Nikola Tesla: A Man Ahead of His Time


When Nikola Tesla was born, the Austrian Empire still existed. An ethnic Serb, he came into the world in modern-day Croatia on July 10th, 1856. His birth seemed to foreshadow his life’s work, as his mother was in labor during a massive lightning storm. The lightning that flashed during Tesla’s birth was considered an ill omen by the midwife, but Tesla’s mother didn’t agree.

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00:00
He grew up to be over six feet tall, a fashionable dresser, and friends with some of the most
00:03
famous Americans of his time.
00:05
But he started life in a corner of the Austrian Empire…
00:14
Early Life When Nikola Tesla was born, the Austrian Empire
00:29
still existed.
00:30
An ethnic Serb, he came into the world in modern-day Croatia on July 10th, 1856.
00:35
His birth seemed to foreshadow his life’s work, as his mother was in labor during a
00:40
massive lightning storm.
00:42
The lightning that flashed during Tesla’s birth was considered an ill omen by the midwife,
00:46
but Tesla’s mother didn’t agree.
00:48
Instead, she proclaimed that: “He will be a child of light.”
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His mother was not wrong – as we know today, Tesla is the reason we have alternating current
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electricity.
00:57
But, on top of that, starting in childhood, Tesla saw flashes of light that reportedly
01:01
came to him before he had ideas.
01:03
There’s another side of the story to the flashes of light that has emerged, however.
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It’s possible that these flashes – or visions – were actually caused by a traumatic event
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he witnessed in childhood.
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When Tesla was just five years old he saw his only brother, Dane, die in a horse riding
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accident.
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It was after this that Tesla began having the flashes of lights and visions.
01:23
He had them for the rest of his life.
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The family lived in a modest home, one that has since been rebuilt complete with a statue
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of Tesla in the yard.
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Tesla’s father was an Eastern Orthodox minister, and his mother was a brilliant woman who was
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an inventor herself.
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She created mechanical appliances to use around the house, and her tinkering and creative
01:41
thinking undoubtedly influenced her son.
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Tesla’s mother also had an incredible memory.
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She could memorize entire epic poems, and Tesla credited his own photographic memory
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to the genes he inherited from his mother.
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He memorized entire books, visualized his projects and ideas, and spoke several languages.
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In his early years at school, Tesla’s studies focused on German, math, and religion.
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By the time he entered the later years of his education science had become a key focus.
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He moved away from his family to attend the Higher Real Gymnasium.
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Here, Tesla was accused of cheating because of his photographic memory.
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His outstanding memory allowed him to perform integral calculus using only his mind – no
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pen or paper required – and so his teachers became suspicious.
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Nonetheless, Tesla was able to finish the necessary work to graduate in only three years
02:30
instead of the customary four.
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During his three years at the Higher Real Gymnasium, Tesla was introduced to a phenomenon
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that ultimately defined his career and how he’s remembered today.
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In his physics class, the teacher demonstrated electricity.
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Tesla was fascinated.
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But it would be some time before he could launch a career studying and using electricity.
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He became ill shortly after graduating in 1873.
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For nine months, he was bedridden with cholera and only narrowly escaped death.
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His brush with death helped form Tesla’s lifelong germaphobe tendencies…he was so
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fearful of germs that it took him 18 napkins to get through a single meal.
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In 1874, Tesla was expected to be conscripted into the military.
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Tesla had no interest in serving, and managed to escape from the requirement by running
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away to a mountainous region where he was able to disguise himself as a hunter.
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After a year, Tesla was able to emerge from the mountains and start seriously studying
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science.
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He began attending classes at Austria Polytechnic, where he quickly showed himself to be both
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a talented and diligent student.
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In fact – he may have been too diligent.
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Years after he left the school, and after his father had died, Tesla discovered a pile
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of letters that the school sent to his father warning them that Tesla was overworking himself.
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According to Tesla himself, he was working incredibly hard – getting up at 3 AM, and
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not going to bed until 11 PM.
