Nikola Tesla - The Lightning Creator
1856-1943

At precisely midnight as July 9th changed to July 10th, 1856, in the village of Smiljan in the province of Lika, Croatia, an event occurred that would change the 20th century. A son was born to the Reverend Milutsin Tesla, a Serbian Orthodox priest, and his wife, Djuka. They named the boy Nikola. Both families originally came from western Serbia and Nikola was a dreamer as well as a self styled poet but as he grew up he developed self-discipline and a penchant for precision. Instead of following generations of his predecessors into either the Church or the Army he embarked on an engineering career.

Even in his early childhood it was obvious that Tesla had an extraordinary mind. Tesla's father gave him a variety of regular mental exercises to increase his memory and logical skills. Tesla himself gave the credit for his talents to his motherís side of the family, whom he referred to as a long line of inventors.

During his childhood and teens Tesla suffered from many afflictions. The most curious was one in which blinding flashes of light would appear before his eyes and would often be accompanied by hallucinations. A lot of the time the visions were linked to a word or an idea he had previously come across and he would envision it in realistic detail.

The hallucinations caused Tesla great discomfort and by the time he had reached his teens he had taught himself to prevent them from occurring except in times of great stress. Whenever they did occur they were of a nature that was almost psychic.

Tesla suffered a devastating bout of cholera after he graduated from high school and nearly died. He was bedridden for nine months and his doctors pronounced that he would not live much longer. However Tesla was still occupying his active mind by reading as much as possible when he read the story "Innocents Abroad" by Mark Twain. Tesla was so captivated by the humour and humanity of Twain that he made a miraculously abrupt recovery. Years later while living in the United States, Tesla met Samuel Clemens and thanked him for saving his life. The two went on to forge one of the few close friendships that Tesla had.

A few years later Tesla suffered another debilitating trauma, the nature and causes of which were a complete mystery. Teslaís physical senses went into overdrive and paralyzed him with their acuteness. He could hear the ticking of a pocket watch from several rooms away and the vibrations from passers-by were like an earthquake. Exposure to light was excruciating to his eyes and the surface of his skin. The condition gradually eased and Tesla returned to normal with a mental breakthrough that led to the invention of the alternating current motor.

These physical and emotional traumas of his early life undoubtedly shaped him into the man he became. A man of immense brilliance and eccentricity, Tesla avoided physical contact with other people and to avoid shaking hands he died that he had injured his hand in a laboratory accident.

Tesla attended the Polytechnic School in Graz, Austria and it was there that he first saw the Gramme dynamo, which operated as a generator but became an electric motor when current was applied to it. This gave Tesla the idea for a way to use alternating current instead of direct current. After Graz he attended the University of Prague until 1880.

Upon leaving the University of Prague he gained employment as a telephone engineer in a government telegraph engineering office in Budapest. It was there that he produced his first invention, a telegraph repeater. He then visualised the principle of the rotating magnetic field and conceived the plans for a new type of electric motor, the induction motor, which has no commutator as dc motors have but relies on the principle of a rotating magnetic field produced by polyphase alternating currents. In 1882 Tesla moved to Paris and commenced work for the Continental Edison Company. It was while on assignment to Strasbourg in 1883 that he constructed his first induction motor during his free time after work. However, no one in Europe was interested in his invention so he eventually immigrated to the USA.

Tesla arrived in New York in 1884 with four cents, a few of his own poems and plans for a flying machine. He found employment with Thomas Edison but the two frequently quarreled as Edison was a firm believer in direct current and wanted to build numerous, small and incredibly polluting power plants everywhere in the world which would only be capable of transmitting power up to two and a half miles. Tesla had a more comprehensive vision and was a firm believer in alternating current along with designing a way to transmit power over theoretically unlimited distances.

Edison was also a very difficult person to work for as he did not believe in giving free rein to his employees and Tesla found this stifling to his creative ability. Tesla soon left Edison's employ and founded his own laboratory. In May of 1885 he formed an alliance with George Westinghouse, head of the Westinghouse Electric Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Westinghouse bought the patent rights to Tesla's polyphase system of ac dynamos, transformers and motors for $1 million dollars plus royalty. Tesla then, along with Westinghouse, engaged in a colossal struggle against his old employer George Edison with Tesla's alternating current systems pitted against Edison's direct current systems. The Tesla-Westinghouse ac system eventually won.

Tesla went through a difficult period after leaving Edison during which he invented but lost his rights to an arc-lighting system. Then in 1887 he established his own laboratory in New York City where his creative mind could be given free rein. During this time he experimented with shadowgraphs similar to those used by Wilhelm Rontgen when he discovered X-rays in 1895. In 1888 Tesla designed the first practical system of generating and transmitting alternating current for power systems and the system was demonstrated for the first time at the World's Columbia Exposition in Chicago, 1893. This success won him the contract to install the first power generator at Niagara Falls this was completed in 1896 and carried power to Buffalo, NY.

