tesla's theoretical invention, the thought camera, which would photograph thoughts. c.1933

Tesla obtained around 300 patents worldwide for his inventions.[176] Some of Tesla's patents are not accounted for, and various sources have discovered some that have lain hidden in patent archives. There are a minimum of 278 patents[176] issued to Tesla in 26 countries that have been accounted for. Many of Tesla's patents were in the United States, Britain, and Canada, but many other patents were approved in countries around the globe.[177] Many inventions developed by Tesla were not put into patent protection.

Personal life

Tesla worked every day from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. or later, with dinner from exactly 8:10 p.m., at Delmonico's restaurant and later the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Tesla would telephone his dinner order to the headwaiter, who also could be the only one to serve him. "The meal was required to be ready at eight o'clock ... He dined alone, except on the rare occasions when he would give a dinner to a group to meet his social obligations. Tesla would then resume his work, often until 3:00 a.m."[178]

For exercise, Tesla walked between 8 and 10 miles per day. He squished his toes one hundred times for each foot every night, saying that it stimulated his brain cells.[179]

In an interview with newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane, Tesla said that he did not believe in telepathy, stating, "Suppose I made up my mind to murder you," he said, "In a second you would know it. Now, isn't that wonderful? By what process does the mind get at all this?" In the same interview, Tesla said that he believed that all fundamental laws could be reduced to one.[180]

Near the end of his life, Tesla walked to the park every day to feed the pigeons and even brought injured ones into his hotel room to nurse back to health.[181][182] He said that he had been visited by a specific injured white pigeon daily. Tesla spent over $2,000, including building a device that comfortably supported her so her bones could heal, to fix her broken wing and leg.[39] Tesla stated,

I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them for years. But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings; that one was different. It was a female. I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me. I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.[183][184]

Tesla became a vegetarian in his later years, living on only milk, bread, honey, and vegetable juices.[158][185]


head-and-shoulder shot of slender man with dark hair and moustache, dark suit and white-collar shirt
Tesla, aged 34, circa 1890 photo by Napoleon Sarony
Tesla's portrait – Blue Portrait – from 1916, painted by then-Hungarian princess, Vilma Lwoff-Parlaghy

Tesla was 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m) tall and weighed 142 pounds (64 kg), with almost no weight variance from 1888 to about 1926.[186] He was an elegant, stylish figure in New York City, meticulous in his grooming, clothing, and regimented in his daily activities.

This was not because of personal vanity. Neatness and fastidiousness in clothes were entirely in harmony with every other phase of his personality. He did not maintain a large wardrobe and he wore no jewelry of any kind ... He observed, however, that in the matter of clothes the world takes a man at his own valuation, as expressed in his appearance, and frequently eases his way to his objective through small courtesies not extended to less prepossessing individuals.[187]

Arthur Brisbane, a newspaper editor for the New York World, described Tesla's appearance:

Nikola Tesla is almost the tallest, almost the thinnest and certainly the most serious man who goes to Delmonico's regularly ... He has eyes set very far back in his head. They are rather light. I asked him how he could have such light eyes and be a Slav. He told me that his eyes were once much darker, but that using his mind a great deal had made them many shades lighter. I have often heard it said that using the brain makes the eyes lighter in color. Tesla's confirmation of the theory through his personal experience is important.

He is very thin, is more than six feet tall and weighs less than a hundred and forty pounds. He has very big hands. Many able men do—Lincoln is one instance. His thumbs are remarkably big, even for such big hands. They are extraordinarily big. This is a good sign. The thumb is the intellectual part of the hand. The apes have very small thumbs. Study them and you will notice this.

Nikola Tesla has a head that spreads out at the top like a fan. His head is shaped like a wedge. His chin is as pointed as an ice-pick. His mouth is too small. His chin, though not weak, is not strong enough. His face cannot be studied and judged like the faces of other men, for he is not a worker in practical fields. He lives his life up in the top of his head, where ideas are born, and up there he has plenty of room. His hair is jet black and curly. He stoops—most men do when they have no peacock blood in them. He lives inside of himself. He takes a profound interest in his own work. He has that supply of self-love and self-confidence which usually goes with success. And he differs from most of the men who are written and talked about in the fact that he has something to tell.[180]

