Nikola Tesla jump-started the modern world with revolutionary electrical generators and motors. Generators are driven by mechanical force to provide electricity. Motors do the reverse, using electricity to spur mechanical action, as in vacuum cleaners and cars.
In 1893, Westinghouse Electric Corp. used steam engines to power Tesla’s alternating current (AC) generators to illuminate the Chicago World’s Fair; most cities would remain gas-lighted for decades.
In 1895, Niagara Falls powered Tesla’s generators, which sent electricity an astonishing 25 miles to factories in Buffalo, N.Y.
Image: Tesla went from Europe to America, landing 80 U.S. patents and his name on today’s Tesla Motors.
“Tesla’s remarkable insight was to reverse the standard practice in the way generators and motors had been designed, and he thus created disruptive inventions,” W. Bernard Carlson wrote in “Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age.” “Thomas Edison’s electrical system used direct current (DC), but this had many limitations. With Niagara, the basic pattern of the American electrical industry was established, and AC power was generated on a massive scale. Modern versions of Tesla’s motors can also be found running household appliances, powering industrial machinery and keeping the hard disks of laptop computers spinning.”
Tesla held 80 U.S. patents for the technology underlying radio and TV transmission, mobile phones, radar, fluorescent and neon lighting, X-rays, robotics and remote guidance systems, sparking a new industrial revolution.
Tesla (1856-1943) was born in Smiljan in what is now Croatia but was then part of the Austrian Empire (reorganized as the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867).
From an early age, Tesla was fascinated by mechanical things. He was always experimenting, hoping to become an engineer.
- Invented the electricity distribution system and TV and radio transmission technology.
- Overcame: Difficulties in getting investors for technology ahead of its time.
- Lesson: Imagine the future and work backward to create products.
- “He was one of the greatest practical geniuses who ever lived and virtually invented the modern world,” said Marc Seifer, author of “Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla.”
His father was a priest in the Serbian Orthodox Church and expected his son to take up the same career, leading to frequent arguments.
Meanwhile, Nikola’s dad taught him memorization techniques that, coupled with a photographic memory, enabled him to recite by heart volumes of Shakespeare, Voltaire and Goethe, and to learn eight other languages.
His father also taught him to develop a vivid imagination.
In 1917, when the American Institute of Electrical Engineers awarded Tesla its Edison Medal, he described his method:
“I have unconsciously evolved what I consider a new method of materializing inventive concepts and ideas, which is exactly opposite to the purely experimental of which undoubtedly Edison is the greatest and most successful exponent. The moment you construct a device you will find yourself inevitably engrossed with the details and defects of the apparatus. … When I get an idea, I start right away to build it up in my mind. I change the structure, I make improvements. … In this way, you see, I can rapidly develop and perfect an invention without touching anything.”
Tesla attended several colleges, earning perfect grades when he tried, but other interests often distracted him. In 1881, after his father died, Tesla moved to Budapest, Hungary, to take a job at a new American telephone exchange.
He became familiar with Edison’s improvements to the phone and telegraph, and did his own experiments. In 1882, Tesla visualized a better way to design a motor, but no one was interested when Edison’s factory in Paris hired him.
Two years later, Edison invited Tesla to his New Jersey headquarters. The immigrant later claimed that he was offered $50,000 (equivalent to over $1 million now) if he could improve Edison’s machines.
Nikola Tesla with his laboratory’s generator in Colorado amid a career inventing technology that would lead to TV, cellphones and X-rays. View Enlarged Image
After nine months of successful redesigns, Edison reneged.
So the 30-year-old left to form Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing. In 1887, he filed for the first of what would be 400 global patents.
In 1888, George Westinghouse met Tesla and agreed to pay $255,000 — worth $6 million now — to use his AC patents for 15 years, then pay $15,000 in royalties for each year thereafter, according to Marc Seifer, author of “Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla.”
Two years later, Tesla dropped the royalty clause, feeling that it would reduce the Westinghouse board’s hostility to his innovations.
Tesla said that he was too busy to have a family and hardly ate as he obsessively worked. But he did enjoy conversations with friends like Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling, was an expert at billiards and cards, and lived well at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.
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He also developed into a showman, demonstrating his flashiest creations to potential investors and audiences in the thousands across America and Europe.
“What Tesla did was to encourage people to see in his inventions whole new worlds of possibility,” wrote Carlson.
In 1890-91, Tesla did the initial experiments in wireless signal transmission. They laid the foundation for the radio and TV industries and occupied him the rest of his life.
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By Scott S. Smith, for Investor’s Business Daily
(Source: news.investors.com; December 7, 2015; http://tinyurl.com/zpmu2bp)