Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) Serbian/American Inventor

Nikola Tesla | Famous Inventors

Nikola Tesla was born on July 10, 1856 in Serbia. His father, Milutin Tesla, was a Serbian Orthodox priest, and his mother had a talent for making home craft tools, mechanical appliances, and had the ability to memorize lengthy poems. Nikola credited his mother for his creative abilities and near photographic memory.

Nikola excelled in his studies, beginning his education at home and later at the gymnasium in Carlstadt, Croatia. His genius was evident early on, when performing calculus equations in his head. This unique skill caused his teachers to think that he was cheating.

As Nikola grew, he became passionate about mathematics and science, and wanted to become an engineer. Nikola's father, however, constantly oppressed his interests, and insisted that he enter the priesthood. At age seventeen he contracted cholera. Nikola seized an opportunity, pleading with his father to change his mind and allow him to attend the renowned Austrian Polytechnic School at Graz, Austria to study engineering if he survived. His wish came true.

In 1875, Tesla enrolled at Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, Austria, where he studied mechanical and electrical engineering. One day his physics teacher showed Tesla's class a new Gramme dynamo that used direct current (DC) to power the device. Amused by the device, Tesla made a suggestion to improve it by eliminating a set of inefficient sparking connections. His professor was amused by his comment, and said it would be equivalent to trying to build a perpetual motion machine. While even Tesla could not hope to achieve that awesome feat, he became obsessed with the project over the next few years. He knew that the solution lay in electric power created by alternating current (AC).

In 1882, Tesla began working for the Continental Edison Company in France, designing and making improvements to electrical equipment. In June 1884, at the age of 28, Tesla relocated to New York City, and continued working for Edison. In the following year Tesla told Edison that he believed that he could redesign Edison's motors and generators to make them better and more economical. Edison said, "There's fifty thousand dollars in it for you-if you can do it". After several months of work Tesla achieved what he had set out to do. He showed the improved motor to Edison and asked about payment. Edison told him that he was only joking, and that he didn't understand American humor. Tesla immediately resigned.

In 1886, Tesla founded Tesla Electric Light and Manufacturing. The company installed electrical arc light lamps designed by Tesla, while Tesla continued to develop dynamo electric machine commutators for which he received the first of many patents issued to him in the United States. In the following year Tesla started the Tesla Electric Company, with the financial support of New York attorney Charles F. Peck and Western Union Director Alfred S. Brown. It was is this lab that Tesla constructed his brushless alternating current induction motor.

By the late 1880's Tesla, Westinghouse and Edison were at the heart of the 'War of the Currents'. During the initial years of electricity distribution Edison's direct current (DC) was the standard for the United States. It worked well for many purposes, and Edison was very interested in protecting his patents. However, alternating current (AC) was cheaper than Edison's direct current (DC), more efficient, and far more powerful. After many years of debate, Tesla submitted a bid to power the 1893 World's fair with alternating current (AC). Over 26 million people attended the fair during the six months it was open, and saw the potential of alternation current (AC). He impressed visitors with his new phosphorescent lighting, and his gigantic 'Tesla coils' which he used to safely illuminate a line of light bulbs. Tesla had won the war, and AC would soon power the world.

By the early 1890's Tesla creative energies were peaking with a number of significant projects in development, including his Tesla coil, an alternating current electrical transformer, his investigations into radiant energy (later called X-ray), and his research on high frequency transmissions and the fundamentals of radio. It was also during this time that Tesla became a citizen of the United States of America. He was proud of his new home, and told many of his friends that he valued his citizenship more than any scientific honors that he had ever received.

On January 7, 1943, at the age of 86, Nikola Tesla died in New York a poor and reclusive man. His legacy, however, continues to thrive. With AC power lines criss-crossing our world and electrical motors powering our blenders and washing machines, the young man who once had little chance of surviving cholera, went on to change our lives forever.


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Nikola Tesla | Biography for Kids

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Nikola Tesla | Meet the Inventor Worksheet

Meet the Inventor Worksheet - Nikola Tesla

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