Eidetic memory

Tesla read many works, memorizing complete books, and supposedly possessed a photographic memory.[188] He was a polyglot, speaking eight languages: Serbo-Croatian, Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin.[189] Tesla related in his autobiography that he experienced detailed moments of inspiration. During his early life, Tesla was repeatedly stricken with illness. He suffered a peculiar affliction in which blinding flashes of light would appear before his eyes, often accompanied by visions.[188] Often, the visions were linked to a word or idea he might have come across; at other times they would provide the solution to a particular problem he had encountered. Just by hearing the name of an item, he would be able to envision it in realistic detail.[188] Tesla would visualize an invention in his mind with extreme precision, including all dimensions, before moving to the construction stage, a technique sometimes known as picture thinking. He typically did not make drawings by hand but worked from memory. Beginning in his childhood, Tesla had frequent flashbacks to events that had happened previously in his life.[188]

Sleep habits

Tesla claimed to never sleep more than two hours.[190] However, Tesla did admit to "dozing" from time to time "to recharge his batteries."[179] During his second year of study at Graz, Tesla developed a passion for (and became very proficient at) billiards, chess and card-playing, sometimes spending more than 48 hours in a stretch at a gaming table.[191] On one occasion at his laboratory, Tesla worked for a period of 84 hours without sleep or rest.[192] Kenneth Swezey, a journalist whom Tesla had befriended, confirmed that Tesla rarely slept. Swezey recalled one morning when Tesla called him at 3 a.m.: "I was sleeping in my room like one dead ... Suddenly, the telephone ring awakened me ... [Tesla] spoke animatedly, with pauses, [as he] ... work[ed] out a problem, comparing one theory to another, commenting; and when he felt he had arrived at the solution, he suddenly closed the telephone."[179]


Mark Twain in Tesla's lab, 1894
Mark Twain in Tesla's lab, 1894

Tesla, a lifelong bachelor, never married; he said his chastity was very helpful to his scientific abilities.[188] He once said in earlier years that he felt he could never be worthy enough for a woman, considering woman superior in every way. His opinion had started to sway in later years when he felt that women were trying to outdo men and make themselves more dominant. This "new woman" was met with much indignation from Tesla, who felt that women were losing their femininity by trying to be in power. In an interview with the Galveston Daily News on 10 August 1924 he stated, "In place of the soft voiced, gentle woman of my reverent worship, has come the woman who thinks that her chief success in life lies in making herself as much as possible like man--in dress, voice and actions, in sports and achievements of every kind ... The tendency of women to push aside man, supplanting the old spirit of cooperation with him in all the affairs of life, is very disappointing to me".[193] Although he told a reporter in later years that he sometimes felt that by not marrying, he had made too great a sacrifice to his work,[39] Tesla chose to never pursue or engage in any known relationships, instead finding all the stimulation he needed in his work.

Tesla was asocial and prone to seclude himself with his work.[194][195][58][196] However, when he did engage in a social life, many people spoke very positively and admiringly of Tesla. Robert Underwood Johnson described him as attaining a "distinguished sweetness, sincerity, modesty, refinement, generosity, and force."[39] His loyal secretary, Dorothy Skerrit, wrote: "his genial smile and nobility of bearing always denoted the gentlemanly characteristics that were so ingrained in his soul."[40] Tesla's friend, Julian Hawthorne, wrote, "seldom did one meet a scientist or engineer who was also a poet, a philosopher, an appreciator of fine music, a linguist, and a connoisseur of food and drink."[197]

Tesla was a good friend of Francis Marion Crawford, Robert Underwood Johnson,[198] Stanford White,[199] Fritz Lowenstein, George Scherff, and Kenneth Swezey.[200][201][202] In middle age, Tesla became a close friend of Mark Twain; they spent a lot of time together in his lab and elsewhere.[198] Twain notably described Tesla's induction motor invention as "the most valuable patent since the telephone."[203] In the late 1920s, Tesla befriended George Sylvester Viereck, a poet, writer, mystic, and later, a Nazi propagandist. Tesla occasionally attended dinner parties held by Viereck and his wife.[204][205]

Tesla could be harsh at times and openly expressed disgust for overweight people, such as when he fired a secretary because of her weight.[206] He was quick to criticize clothing; on several occasions, Tesla directed a subordinate to go home and change her dress.[188] When Thomas Edison died, in 1931, Tesla contributed the only negative opinion to The New York Times, buried in an extensive coverage of Edison's life:

