Tesla was a prolific inventive genius, poet, and a humanitarian visionary.
He was born in Croatia, of Serbian heritage, on July 10, 1856, the son
of an Orthodox priest. He is known to have said, "I am equally proud of
my Serbian birth and Croatian Fatherland". Schooled at the Austrian Polytechnic
School in Graz and the University of Prague, he never graduated, being
forced to drop out after two years due to a shortage of funds after his
father died. He began working at the American Telephone Company
in Budapest, and then for Continental Edison in France in 1882. Somewhat
surprisingly, Tesla's background was actually mechanical engineering, not
to flee from war in his homeland in 1884 at age 28, he emigrated to the United
States, arriving with only 4 cents in his pockets. Strongly recommended
by Charles Batchelor, Manager of Continental Edison in France, he began
working for Thomas Edison. Tesla quickly demonstrated his extraordinary
abilities in electrical engineering to Edison, but he eventually quit in
disgust when Edison reneged on a promise to pay him $50,000. Edison had
previously promised this sum to Tesla if he could make Edison's DC generators
more efficient. Tesla worked day and night, finally solving this "impossible"
problem, but then Edison claimed he was merely joking. Following up on a design he
had envisioned years before, Tesla constructed the very first brushless AC
induction motor in 1887, demonstrating it before the prestigious American
Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) in 1888. Tesla then teamed with George
Westinghouse, who owned the patents on AC transformers, and the "War of
the Currents" (the fight between DC and AC power distribution) began between
the two powerful men, Edison (DC) and Westinghouse (AC).
the period from 1887 through 1890, Tesla created and patented the foundation
of modern polyphase AC generation, transmission, distribution, and utilization
systems. His AC induction motor design eliminated the brushes and commutator
common to all previously existing electric motors. His AC induction motor
used the principle of electromagnetic induction that had already been embodied
in the electrical transformer with the concept of a rotating magnetic field. Tesla originated the idea of using alternating
currents, generated in multiple phases (called a “poly-phase system”),
to produce rotating magnetic fields within the motor's stator windings.
Tesla and Westinghouse demonstrated the practicality of AC power by providing
all the lighting for the beautiful 1893 Colombian Exposition at the World's Fair. Three years
later, they harnessed the mighty Niagara Falls to provide polyphase power to
Buffalo, NY, finally proving once and for all the superiority of AC over DC for practical long
distance electrical power distribution.
began researching higher frequency AC, first in his lab on Houston Street
in New York City, and then at a lab on the outskirts of Colorado Springs,
Colorado. First using high speed mechanical alternators (AC generators),
and later on spark gap oscillators to achieve even higher frequencies, his
early experiments uncovered the fundamental methods to enable practical radio
communication (1893). Tesla demonstrated the power of high voltage RF by
generating 16 foot discharges in his New York City laboratory in 1894. Tesla
filed his basic Radio patents in 1897, and even demonstrated a radio remote
controlled electric boat in 1898. He became convinced that wireless
transmission of electric power was possible while conducting high power RF
research in Colorado Springs. Tesla gained funding and began construction
of a giant 200 kW wireless power transmitter at Wardenclyffe, Long Island,
NY in 1900 with this goal in mind.
main financial backer, J. Pierpont Morgan, initially believed that the new facility
would be used for trans-Atlantic radio communications, and he eventually
withheld further funding when Tesla informed him of the true nature of
the system in 1903. In 1904, the US Patent office reversed Tesla's basic
radio patent, and instead awarded the patent for radio to Guglielmo Marconi!
Tesla ran out of funds in 1905, and was forced to close his Wardenclyffe
lab. (The original Wardenclyffe main building is still standing today, located near
the Shoreham Post Office and Shoreham Fire House on Route 25A, on the property
owned by Agfa (GAF).) Tesla continued to invent, focusing on efficient
bladeless turbines and other electromechanical designs. He filed
suit against Marconi for radio patents in 1915, and the court battles raged
for another 29 years! However, Tesla's expenses continued to exceed income, and he was
forced to declare bankruptcy in 1916.
1917, Tesla was awarded the Edison Medal by the AIEE. During the presentation,
his impressive inventions were recognized:
we to seize and eliminate from our industrial world the results of Mr.
Tesla's work, the wheels of industry would cease to turn, our electric
cars and trains would stop, our towns would be dark, our mills would be
dead and idle" - B. A. Behrend
work…. antedated that of Marconi and formed the basis of wireless telegraphy…
throughout all branches of science and engineering we find important evidence
of what Tesla has contributed." - W. W. Rice,
president of AIEE
was awarded 221 worldwide patents, and 113 US patents. These covered polyphase
AC power alternators, transformers, and motors, radio communication, fluorescent
lighting, automotive ignition systems, VTOL aircraft, efficient bladeless
turbines, etc. Tesla was relatively unconcerned about getting rich, seeking
funds only to continue his research for the betterment of humanity. After
1915, Tesla slowly faded into obscurity, finally dying penniless in 1943.
Later that year, the US Supreme Court declared Tesla the TRUE
inventor of radio.
famous physicist, Niels Bohr summed it up nicely:
ingenious invention of the polyphase system as well as his explorations
of the amazing phenomenon of high frequency oscillations were the basis
for developing completely new conditions for industry and radio communications,
and had a profound influence upon the whole civilization."