Hello people, hope you all are doing fine. Today I bring to you a topic on one of the greatest mind of all time. He not only made contributions to the electrical revolution of the world but also imprinted his name in most of the modern day technologies. But luck never favored him and his talent was neglected and was forgotten. Let us explore his life to know the wonders he did on earth.
Do you believe that you can earn talent by working hard? Off course you can learn something and perfect it but do you think you can excel in it? What I believe is that along with hard work one needs to be god gifted in some field to excel in it. Hard work only makes it perfect. One cannot excel in a field even if he works very hard to achieve it unless he/she is born gifted in that field. This commonality is evident from the life of the greatest figures in the history. One such great mind was Nikola Tesla, the genius behind the invention of the Induction Motor and the pioneer of Alternating Current.
Tesla was born on 10 July,1865 in the Serbian village of Smiljan in Austrian Empire(now Croatia). His father was a priest in the Eastern Orthodox Church. His mother had a talent of making handmade mechanical devices useful for domestic and agricultural purpose and could memorize the Serbian epic poems.
Tesla attended his primary school in Smiljan where he learnt German, arithmetic and religion. Tesla joined his high school at the Higher Real Gymnasium where he was fascinated by the demonstrations of electricity by his physics teacher. At that age Tesla could solve integral calculus in his head and he completed his four year term in three years there.
In 1875 Tesla attended the Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, Austria on a Military Frontier scholarship. During this period, fascinated by the wonders of electricity, Tesla studied rigorously from 3 am to 11 pm daily to grasp the whole of electricity into his head. His professors sent letters to his father warning that if Tesla is not removed from the school, he would die of overwork. During his second year at the Polytechnic he had a conflict over the DC motor. At that time Alternating Current(AC) system was not developed and people used motors which worked on Direct Current. In the DC motor the commutator rings caused spark at the contact of the rotor causing energy loss and the friction caused wear and tear in the machine. Tesla had argued that the commutators were not necessary. He had a better picture of a motor which worked on AC which was in making in his head. Towards the end of second year Tesla got addicted to gambling and hence could not clear the exams. Finally he had to leave the Polytechnic without completing his graduation.
During 1881-82 Tesla worked at Budapest Telephone Exchange and Continental Edison Company where he gained a lot of practical knowledge and experience in electrical engineering. There he designed and built various devices like the improved versions of repeaters, dynamos, motors and many more to count.
US Period and Meeting Edison
The 28 year old Tesla arrived in New York City on June 6th, 1884 with only a few penny in his hand. Along with it he had his recommendation letter for the hero of his admiration, Thomas Alva Edison. Edison had already become a celebrated inventor globally for his famous invention of the incandescent bulb which caught the imagination of people. He founded the Continental Edison Company which manufactured incandescent lights, installed them in the cities and distributed power to the industries. Tesla joined Edison Machine Work, a power grid of Edison's company at New York City.
Edison's system worked on direct current which is not efficient for long distance power transmission. Hence, repeating power stations had to be installed at some repeating distances to distribute the power to long distances. Tesla had discovered a solution to the problem, Alternating Current. Unlike Direct Current power in Alternating Current does not fade away up to a very large distance thus carrying power to far distances without a significant loss.
Motor as we know is an important component in almost all electrical instruments. At those times no one could design a motor that works on alternating current. It was Tesla who came up with his revolutionary idea which he had imagined two years before he met Edison.
Tesla's idea dates back to the conflict with his professor at the Austrian Polytechnic over the DC motor. While working at Budapest, Tesla had finally developed the design of the AC motor. In his design he replaced the rotor and the commutators of the DC motor with a cylinder of copper. He passed Polyphase AC current through the outer ring which created a rotating magnetic field which then interacted with the inner cylinder and rotated it. It made the rotation smooth without any energy loss and wear and tear.
Expecting a good appreciation from the person of his admiration Tesla showed his design to Edison. But his dream was shattered when Edison rejected his idea by saying that the design won't work. Perhaps Edison was facing market challenge and incorporating Tesla's idea would require him to redesign the whole Edison Electric System. After working for six months the depressed and despondent Tesla finally quit the Edison Machine Works due to a financial dispute with Edison. Tesla was not paid the bonus that was promised to him for redesigning the generators and his work on the arc light system.