He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene ... His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 percent of the labor. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor's instinct and practical American sense.[207]


On experimental and theoretical physics

Tesla exhibited a pre-atomic understanding of physics in his writings;[208] he disagreed with the theory of atoms being composed of smaller subatomic particles, stating there was no such thing as an electron creating an electric charge (he believed that if electrons existed at all, they were some fourth state of matter or "sub-atom" that could only exist in an experimental vacuum and that they had nothing to do with electricity).[209][210] Tesla believed that atoms are immutable—they could not change state or be split in any way. He was a believer in the 19th century concept of an all pervasive "ether" that transmitted electrical energy.[211]

Tesla was generally antagonistic towards theories about the conversion of matter into energy.[212] He was also critical of Einstein's theory of relativity, saying:

I hold that space cannot be curved, for the simple reason that it can have no properties. It might as well be said that God has properties. He has not, but only attributes and these are of our own making. Of properties we can only speak when dealing with matter filling the space. To say that in the presence of large bodies space becomes curved is equivalent to stating that something can act upon nothing. I, for one, refuse to subscribe to such a view.[213]

Tesla claimed to have developed his own physical principle regarding matter and energy that he started working on in 1892,[40] and in 1937, at age 81, claimed in a letter to have completed a "dynamic theory of gravity" that "[would] put an end to idle speculations and false conceptions, as that of curved space." He stated that the theory was "worked out in all details" and that he hoped to soon give it to the world.[214] Further elucidation of his theory was never found in his writings.[215]

On society

Tesla circa 1885

Tesla, like many of his era, became a proponent of an imposed selective breeding version of eugenics. His opinion stemmed from the belief that humans' "pity" had interfered with the natural "ruthless workings of nature," rather than from conceptions of a "master race" or inherent superiority of one person over another. His advocacy of it was, however, to push it further. In a 1937 interview, he stated:

... man's new sense of pity began to interfere with the ruthless workings of nature. The only method compatible with our notions of civilization and the race is to prevent the breeding of the unfit by sterilization and the deliberate guidance of the mating instinct ... The trend of opinion among eugenists is that we must make marriage more difficult. Certainly no one who is not a desirable parent should be permitted to produce progeny. A century from now it will no more occur to a normal person to mate with a person eugenically unfit than to marry a habitual criminal.[216]

In 1926 Tesla commented on the ills of the social subservience of women and the struggle of women toward gender equality, and indicated that humanity's future would be run by "Queen Bees." He believed that women would become the dominant sex in the future.[217]

Tesla is widely considered by his biographers as a humanist regarding his worldview.[218][219][220][221]

Tesla made predictions about the relevant issues of a post-World War I environment in a printed article, "Science and Discovery are the great Forces which will lead to the Consummation of the War" (20 December 1914).[222] Tesla believed that the League of Nations was not a remedy for the times and issues.

On religion

Tesla was raised an Orthodox Christian. Later in life he did not consider himself to be a "believer in the orthodox sense," and opposed religious fanaticism.[223] Despite this, he had a profound respect for both Buddhism and Christianity.[30][223]

In his article "The Problem of Increasing Human Energy," published in 1900, Tesla stated:

For ages this idea [that each of us is only part of a whole] has been proclaimed in the consummately wise teachings of religion, probably not alone as a means of insuring peace and harmony among men, but as a deeply founded truth. The Buddhist expresses it in one way, the Christian in another, but both say the same: We are all one.[224]

However, his religious views remain uncertain due to other statements that he made.[225][226][227] For example, in his article, "A Machine to End War", published in 1937, Tesla stated:

There is no conflict between the ideal of religion and the ideal of science, but science is opposed to theological dogmas because science is founded on fact. To me, the universe is simply a great machine which never came into being and never will end. The human being is no exception to the natural order. Man, like the universe, is a machine. Nothing enters our minds or determines our actions which is not directly or indirectly a response to stimuli beating upon our sense organs from without. Owing to the similarity of our construction and the sameness of our environment, we respond in like manner to similar stimuli, and from the concordance of our reactions, understanding is born. In the course of ages, mechanisms of infinite complexity are developed, but what we call "soul" or "spirit," is nothing more than the sum of the functionings of the body. When this functioning ceases, the "soul" or the "spirit" ceases likewise.[223]

Literary works

Tesla wrote a number of books and articles for magazines and journals.[228] Among his books are My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla, compiled and edited by Ben Johnston; The Fantastic Inventions of Nikola Tesla, compiled and edited by David Hatcher Childress; and The Tesla Papers.

