Nikola Tesla (1856–1943)

The Man Who Lit The World

Brief Biographical Sketch

Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla was born in July of 1856, in what is now Croatia. He came to the United States in 1884 and briefly worked with Thomas Edison before the two parted ways. He sold several patent rights, including those to his alternating-current machinery, to George Westinghouse. His 1891 invention, the "Tesla coil," is still used in radio technology today. Tesla died in New York City on January 7, 1943.

Early Life

  • Born a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1856 in a mountainous area of the Balkan Peninsula known as Lika.
  • His father Milutin, and his mother Djuka, were both Serbian by origin.
  • Tesla's father was a stern but loving Orthodox priest, who was also a gifted writer and poet.
  • Milutin constantly attempted to force Tesla into priesthood
  • Tesla's mother was a hard working woman of many talents who created appliances to help with home and farm responsibilities.
  • Tesla attributed all of his inventive instincts to his mother
  • Studied at the Polytechnic Institute in Graz
  • After, Tesla moved to Budapest, where for a time he worked at the Central Telephone Exchange.
  • It was while in Budapest that the idea for the induction motor first came to Tesla, but after several years of trying to gain interest in his invention, at age 28 Tesla decided to leave Europe for America.
  • When he came to America, all Tesla had was a recommendation letter that read "My Dear Edison: I know two great men and you are one of them. The other is this young man!"

Middle Life

  • Edison hired Tesla, and the two were soon working alongside each other, making improvements to Edison's previous inventions.
  • Several months later, the two parted ways due to a conflicting business-scientific relationship.
  • Edison was a power figure who focused on marketing and financial success but Tesla was not commercially focused and was vulnerable.
  • in 1885 Tesla received funding for the Tesla Electric Light Company and was asked by his investors to develop improved arc lighting.
  • However, even though he succeeded, Tesla was forced out of the venture and for a time had to work as a manual laborer in order to survive.
  • His luck changed in 1887, when he was able to find interest in his AC electrical system and funding for his new Tesla Electric Company.
  • Tesla's AC system eventually caught the attention of American engineer and business man George Westinghouse, who was seeking a solution to supplying the nation with long-distance power.
  • Westinghouse purchased his patents for $60,000 in cash and stock in the Westinghouse Corporation.
  • Tesla patented several more inventions during this period, including the "Tesla coil," which laid the foundation for wireless technologies and is still used in radio technology today.

The Fall

  • Tesla became obsessed with the Wardenclyffe Project
  • he wanted to build a global, wireless communication system (to be transmitted through a large electrical tower) for sharing information and providing free electricity throughout the world.
  • Funded by J.P. Morgan
  • doubts arose among his investors about the plausibility of Tesla's system, Tesla had no choice but to abandon the project.
  • He declared bankruptcy in 1917
  • Sold the "Tesla Tower" to pay his debts

Death and Legacy

  • Poor and reclusive, Nikola Tesla died on January 7, 1943, at the age of 86, in New York City, where he had lived for nearly 60 years.
  • Several books and films have highlighted Tesla's life and famous works including Nikola Tesla, The Genius Who Lit the World, a documentary produced by the Tesla Memorial Society
  • The Secret of Nikola Tesla, which stars Orson Welles as J. P. Morgan.
  • And in the 2006 Christopher Nolan film The Prestige, Tesla was portrayed by rock star/actor David Bowie.
  • In 1994, a street sign identifying "Nikola Tesla Corner" was installed near the site of his former New York City laboratory, at the intersection of 40th Street and 6th Avenue.

Influences and Motivations in Tesla's Childhood

  • Both parents were rather narrow minded and didn't accept Nikola's fascination with the sciences.
  • Especially his father since older Tesla was a priest
  • An early sign of his genius, he was able to perform integral calculus in his mind, prompting his teachers to think he was cheating.
  • In boyhood, Tesla realized that he had photographic memory
  • His parents didn't care about him much after his brother (who was a genius according to Tesla) died due to injuries cause by a horse
  • "The recollection of his attainments made every effort of mine seem dull in comparison" (pg. 2) - this shows Nikola Tesla's primary motivation
  • Gained inventive creativity by working under Edison

Some of Tesla's Most Famous Inventions

“I don't care that they stole my idea . . I care that they don't have any of their own” ― Nikola Tesla

More Quotes

“Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.”
Nikola Tesla

“I do not think you can name many great inventions that have been made by married men.”
Nikola Tesla

These two quotes show how he doesn't believe in marriage.

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Tesla in Modern Day

  • Would have been perceived as a humanitarian
  • Tesla also envisioned a way to send electricity through the air and through the Earth so that electrical power would be available everywhere, even in remote corners of the planet.
  • This technology, which was only understood by Tesla himself, was incorporated in another famous experiment in 1908, where Tesla attempted to remotely light up the sky over the North Pole as a way of demonstrating this wireless power transmission technology to the world.
  • Due to better technology and most likely better funding in modern day, Tesla would be able to achieve this goal of his and revolutionize the earth.

Me as Tesla in Modern Day

  • If I had Tesla's most sought after quality, inventiveness, I would use my skills to solve the problem of power outages.
  • In third world countries electricity is limited so if i was able to solve this problem i would bring about a huge change.
  • Book: I would write an autobiography to share my perspective of myself to the world (same as Nikola Tesla did in his own life)
  • Invention: A convoluted contraption that would allow the entire world, every household to be lit 24/7 and prevent power outages.
  • I would adopt the cause of equality of classes so everyone can afford the electricity.
  • I would change the world in the aspect that I would bring equal and affordable lighting to all classes just as Henry Ford tried to do with his Model T.


  • Nikola Tesla lived during one of the largest economic rises in history, the Roaring 20's
  • Due to this time period it is no coincidence that Tesla gained prominence at this time period
  • with the Roaring Twenties, invention was at its peak and it was like a new gadget/product was being created every day
  • The World's Fair in Chicago showed this prominence... Nikola Tesla attended

Most Important Contribution

  • by far the most important was the alternating current
  • this invention allowed many more to arise after it like the rotating magnetic field and the radio

Moral Decision

One of the moral decision Nikola Tesla faced was whether to patent his inventions. This was a dilemma because once he patented his inventions the price to receive his products would rise exponentially therefore defeating the purpose of lighting the whole world.

He ended up patenting his inventions.