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During that time, he was fully focused on his studies.
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He didn’t even take off holidays or Sundays from this routine.
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By the time his first year was over, he had passed twice as many exams as he needed to
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and received the highest grades possible.
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But even someone with a brain like Tesla’s couldn’t sustain that kind of schedule.
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His second year in school was a complete reversal from his first.
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After losing a scholarship at the end of his second year, Tesla began gambling.
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Gambling wasn’t just a pastime for him – he was addicted to it.
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He lost his tuition money gambling, and then when final exams rolled around he was unprepared
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to take them.
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He never did take them…and so he never graduated.
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Unwilling to face his family and tell them he did not graduate, Tesla simply fled to
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the town of Maribor and took up work as a draftsman.
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He started gambling again, playing cards on the street.
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At first, some of Tesla’s friends thought he had drowned, but Tesla’s father figured
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out the truth eventually.
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He tried to get his son to return home, but Tesla refused.
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Eventually, he was forced to return home when he was arrested for not having a residence
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permit.
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For a year, Tesla worked as a teacher in Gospic, the town where his family lived.
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But his extended family wanted to help him get back to school…so they pooled their
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funds and off to Prague he went.
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But it wasn’t an easy jump back into academia.
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He arrived too late to actually enroll.
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And even if he hadn’t been late, Tesla was missing some of the key studies required to
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enroll.
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Namely, Czech and Greek.
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So he did not achieve his academic dreams, but by 1881 Tesla was able to find work in
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his preferred field.
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He had found a job as an electrical engineer with the Central Telephone Company in Budapest.
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While working there, he and a friend had a habit of walking through the park.
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One day during the walk, Tesla got one of his visions – he knew how to build an induction
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motor.
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He picked up a stick, found a patch of dirt, and sketched out his idea there and then.
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He then built a prototype of the motor.
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It made sense to him, and he knew the importance of it, but he couldn’t drum up much interest
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for his invention in Europe.
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America While Tesla was working in Europe, Thomas
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Edison had launched his Edison Company – which included a branch in Paris.
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Tesla secured a job at the Continental Edison Company helping with the installation of lighting
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in Paris.
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His talents were soon taken advantage of for design and for troubleshooting.
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And within two years, he was recruited to travel to America to work for Edison directly
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in New York.
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He and hundreds of others worked in Manhattan, installing lights and building out an electric
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utility for New York City.
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Tesla described his experiences and impressions of Edison:
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“I came from Paris in the Spring of 1884, and was brought in intimate contact with him
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[Thomas Edison].
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We experimented day and night, holidays not excepted.
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His existence was made up of alternate periods of work and sleep in the laboratory.
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He had no hobby, cared for no sport or amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of
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the most elementary rules of hygiene.
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There can be no doubt that, if he had not married later a woman of exceptional intelligence,
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who made it the one object of her life to preserve him, he would have died many years
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ago from consequences of sheer neglect.
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So great and uncontrollable was his passion for work.”
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But as he had in his first year of school, Tesla was also a non-stop worker.
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One story relates that he stayed out all night working, and took some gibes from people for
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being out all night.
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When Edison found out he was actually out working, Tesla earned Edison’s respect.
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Working for Edison wasn’t ideal for Tesla, though.
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He only lasted six months at the company.
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Edison and Tesla disagreed over the alternating current and the direct current, with Tesla
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favoring alternating and Edison favoring direct, but it’s still unclear if that disagreement
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was the primary reason Tesla ended up leaving the company.
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Tesla and Edison also differed in their approaches to business and science – Edison was attuned
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to the marketing side of things, while Tesla was highly focused on the scientific invention
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and innovation part of the work.
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It’s possible his leaving may have been precipitated by a bonus he thought he was
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getting…and was then refused.
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The manager at the Edison Company challenged employees to design two dozen different machines.
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The first person to successfully do so would receive a huge bonus – fifty thousand dollars!
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That translates to millions of dollars by today’s standards.
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Tesla jumped at the chance to tackle the invention and earn a huge amount of money.
