Nikola Tesla, 1856 - 1943

portrait of Nikola Tesla
Ca. 1896
Nikola Tesla signature

Born: 10 July 1856, Smiljan, Lika, Austrian Empire
Died: 7 January 1943, New York City

Tesla's father was a priest in the Serbian Orthodox Church, his mother never learned to read but memorized poetry and devised and crafted household tools. After completing gymnasium at Karlovac he studied electrical engineering at the Austrian Polytechnic at Graz through 1875, but probably never graduated. He held an engineering assistant's post in Maribor (now known as Slovenia), suffered a nervous breakdown, and briefly attended school at Prague. He read widely and had the ability to memorize full books, possibly what is known as a photographic memory. He experienced visions, many of which included extremely detailed images of working equipment, including the ability to give exact dimensions for parts so they could be made. In 1880 he moved to Budapest and worked for the national telephone company, becoming chief electrician in 1881. In 1882 he went to work for Continental Edison, improving electrical equipment earlier built in the US by Edison's labs. Here he conceived the induction motor and his concept of rotating electrical fields. His supervisor there gave him a letter for Thomas Edison saying, "I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man.".

Edison offered him $50,000 (over $1 million in today's dollars) to improve Edison's motor and generators. Tesla left when Edison dismissed his offer as "American humor". Tesla began refining his concept of the alternating current polyphase system, still in use today, although he had to resort to manual labor to support himself. He founded his own firm, Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing, but soon differed with investors and was discharged. In 1887 he built the first brushless AC induction motor and devised the Tesla coil, the next year he started working with George Westinghouse. The "War of the Currents" between Edison's DC and Tesla's AC left both Edison and Westinghouse close to bankruptcy, and Tesla released Westinghouse from future payments on his patents which left him destitute later in life. World War I meant the end of his income from his European patents. In radio, Marconi filed a number of patents on the development of radio and Tesla's prior claims were ignored until the US Supreme Court ruled Marconi's work to be based on Tesla's - later in the year of Tesla's death. He died alone in his hotel room, from heart failure, vast quantities of notes and lab work were promptly taken over by the FBI and classified. In addition to creating the system of electrical generation and distribution, practical electric motors, and radio transmission, his other work is far too great to record here.

Biography from Wikipedia and the Tesla Society

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