Nikola Tesla aged 36
Credit: via Wikimedia Commons

Nikola Tesla was born in the village of Smiljan in the Austro-Hungarian Military Frontier, was educated in Graz and later in Prague where he studied electrical engineering. Showing a brilliant inventiveness, he took his first job in 1882 at the Paris headquarters of the Edison companies and then in Strasbourg, Austria, where, in his spare time, he developed the first induction motor.

In 1884, with very little money, he emigrated to the United States in the hope of boosting his career. In New York, he began almost immediately to work in the laboratories of Thomas Edison, completing the development of many of the projects the American inventor had been working on for many years. The inventiveness of Tesla, and Edison’s professional jealousy, put an end tp their relationship when Tesla was dismissed.

But Tesla did not give up and began to raise funds to build his own lab. There he developed the first system of alternating current (AC), a simpler and safer alternative to continuous electricity as proposed by Edison. Tesla presented the corresponding patent in 1897. However, Marconi’s patent was recorded only on November 10th, 1900 and therefore his was rejected for being considered a copy of the Tesla patent. This gave rise to a dispute between the two parts, Marconi and Tesla. After receiving the testimony of numerous outstanding scientists, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of Tesla in 1943. But most of the books mentioned Marconi as the inventor of radio.

In the late nineteenth century, Tesla proved that using a resonant electrical network, and using what at that time was known as "high-frequency alternating current" (now considered low frequency), only one conductor is needed to power an electric system without any additional metal or an earth conductor. Tesla called this phenomenon the "power transmission through a single wire without return."

A friend who worked at the electric company in Colorado Springs, in 1899 convinced him to move to that town and also persuaded the owners of the generating company to provide Tesla free electricity. There, he began working on a power transmission tower that was 60 meters high, called the "Tesla Coil", with which he intended to show that electricity could provide electricity to many wirelessly. His first experiment was a success: he lit 200 light bulbs at a distance from the tower. The Tesla method was transmitting a frequency wave through the earth to bring electricity to the lamps located 40 kilometers from the tower.

After a while, Tesla had to resort to the government to try to fund his ideas. Based on the experiments of the "Tesla Coil", he presented a project to build a device capable of creating an electromagnetics lightning "capable of shooting an aircraft from 400 miles away". He directed his efforts towards novelties that could be used in the First World War, with little impact.


Doomed to be treated as a marginal scientist, Tesla finished his bitter years trying to subsidize his experiments with the few funds that he had received from multiple patents developed throughout his prolific career. But the sum of envy and ridicule prevented him to recover the prestige and respect he enjoyed at the beginning of his days. In a last attempt to bring his inventions to mankind, he sent reproductions of drawings of his "death ray" to the governments of the United States, France, Russia and the UK, with the idea that with such destructive power, powerful countries would achieve a balance capable to bring a new era of prosperity and peace to mankind.

Due to his continuous exposure to intense electromagnetic fields, Tesla died in 1943 trying in vain to contribute with his ideas to the American effort to win the Second World War. In recognition of his career at the end of that year, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of Tesla by showing that the patents filed by Serbia were decades before those of Marconi and contained all necessary theoretical principles to develop the radio.

His works took humanity out of a primitive age and gave man the technological freedom that no one thought could be achieved. Unfortunately, greed and prejudice from others scientists of his time hindered his project, his altruistic goal that would have allowed all mankind to have permanent free energy in every corner of the planet.

The day after his death all his notes and laboratory devices were removed by government agents and to date are still protected by a secret of state.


Time went on and Tesla slowly began to be recognized as one of the greatest inventors of modern times, a little late perhaps for someone who raised the utopia of using energy as a method to achieve a higher level of welfare and equity in humanity. His fight with Edison and his attempts to go over the rules of mercantile capitalism earned him the opposition of entrepreneurs and officials. Today, a growing group of people explore the life and work of this misunderstood genius whose greatest achievement was to combine knowledge with sensitivity towards humanity.

Tesla's amazing ideas

One of the reasons why Tesla has remained unrecognized as a scientist is that his ideas were so bright they were well ahead of his time. Here are some examples:

  • Tesla discovered the principle of radar, the electron microscope and the microwave. Edison described as "ludicrous" the idea of ​​radar, so we had to wait 25 years for it to be officially invented.
  • In 1898, he first showed the first remote machine, thus initiating the science of robotics.
  • He was the first man to receive radio signals from outer space. The press called him "crazy" for this claim. Radio telescopes can now confirm that he actually received signals from distant stars.
  • He produced the first and largest artificial lightning to date, which measured 40 meters long.
  • He designed a turbine with disks instead of blades for the engine. When built with modern materials, this is still one of the best engines ever designed.
  • He said that one of his experiments revealed the existence of charged particles smaller than an electron. At present these particles are called "quarks" and were discovered in 1977.