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He completed the task, presented his work…and was denied the bonus.
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The manager and Edison claimed the challenge had been issued jokingly…and Edison himself
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told an upset Tesla: “Tesla, you don’t understand our American
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humor.”
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Regardless of the reason, the fact is that Tesla departed from Edison’s company after
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only a few short months.
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He had it in his mind that he was going to start his own company, researching and working
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with alternating currents.
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It wasn’t so easy to just get started, though.
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When Tesla quit Edison’s company, he had to earn money to live on by digging ditches
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for only two dollars a day.
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“My high education in various branches of science, mechanics and literature seemed to
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me like a mockery,” he said of this time.
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While he was doing that, though, he was pitching investors.
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He found people who liked what they heard, and trusted the scientific knowledge of this
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young immigrant.
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By 1885, he was working on getting his arc lighting system patented and had a funding
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promise from two businessmen to start Tesla Electric Light and Manufacturing.
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Only a year into the venture, though, they pulled out and left Tesla in the lurch.
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Yet again, the inventor was penniless.
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In 1886, though, he met two men who were looking to invest in scientific inventions.
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They set Tesla up with a laboratory in New York City, established a profit-sharing structure,
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and the Tesla Electric Company was born.
09:36
In only a year, Tesla had created an induction motor that ran on alternating current.
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This time, he had two business partners who were ready and willing to handle the marketing
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and business end of things.
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Soon after, Tesla published a paper entitled: “A New System of Alternating Current Motors
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and Transformers.”
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It laid out his ideas, and it got him noticed.
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George Westinghouse read the paper, and he liked what he read.
10:00
Westinghouse licensed Tesla’s induction motor, and also gave him a consulting job
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at the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Lab in Pittsburgh.
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Westinghouse wanted to be the person who provided the United States with long distance power,
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and he believed Tesla was the person to help him achieve his goal.
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In the early 1890s, Westinghouse and Edison were competing heavily in the electric industry.
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Edison was throwing out claims that Tesla’s AC current wasn’t safe, and meanwhile Westinghouse
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was facing financial difficulties.
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But Westinghouse paid Tesla for the licensing, and so he had the ability to continue working
10:35
on projects that he wanted to.
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One of those projects was the Tesla coil.
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The Tesla Coil, which he patented in 1891, allowed electricity to be transmitted wirelessly.
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It was the first invention of its kind, and it was used in antennas, used to send telegraphs,
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and even though the original design isn’t used anymore, a different version of it is
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still used in tv and radio to this day.
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1891 was a landmark year in Tesla’s life for another reason, too.
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Along with the patent for the Tesla Coil, he was also granted U.S. citizenship.
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Tesla continued his relationship with Westinghouse into the 1890s, as they sought out his help
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for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
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Westinghouse was in charge of lighting the entire event, but also had its own display.
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Here, he gave demonstrations to the public, showing how an AC current worked.
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Tesla’s next major project came at Niagara falls.
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Power was being generated at the falls, but there was a need for an efficient transmission
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system.
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Based on Tesla’s recommendation, Westinghouse was hired to build an AC generation system
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at Niagara.
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Tesla did the design work, and the resulting hydroelectric power plant began providing
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electricity to the city of Buffalo, New York.
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With all of these projects, Tesla was gaining visibility both in American and around the
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world.
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And he was getting to know other high profile people, too.
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Not all of them were in the scientific sphere, either.
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One of the American celebrities that Tesla got to know was Mark Twain.
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Even when he was living in Croatia, Tesla was reading Twain’s books.
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The two met in New York City, having crossed paths at a social event.
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Twain had always been interested in technological innovation, and so the two spent much time
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together in Tesla’s lab.
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A photograph of Twain’s hand that Tesla took using light from “Crookes Tubes”
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brought Tesla right to the edge of discovering x-rays…unfortunately he didn’t realize
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how close he had come until x-rays were actually discovered and the use of crookes tubes in
12:34
the invention was made known.
