Monday 10 October 2016

The real life 'Electric-man' - Nikola Tesla

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When we talk about some of the greatest inventors of all time, we immediately think of greats like Galileo, Edison, Graham Bell, or the Wright brothers. Most of us have heard of 'a' Nikola Tesla, and some of us even know that he was a great inventor. But very few people actually know how much of an impact his inventions has had on the world as we know it. Even I had no idea to be honest, until I decided to dig deeper. Now I regard him as one of the greatest inventors who ever lived. And please don't compare him to Edison... Edison was a douche...a great man, but a douche nonetheless... and I'll tell you why in a bit. 


He was born on the 10th of July, 1856 in Smiljan (present day Croatia). His mother would invent household things all the time, and that spurred an interest in young Tesla towards sciences. His father was an orthodox priest and a writer, but Tesla attributes his success to both his parents. For more information about his childhood, you can refer to the links provided below.

Wikipedia page
Full biography


During his college days, Tesla was struck by an idea of a working motor that produced alternating current, but his professor ridiculed him. He also built a prototype trying to explain investors his idea of alternating current, but none of them backed him. So he decided to move to New York in 1882 to meet none other than Thomas Alva Edison, who by this time, was a renowned inventor and businessman, and was earning a great deal of money from his invention of direct current. Edison however termed the idea unnecessary, but he hired Tesla to repair lighting systems. Soon Tesla became one of Edison's most valuable employees. So in 1885, Edison offered Tesla $50,000 to improve the efficiency of Edison's DC generators. What does Tesla do... he delivers on his promise. What does Edison do... tells Tesla that offering him $50,000 was just a joke, and offered him a raise of $10 a week. Just like anybody else would do, Tesla resigned immediately.


Tesla was forced to take up a job digging ditches. Two investors however soon approached him and offered to invest in his alternating current project and offered him a laboratory in New York, where he built systems and generators, thus, earning him 7 patents. But his real breakthrough came when he was asked to lecture at the American institute of Electrical engineers, where his visionary ideas caught the eye of the investor George Westinghouse. Tesla built a lab for himself and got to work on his ideas of not only the alternating current system, but many other systems which were a framework for many of our modern day gadgets and technology.

Meanwhile pets were disappearing at an alarming rate in New York... Why? Because young children were paid 25 cents per pet they catch... By whom? Well Edison of course!... And why? Because Edison and his investor, Morgan, knew that if Tesla's AC systems were allowed to be developed, it would kill their own DC systems... Which is why electrocuting animals with alternating current to show people how dangerous it could be, was Edison's way of quashing competition. *slow claps* . Oh wait, frying a few animals isn't really enough to catch public attention. So what does Edison do... he finds a human guinea pig (William Kemmler), and electrocutes him to make his point, thus giving the world its first electric chair. *more slow claps*

Tesla's response was pretty epic. He demonstrated the lighting of bulbs by letting alternating current through his body. If there was any doubt as to who was the winner of the batle of the currents, the contract provided to Westinghouse and Tesla to light up the Chicago world fair in 1893, laid everything to rest. Tesla used flourescent tubes and bent them to spell out people's names, thus, making the world's first neon lamps. The 100000 lamps which lit up when the President switched them on, wowed the crowds like nothing else. He even displayed many of his other inventions on display, such as emitting lightning bolts from the Tesla coil. 

The electricity hall at the Chicago world fair, 1893
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TESLA - 1    EDISON - 0


Tesla has a total of around 278 patents, but he could have had a lot more of those. The truth is he wasn't at all interested in patents or any form of monetary gains. He had an eidetic memory (more commonly known as photographic memory), which allowed him to visualise most of his experiments in his head, without making too many initial drawings. Due to this, and his disconnect from the material world, he often forgot to write down his inventions on paper. Add to it, the fact that Tesla was totally against war, and thus, never disclosed many of his technologies to the world, just so that it is not used in acts of war. A good example of this is the 'death ray', in simple terms, a continuous ray of electrical discharge, which he never disclosed, as he believed the world needs to beready to use it to end war, rather than to fight wars. Till date, nobody has been able to recreate that effect, but we do see it a lot in science fiction.


Many of the gadgets we use in our daily lives today, or technologies which define our modern day world, had its roots in Tesla's laboratory more than a century ago. A few examples would be


Possibly one of the world's first X-ray of Mark Twain in Tesla's lab, March'1984
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William Rontgen is known as the person who invented the X-ray. Truth is Tesla was the first person to investigate and take X-ray images in the world. Unfortunately his laboratory caught fire and all his work was lost, while Rontgen developed on the technology and got to the finish line first.


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During the first world war, Tesla put forward his invention of the first RADAR to the US navy, but apparently, Edison, who was the head of the research and development team of the US navy at that time, convinced them that it had no practical application in war. *some more slow claps*


Not saying that Tesla invented the transistor, but Tesla held the patents for the technology of transistors many decades before it was invented.


Neon lighting was invented by Tesla in the 1890's
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Yes this was Tesla too.


Again, Tesla

WIRELESS COMMUNICATION (effectively, the technology used in mobile phones)

Edison.. Eh just kidding. Tesla, it was Nikola Tesla!


The radio was built on a technology put forward by Tesla
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Yes, Gugliemo Marconi is credited with the invention of the Radio. But his entire work was based on the works of guess who..? Exactly, Nikola Tesla! Tesla in fact is the first person to record radio waves from outer space. But when Marconi was given the patent for the radio, what does Tesla say... "Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue. He is using seventeen of my patents". Such a nice chap.


After the use of AC spread throughout the world, Nikola Tesla was supposed to get a huge sum of money along with royalties per horse power of AC motors sold, as per his deal with the Westinghouse company. But the Westinghouse company itself was going bankrupt due to some rumours spread by JP Morgan (Edison's investor). On hearing this, Tesla spoke to Westinghouse and said that the royalties which he owed Tesla at that time (amounting to about $1 million), and any further royalties could be waived, which allowed the Westinghouse company to remain in business. If Tesla got his royalties during his lifetime, he would have been the world's first billionaire. Instead, he died penniless in 1943, primarily because nobody at that time understood the practicality of his visions, hence leaving him without any investors in his later life.


What bothers me the most is the fact that even today, this genius is hardly given credit for his contributions to the world. I don't remember ever reading about him in school, nor anybody ever mentions how great an inventor he is. His story reminds me of Vincent Van Gogh in the art world, who like Tesla, never got any due recognition in his lifetime. But just like Van Gogh has finally become synonymous to the art world, I hope a day comes when Tesla too is placed high up the ladder in the world of inventors.


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