Nikola Tesla

Who is Nikola Tesla?

Serbian born Nikola Tesla was one of the greatest scientists of all times. His numerous inventions changed the world. He is best known for designing our modern AC electrical system. Have you ever plugged something into a wall outlet? You can thank Mr. Tesla for that. And that’s not even close to all of it.

Tesla obtained about 300 patents, covering many topics. At least 4 of them found their way into the first radio. Even so, his talents went beyond electrical engineering. Covering mechanics, chemistry, physics, his interests were vast. Many of his inventions are finding new uses even today.

His brilliant mind earned him fame and respect around the world. He was friends with Mark Twain, the famous writer. Even Albert Einstein thought Tesla was the smartest man alive. Sadly, he never found long term financial success. Despite this, he led an interesting life and accomplished many things.

A photograph of Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla
A statue of Nikola Tesla stands in front of his childhood home in Smiljan Croatia.
Tesla's home in Smiljan, Croatia

Early life

Nikola Tesla was born July 10th, 1856 in Smiljan, Croatia. His father was an Orthodox priest, and his mother ran the family’s farm. Nikola was the fourth of five children. He had three sisters and an older brother. Dane, his brother, was killed in a horse-riding accident. Tesla was five years old when it happened.

In 1861, Nikola began primary school in Smiljan. Soon after, the Tesla family moved. In 1862, he continued his education in Gospic. His father worked as a priest at the local parish. At age 9, Nikola moved to Karlovac. He attended high school at the Higher Real Gymnasium. It is here he became interested in electricity. He later wrote that his physics professor inspired him to “know more of this wonderful force”.

Tesla graduated in 1873. He returned to Smiljan only to contract cholera. He became ill for nine months and was near death. His father promised to send him to the best engineering school once he recovered


Tesla began college at Austrian Polytechnic in Graz in 1875. For his first 2 years, he performed very well. He achieved the highest grades possible and had perfect attendance. He was a fast learner and proved to be far ahead of his peers. Tesla worked long hours, to the point that his professors became concerned.

During Tesla’s third year, he became addicted to gambling. He gambled all of his tuition money and had to drop out of school. Upset that he hadn’t finished school, he went off on his own. He moved to Maribor and worked as a draftsman. In 1879, the police returned him to his home in Gospic, because he didn’t have a residence permit. His father died the same year.

In 1880, Tesla left for Prague to study at Charles-Ferdinand University. Unfortunately, he arrived late and could not enroll. He did audit some classes. But this was the last attempt he made to complete his education. Soon after, Tesla began working at the Continental Edison Company.

A picture of Graz University in Styria, Austria
Graz University in Styria, Austria
A picture of an elderly Thomas Edison posing for a photograph.
Thomas Edison

Tesla vs Edison

In 1884, Tesla went to New York to work for Thomas Edison. He worked there for a year and impressed Edison with his knowledge and skills. Tesla eventually improved Edison’s DC dynamo. He hoped to sell it to Edison, but he turned him down. Tesla soon quit and began his own company.

The Tesla Electric Light Company failed almost as soon as it started. As a backup, he got a job digging ditches. Eventually, he found financial support for some of his AC research. After not much time, he was granted over 30 patents.

His work gained him attention. A short time later, he was invited to speak at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. It was here that he met George Westinghouse. Westinghouse was an inventor and Edison’s biggest competition.

He hired Tesla and gave him his own lab. Together they developed the AC tech that would replace Edison’s DC power system. He worked here for a few years before going off on his own once again.


From 1889 to 1902, Tesla worked out of several shops around New York. He had licensed enough patents that he could fund his own research. During this time period, he had his most important discoveries.

Among them, the radio, fluorescent light bulbs, steam engines. Over the years Tesla became involved in many projects. The list of inventions is too long for this page! One that stands out, the Tesla coil. One of our personal favorites.

In the morning hours of March 13 of 1895, Tesla’s S. Fifth Ave laboratory caught on fire. Years’ worth of research was destroyed. This included notes, models, demonstrations. Tesla was devastated.

From the 1890s through 1906, Tesla spent most of his time researching wireless power. In 1899, he set up a laboratory in Colorado springs. Its purpose was to study the conductive properties of low-pressure air. The rural location offered him space, unlike his cramped labs in New York. Here he experimented with radio transmission, wireless power, and artificial lightning bolts.