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Twain was also a part of another Tesla experiment…an experiment specifically designed to address
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Twain’s digestive issues.
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Twain was often constipated, and he wasn’t shy about complaining of the condition.
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Tesla had developed a vibrating disk that would essentially shake whoever stood on top
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of it.
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He urged his author friend to climb on board the device, and literally have his digestion
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issues solved by shaking his bowels loose.
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When Tesla thought Twain had had enough of the shaking treatment, he told him to get
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off.
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But Twain didn’t want to get off.
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He stayed on top of the disk, and continued to be shaken, ignoring Tesla’s urgings.
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He shouldn’t have ignored Tesla – eventually the shaking did its job, and then some, on
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Twain’s bowels.
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He couldn’t control them.
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The famous author had quite literally gone to the bathroom in his suit in the middle
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of Nikola Tesla’s laboratory.
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Tesla never stopped inventing.
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He said that he only slept two hours per night, and he was always looking for the next project.
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Wireless transmission of electricity was one of his main goals, but he needed funding to
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achieve it.
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Living in New York, he had ample access to wealthy people.
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He was able to convince J. Pierpont Morgan of the viability of wireless transmission,
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and the banker provided him with one hundred fifty thousand dollars to build a transmission
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tower.
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He was competing with Marconi to transmit wireless messages, but Marconi got there first.
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Investors, including Morgan, pulled their funds from Tesla’s project and he was forced
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to abandon the effort in 1906.
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When the project was abandoned, Tesla didn’t just have to stop construction – he had to
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actually mortgage the property.
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Tesla owed huge amounts of money to the Waldorf Astoria.
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He lived at the lavish hotel, and he lived large – spending twenty thousand dollars – that’s
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nearly five hundred thousand today – in the short time he lived there.
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In 1917, the transmission tower was demolished after Tesla lost it in foreclosure.
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He also tried to sue Marconi, asserting that he had stolen Tesla’s ideas to create his
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wireless transmission technology.
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Tesla was a genius, there’s no doubt about it.
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But he was a difficult man – he had many quirks and obsessions, and was completely, utterly
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focused on his work.
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He never married, thinking a woman in his life would interfere with his work.
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As he said, “I do not think you can name many great
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inventions that have been made by married men.”
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But there also indications Tesla didn’t think he was worthy of women.
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Then, he became dissatisfied with the attitude of modern women in the 1920s.
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In 1924 interview, Tesla explained his thoughts on women:
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“I had always thought of woman as possessing those delicate qualities of mind and soul
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that made her in these respects far superior to man.
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I had put her on a lofty pedestal…I worshiped at the feet of the creature I had raised to
15:17
this height, and, like every true worshiper, I felt myself unworthy of the object of my
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worship.But all this was in the past.
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Now the soft-voiced gentle woman of my reverent worship has all but vanished.
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In her place has come the woman who thinks that her chief success in life lies in making
15:33
herself as much as possible like man–in dress, voice and actions, in sports and achievements
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of every kind.”
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Tesla put some of his social and nurturing energy that he wasn’t putting towards women
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towards the pigeons that flocked throughout New York City.
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And one in particular caught his attention.
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“I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them for years.
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But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings; that
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one was different.
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It was a female.
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I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me.
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I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me.
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As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.
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“ When that pigeon was hurt, Tesla invented
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a device to help heal its injured wing and leg.
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Tesla lived out his life in New York City, never married, but surrounded by the famous
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and the intellectual.
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He invented constantly, right up through the 1930s when he was well into his seventies.
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In January 1943, a maid decided to enter Tesla’s hotel room even though he had put up a Do
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Not Disturb sign.
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It had been up for 48 hours…when the maid opened the door, she was confronted with the
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sight of the famous inventor’s body.
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He died of coronary thrombosis at 86 years old.
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Behind him, Tesla left a legacy of invention, innovation, and scientific exploration.
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He played a crucial role in the spread of electricity and the creation of devices that
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led to the technology we have today.


This post was previously published on YouTube.

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