Many of Tesla's writings are freely available on the web,[229] including the article "The Problem of Increasing Human Energy," published in The Century Magazine in 1900,[230][231] and the article "Experiments With Alternate Currents Of High Potential And High Frequency," published in his book Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nikola Tesla.[232][233]

Legacy and honors

Tesla on cover of Time magazine for 20 July 1931
Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, Serbia

Tesla's legacy has endured in books, films, radio, TV, music, live theater, comics and video games. The impact of the technologies invented or envisioned by Tesla is a recurring theme in several types of science fiction.

On Tesla's 75th birthday, in 1931, Time magazine put him on its cover.[234] The cover caption "All the world's his power house" noted his contribution to electrical power generation. He received congratulatory letters from more than 70 pioneers in science and engineering, including Albert Einstein.[235]

Things named after Tesla


Enterprises and organizations

Holidays and events





Plaques and memorials

Nikola Tesla Corner in New York City
Nikola Tesla statue in Niagara Falls, Ontario

See also



  1. Carlson 2013, p. 138.
  2. Jonnes 2004, p. 355.
  3. Burgan 2009, p. 9.
  4. "Electrical pioneer Tesla honoured". BBC News. 10 July 2006. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
  5. "No, Nikola Tesla's Remains Aren't Sparking Devil Worship In Belgrade". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 9 June 2015.
  6. "Nikola Tesla". History Channel. Retrieved 15 June 2014. Serbian-American engineer and physicist Nikola Tesla (1856–1943) made dozens of breakthroughs in the production, transmission and application of electric power.
  7. Laplante, Phillip A. (1999). Comprehensive Dictionary of Electrical Engineering 1999. Springer. p. 635. ISBN 9783540648352.
  8. 1 2 "Naturalization Record of Nikola Tesla, 30 July 1891", Naturalization Index, NYC Courts, referenced in Carlson (2013), Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age], p. H-41
  9. "Tesla Tower in Shoreham, Suffolk County (Long Island), 1901–17) meant to be the "World Wireless" Broadcasting system". Tesla Memorial Society of New York. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  10. Van Riper 2011
  11. Cheney 2001, pp. 121, 154.
  12. O'Shei, Tim (2008). Marconi and Tesla: Pioneers of Radio Communication. Books. p. 106. ISBN 978-1-59845-076-7.
  13. "Welcome to the Tesla Memorial Society of New York Website". Tesla Memorial Society of New York. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  14. Van Riper 2011, p. 150
  15. 1 2 "Pictures of Tesla's home in Smiljan, Croatia and his father's church after rebuilding.". Tesla Memorial Society of NY. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  16. Cheney, Uth & Glenn 1999, p. 143.
  17. O'Neill 2007, pp. 9, 12.
  18. 1 2 3 "Tesla Timeline". Tesla Universe. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
  19. Dommermuth-Costa 1994, p. 12, "Milutin, Nikola's father, was a well-educated priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church.".
  20. Cheney 2011, p. 25, "The tiny house in which he was born stood next to the Serbian Orthodox Church presided over by his father, the Reverend Milutin Tesla, who sometimes wrote articles under the nom-de-plume 'Man of Justice'".
  21. Carlson 2013, p. 14, "Following a reprimand at school for not keeping his brass buttons polished, he quit and instead chose to become a priest in the Serbian Orthodox Church".
  22. Burgan 2009, p. 17, "Nikola's father, Milutin was a Serbian Orthodox priest and had been sent to Smiljan by his church.".
  23. O'Neill 1944, p. 10.
  24. 1 2 Cheney 2001.
  25. 1 2 Seifer 2001, p. 7.
  26. O'Neill 1944, p. 12.
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  32. Tesla does not mention which professor this was by name, but some sources point conclude this was Prof Martin Sekulić.
  33. W. Bernard Carlson, Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age, Princeton University Press - 2013, p. 29
  34. Nikola Tesla, My Inventions Nikola Tesla's Autobiography, Chapter 3 - My Later Endeavors
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  40. 1 2 3 4 5 O'Neill 1944, p. ?.
  41. 1 2 Seifer 2001, p. 18.
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  53. Cheney 2001, pp. 54–57.
  54. 1 2 O'Neill 1944, p. 64.
  55. Jonnes 2004, pp. 109–10.
  56. Pickover 1999, p. 14
  57. Seifer 1998, p. 41.
  58. 1 2 3 4 Jonnes 2004.
  59. 1 2 Carlson 2013, p. 75.
  60. John Ratzlaff, Tesla Said, Tesla Book Co., p. 280 - from a letter Tesla sent in 1938 on the occasion of receiving an award from the National Institute of Immigrant Welfare.
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Further reading