Tesla patented his AC motor design and the arc lighting system that he had designed at Edison's company. He approached two businessman, Robert Lane and Benjamin Vail who agreed to invest on Tesla's idea. But they cheated on him leaving him penniless. He even lost control of his patents to them which he had exchanged for stock. Tesla had to work for $2 per day digging ditches around the city. Tesla wrote, "My high education in various branches of science, mechanics and literature seemed to me like a mockery".
Tesla Electric Company and the Westinghouse Electric Period
In 1886 two investors Alfred S. Brown, a Western Union superintendent and Charles F. Peck, the New York attorney came up to help Tesla financially and formed the Tesla Electric Company in 1887. They invested on Tesla's new ideas and also helped him get his new patent on Thermo-Magnetic Motor. They set up a laboratory for Tesla at 89 Liberty Street in Manhattan where Tesla developed some new types of generators, motors and other devices.
In 1887 Alternating Current power system was growing popular in Europe and US. The work of Tesla on Induction Motor caught the attention of one of the wealthiest businessman of that time, George Westinghouse who was the founder of Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing. Tesla's motor and AC power system could efficiently work on Westinghouse' system which Westinghouse was desperately looking for. In 1888, Westinghouse hired Tesla with a whopping sum of $60,000 in cash and a royalty of $2.50 per horsepower produced by each motor.
Electricity was a capital intensive business and during those days Westinghouse's company was competing with the two big firms, Edison and Thompson-Houston. Westinghouse's company was falling short of investment. The financial crisis of 1890 followed by the collapse of the Barings Bank in London caused investors to pull back their investments. It led Westinghouse to cut back the investments on Tesla's AC system. Westinghouse had to withdraw the royalty deal with Tesla. However, after six years Westinghouse would purchase Tesla's patent for $216,000 which made Tesla independently wealthy and he was able to pursue his interests. In later years Tesla developed numerous technologies and devices which were appreciated well.
The Columbian Exposition
Westinghouse Electric had won a bid to light the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893. They invited Tesla to participate in the Exposition. They demonstrated to the people the safety, reliability and efficiency of AC current system using Polyphase AC current system which Tesla had designed. Along with it Tesla demonstrated various electrical effects among which the Wireless Lighting System caught the main attention of people. Tesla held a tube filled with gas and which he light up without any wire connected to it. A device now known as Tesla Coil that Tesla had invented few years back induced the voltage in the tube which ionized the gas inside the tube and it light up. Tesla Coil took a low AC voltage and build up an enormous energy inside it which was then released through a spark discharge. This coil induced the required electric field in the room which light up the gas tube no matter where the gas tube was in the room. It was somewhat astonishing to people since only a few years back Edison had amazed the people with his invention of the incandescent light and now this fluorescent light, that too wireless. People thought that Tesla was doing some magic.
Readers can watch how Tesla Coil works in the video below created by the Youtube Channel, Simple History:
During the period 1890-1906 Tesla worked on his very ambitious project on Wireless Transmission of Power and Wireless Communication. It is to be noted that Tesla had worked on Wireless Communication contemporary to Guglielmo Marconi. But his idea was not based on the Hertzian Wave(now Electromagnetic Wave). Tesla believed that Hertzian wave traveled in straight line and it will be lost in the space indefinitely which he perceived wrongly. Instead he used the Earth and the atmosphere for this purpose. He had an idea to conduct electricity to long distances through the Earth or the atmosphere.
Tesla set up an experimental station at an high altitude in Colorado Springs during 1899. The station had in it the largest Tesla Coil ever built which Tesla named as Magnifying Transmitter. The El Paso Power Company had agreed to supply alternating current supply free of cost.
There he conducted experiments with the Magnifying Transmitter in megavolt range and created artificial thundering of millions of volt. At one point it burnt the El Paso generators causing a blackout in the city. Observing the phenomenon, Tesla concluded that he could power up the entire globe using the Earth as a transmission medium which he later realized to be a blunder.
Tesla also observed some unusual signals which he thought to be the communication signals from aliens which made sensational stories among the common people. It has been hypothesized that Tesla may have received the signals that Guglielmo Marconi was transmitting while working on wireless communication at that time.
One of the much discussed project of Tesla was the Wardenclyffe Tower project. After the Colorado Springs experiment Tesla wanted to develop a much powerful transmitter than that used by Marconi, which Tesla claimed to be a copy of his design. Tesla wanted to incorporate his experience at Colorado Springs to develop a much developed version of his Magnifying Transmitter and use Earth or the atmosphere as a medium for wireless communication. After approaching many investors , Tesla finally constructed his transmitter at Wardenclyffe which was 57 meter tall and was named the Wardenclyffe Tower.