Tesla's Lab at Colorado Springs.
Colorado Springs
A picture of Tesla's tower at Wardenclyffe
Wardenclyffe Tower

Wardenclyffe Tower

In 1901, Tesla set out on an ambitious project in Shoreham, NY. The Wardenclyffe tower aimed to provide both wireless power and communication to the globe. For a time he made quite a bit of progress. Later that year, Marconi made a record-breaking long-range transmission. This in effect complicated Tesla’s efforts.

Investors were putting their money into Marconi’s radio. Meanwhile, Wardenclyffe’s financial troubles mounted. Eventually, the project came to a halt in 1906. He lost the property and the tower was ultimately demolished.

Since that time, the old lab has been purchased by the Tesla Science Center. The goal is to restore it to its original condition. While progress has been made, there is still a long way to go!

Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla

Tesla claims that Mark Twain‘s writings saved his life. He became familiar with his books when he was younger and sick with cholera. Later on, the two met and Tesla got to tell Twain about his recovery. The two became fast friends. This was in part because Mark Twain was fascinated with technology himself.

He had been known to invest in inventions. Over the years, Twain visited Tesla’s lab several times. He even participated in some experiments. In one notable experiment, Tesla was able to cure his constipation. By sitting on a vibrating plate, it didn’t take long before Twain had to run for the bathroom.

Mark Twan is holding some electrical wires and there is a spark between them.
Mark Twain in Tesla's lab.
Nikola Tesla performing an experiment

What did Nikola Tesla Invent

Nikola Tesla had a long list of inventions. While there are too many to name, here are some of our favorites.

  • Alternating Current
  • Radio-controlled devices
  • Wireless power
  • Tesla coil
  • Telsa Turbine
  • Neon signs
  • Induction Motor

Tesla vs Einstein

Tesla was not a fan of Einstein. In a 1935 New York Times article, He said the following:

“The theory wraps all these errors and fallacies and clothes them in magnificent mathematical garb which fascinates, dazzles and makes people blind to the underlying errors. The theory is like a beggar clothed in purple whom ignorant people take for a king. Its exponents are very brilliant men, but they are metaphysicists rather than scientists. Not a single one of the relativity propositions has been proved.”

Tesla’s dislike for Einstein’s theory even led him to write poetry. Amongst the many lines, Tesla scoffed at the idea that “energy and matter are transmutable”. Presumably referring to E=MC^2.

Einstein, on the other hand, seemed to hold Tesla in high regard. When asked, “what is it like being the smartest person in the world?”, He responded, “You’d have to ask Nikola Tesla”.

Einstein stands in front of a chalkboard full of equations.
Albert Einstein
A UFO zips through the sky.


During Tesla’s Colorado Springs experiments, he noticed something unusual. He was tracking lightning storms, and his equipment received some odd transmissions. After ruling out earthly causes, he concluded they must be from space.
Tesla was so sure of his discovery, he wrote “Brethren! We have a message from another world, unknown and remote. It reads: one… two… three…”.

In 1966, scientists replicated Tesla’s experiments. They discovered that he did in fact receive signals. Sadly, they were caused by the moon passing through Jupiter’s magnetic field.

Death Ray

Few things are more mad science than directed energy weapons. Tesla claimed to have invented just that. 

He explained “this invention of mine does not contemplate the use of any so-called ‘death rays’. Rays are not applicable because they cannot be produced in requisite quantities and diminish rapidly in intensity with distance. All the energy of New York City (approximately two million horsepower) transformed into rays and projected twenty miles, could not kill a human being, because, according to a well-known law of physics, it would disperse to such an extent as to be ineffectual. My apparatus projects particles that may be relatively large or of microscopic dimensions, enabling us to convey to a small area at a great distance trillions of times more energy than is possible with rays of any kind. Many thousands of horsepower can thus be transmitted by a stream thinner than a hair so that nothing can resist.”

While no death ray was constructed, the plans were used to pay an overdue hotel bill.

A news paper article headlining Tesla's death ray.
Tesla poses for a picture as an older man.

Later Years and Death

Tesla’s final years were spent in poverty. He lived alone in cheap hotels. He continued working on new ideas though his health was fading. As time went on he is said to have developed friendships with pigeons.

Tesla died on January 7, 1943. His age at death was 86 years. Later that year, the US Supreme Court struck down some of Marconi’s patents. This in effect credited Tesla as the inventor of the radio. To this day, his AC system still powers the whole world.

Come Back Soon!

Tesla’s legacy is not over. His ideas are constantly reapplied and reused across many fields of technology. If you’d like to see some aspect of his life covered in more detail, please contact us!