  • Pavićević, Aleksandra (2014). "From lighting to dust death, funeral and post mortem destiny of Nikola Tesla". Glasnik Etnografskog instituta SANU. 62 (2): 125–139. doi:10.2298/GEI1402125P. 
  • Carlson, W. Bernard, "Inventor of dreams." Scientific American, March 2005 Vol. 292 Issue 3 p. 78(7).
  • Jatras, Stella L., "The genius of Nikola Tesla." The New American, 28 July 2003 Vol. 19 Issue 15 p. 9(1)
  • Lawren, B., "Rediscovering Tesla." Omni, March 1988, Vol. 10 Issue 6.
  • Rybak, James P., "Nikola Tesla: Scientific Savant." Popular Electronics, 1042170X, November 1999, Vol. 16, Issue 11.
  • Thibault, Ghislain, "The Automatization of Nikola Tesla: Thinking Invention in the Late Nineteenth Century." Configurations, Volume 21, Number 1, Winter 2013, pp. 27–52.
  • Martin, Thomas Commerford, The Inventions, Researches, and Writings of Nikola Tesla, New York: The Electrical Engineer, 1894 (3rd Ed.); reprinted by Barnes & Noble, 1995
  • Anil K. Rajvanshi, Nikola Tesla – The Creator of Electric Age, Resonance, March 2007.
  • Roguin, Ariel, Historical Note: Nikola Tesla: The man behind the magnetic field unit. J. Magn. Reson. Imaging 2004;19:369–374. 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
  • Sellon, J. L., The impact of Nikola Tesla on the cement industry. Behrent Eng. Co., Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Cement Industry Technical Conference. 1997. XXXIX Conference Record., 1997 IEEE/PC. Page(s) 125–133.
  • Valentinuzzi, M.E., Nikola Tesla: why was he so much resisted and forgotten? Inst. de Bioingenieria, Univ. Nacional de Tucuman; Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine, IEEE. July/August 1998, 17:4, pp. 74–75.
  • Secor, H. Winfield, Tesla's views on Electricity and the War, Electrical Experimenter, Volume 5, Number 4 August 1917.
  • Florey, Glen, Tesla and the Military. Engineering 24, 5 December 2000.
  • Corum, K. L., J. F. Corum, Nikola Tesla, Lightning Observations, and Stationary Waves. 1994.
  • Corum, K. L., J. F. Corum, and A. H. Aidinejad, Atmospheric Fields, Tesla's Receivers and Regenerative Detectors. 1994.
  • Meyl, Konstantin, H. Weidner, E. Zentgraf, T. Senkel, T. Junker, and P. Winkels, Experiments to proof the evidence of scalar waves Tests with a Tesla reproduction. Institut für Gravitationsforschung (IGF), Am Heerbach 5, D-63857 Waldaschaff.
  • Anderson, L. I., John Stone Stone on Nikola Tesla's Priority in Radio and Continuous Wave Radiofrequency Apparatus. The AWA Review, Vol. 1, 1986, pp. 18–41.
  • Anderson, L. I., Priority in Invention of Radio, Tesla v. Marconi. Antique Wireless Association monograph, March 1980.
  • Marincic, A., and D. Budimir, Tesla's contribution to radiowave propagation. Dept. of Electron. Eng., Belgrade Univ. (5th International Conference on Telecommunications in Modern Satellite, Cable and Broadcasting Service, 2001. TELSIKS 2001. pp. 327–331 vol.1)


External links

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