However, at that time Marconi's system was gaining popularity among the investors, so the investors were not willing to invest on Tesla's system. Due to this financial crisis Tesla had to halt his project in 1905 which caused nervous breakdown to Tesla. Tesla mortgaged the tower to compensate his debts at the Waldorf-Astoria which eventually reached $20,000. In 1915 he lost the property in foreclosure and in 1917 the Tower was demolished by the new owner to make the land a real estate asset.
Other Major Works
in 1913 Tesla patented a bladeless centripetal flow turbine known as Bladeless Turbine or Tesla Turbine. It employed the boundary layer effect and not the conventional turbine with a fluid impinging upon the blades. In bioengineering it is referred to as multiple disc centrifugal pump. Tesla licensed the design to a precision instrument company and it found application in speedometers of cars and some other applications.
Radio Remote Control
In 1898, in an electrical exhibition at Madison Square Garden, Tesla demonstrated a radio controlled boat which he termed as Telautomation. The crowd was amazed at this and made outrageous comments on the working of the boat as telepathy, magic so on. Some others thought it was being controlled by a monkey inside the boat. Tesla wanted to sell it to the US military as a type of radio controlled torpedo but got no response. However, in World War I it was widely used by a number of countries.
Contemporary to the discovery of X-Ray by Roentgen in 1895 Tesla had designed an X-Ray machine independently. His device was based on a single terminal vacuum tube of his own design with no target electrode which worked from the output of Tesla Coil. Tesla's design produced X-rays of much greater power. But his design did not get much popularity.
Tesla's some other notable inventions include a plane capable of vertical take off, a technology to detect submarines using the reflection of electric ray of very high frequency (little similar to the modern day RADAR) and many other technologies used in our times.
Tesla possessed some unusual traits in his daily life. He spent most of his life in hotels of USA leaving unpaid bills. He was very much concentrated on the numbers divisible by 3. For example, before entering a building he used to take three rounds of the building stayed always in the third floor of any hotel in a room number divisible by three. He worked everyday from 9 a.m to 6 p.m and took the dinner at exactly 8:10. All these numbers are divisible by three. Even the room number in which he died was 3327 in the New York Hotel. He always telephoned his dinner and only the same waiter served him the dinner every day. He always dined alone except for some rare occasions with his friends to keep his social life. Due to such unusual nature he was sometimes tagged as, Mad Scientist.
On 7 January, 1943 Tesla died of Coronary Thombosis in the New York Hotel in the room number 3327 at the age of 86. Tesla had around 300 patents in his name worldwide. Many inventions of Tesla were never patented. Many of the the unaccounted patents are suspected to be hidden in patent archives. Many of Tesla's inventions were not put into patent protection and people made their fortune out of it.
The readers can watch the documentary on Tesla's life by posted by the Youtube Channel: The Documentary Channel below:
The brilliance of Tesla is really underrated. Such a great mind who had worked on such revolutionary ideas which helped the technological development of the world from that time to ours really deserves the due respect. A single man working on so many revolutionary ideas like the Alternating Current, Wireless Power Transmission, Wireless Communication, Radio Remote Control, X-Ray and what not. A reason for him being neglected may be that his works were ahead of his time. However, world is now embracing Tesla as one of the greatest mind in history. In 1960 The General Conference on Weights and Measures named the SI unit of Magnetic Flux Density as Tesla in honor of this great inventor. When Einstein was asked,"How does it feel to be the greatest scientist of the world?", he replied,"I don't know, you should ask Tesla."
- Biography: Nikola Tesla
- Techtarget: Alternating Current
- Electrical4u: DC Motor or Direct Current Motor
- El-Pro-Cus: Induction Motor – Types & Advantages
- Youtube Channel, The Documentary Channel: Nikola Tesla Documentary - Greatest Mind of All Time - Best Science Documentary
- Damn Interesting: Tesla's Tower of Power
- Livescience: How the Tesla Coil Works
- Youtube Channel, TopTenz: Top 10 Greatest Inventions by Nikola Tesla
I hope you enjoyed learning the life of Nikola Tesla. If you love dreaming and learning science then please follow me, @physics-o-mania
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