Tesla often gave exhibitions in his laboratory in which he lighted lamps without the use of wires by allowing his body to be the conductor. A genius but eccentric, Tesla was at the peak of his inventiveness and his countless experiments included work on a carbon button lamp, the power of electrical resonance and various types of lighting. He produced in rapid succession the induction motor, which utilised his rotating magnetic field principle, new forms of generators and transformers, fluorescent lights and a new type of steam turbine. He also became increasingly intrigued with the possibility of the wireless transmission of power. Tesla was the actual inventor of radio and demonstrated it in public four years before Marconi. It is interesting to note that Tesla employed Marconi as a lab assistant around this time.

High frequency generators were invented by Tesla in 1890 and then in 1891 he invented the coil which bears his name: The Tesla coil which is the basis of the high voltage generation for TV sets and computer monitors among other things. This year also marked his United States citizenship. He suffered a lab fire but managed to rebuild it while continuing his brilliant inventiveness by producing patents and devices for high frequency lighting, X-rays and electrotherapy among others. In 1898 Tesla announced his invention of a boat guided by remote control. When people voiced skepticism Tesla silenced his critics by demonstrating it before a crowd in Madison Square Garden.

May 1899 and Tesla moves his lab from New York to Colorado Springs. It was here that Tesla made what he considered to be his most important discovery, terrestrial stationary waves. He proved that the earth could be used as a conductor and that it would become resonant at a certain frequency. During this time Tesla also built a huge magnifying transmitter and experimented with wireless power and radio. He also lit 200 bulbs without wires at a distance of 25 miles (40 Kms) and began studying lightning and managed to create man made lightning, producing flashes of 135 feet (41 metres). At one point he was certain that he had received signals originating from another planet, however this was greeted with it.

In early 1900 Tesla returned to New York and began construction at Wardencliffe on Long Island of a new laboratory with a huge tower, to be the first in a world wide system, for a magnifying transmitter for the world broadcast of wireless. This was to be accomplished with $150,000 capital supplied by the U.S. financier J.P. Morgan secured, according to Tesla, by assigning 51 percent of his patent rights of telephony and telegraphy to Morgan. Tesla expected to furnish facilities for sending pictures, messages, weather warnings and stock reports.

Before the project could be completed, Tesla's funds were cut off by both JP Morgan and George Westinghouse and the project collapsed. It was at this time that Tesla had revealed his life long dream and ambition, to supply the world with free electricity by means of his magnifying towers, Tesla coils and his experiments into making lightning. This was to be Tesla's greatest defeat as he wanted to use free electricity as a basis for a world economy based on aesthetic achievement.

As he had signed away the rights to his inventions to date for what amounted to a pittance he had no steady income to support him during this time and so his ideas from then on remained just that, merely ideas in his notebooks. In 1917 his lab on Long Island was destroyed and he spent the remainder of his life living in a hotel in New York city. In 1915 he was extremely upset when a report that he was to share the Nobel prize with Edison proved to be wrong. In 1917 he was awarded the Edison medal that was the highest honour that could be bestowed by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

He held press conferences on his birthdays where he would give predictions for future inventions. Among these predictions were microwaves, TV, beam technologies, a cosmic ray motor, interplanetary communications and wave interference devices that have come to be known as the "Tesla Howitzer", and the "Tesla Shield". In the 1930's he became involved in wireless power projects in Quebec, Canada.

Tesla died January 7th 1943 in New York. He was the holder of more than 700 patents. After his death the Custodian of Alien Property impounded his effects including his diplomas and other honours, letters, papers and his laboratory notes. These were later inherited by Tesla's nephew, Sava Kosanovich, and surfaced many years later at the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Only a fragment of these, the Colorado Springs Notes, have been published by the Museum and no one knows for certain if all of Tesla's notes have been returned.

Tesla was a genius with ideas far beyond his time. His one failing was to have a dream of giving free power to mankind. Tesla felt that this would create a lasting civilisation and allow people to concentrate on artistic pursuits.  This, however, was too radical for the business community as embodied by J P Morgan and so his funding was cut off and he was ruined.

Amongst the projects that Tesla said he was working on in his later years were a "Death Ray" capable of destroying 10,000 planes, buildings and whole armies at distances of up to 250 miles (400kms). Science writer Oliver Nicholson is certain that Tesla used a weapon of this type in 1908 to shoot an energy pulse of radio wave frequencies from his lab at Wardencliffe over the North Pole but it overshot the mark and instead devastated the Tunguska forest in Siberia. Tesla also claimed that he could split the earth like an apple if he wished. Weapons do exist and are being discussed openly that conform closely to Tesla's descriptions.

There are many unanswered questions surrounding Tesla's impounded notes. Were all his notes surrendered by the US Government to his nephew? Were the Howitzer and Shield possible? Certainly, Tesla himself seemed convinced of their viability and the HAARP project in Alaska bears a striking resemblance to Tesla's theory of "resonating the ionospheric cavity of the earth". But perhaps the most relevant in view of his funding cut off, is it possible to supply free electricity to the world???

Back to Nikola Tesla Table of Contents page