Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla was born July 10, 1856 in Similjan, Lika, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Before coming to America, Tesla joined the Continental Edison Company in Paris, France, where he worked and designed dynamos. In 1883, in Strasbourg, France, he built the first prototype of the induction motor and later accepted offers to work for Thomas Edison in New York to continue his work on this new device.

Tesla spent the next 59 years in New York and working on improving Edison's line of dynamos at the Edison Labs in New Jersey. This is where, later, a disagreement between Tesla and Edison occurred over Edison's direct current and Tesla's alternating current. This was known as the "war of the currents." Edison lamps were supplied with direct current, making them weak and inefficient. The direct current could not travel for long distances, requiring stations to be put up every two miles with no step up in voltage. Tesla's alternating current would allow him to build generators that would send electrical currents for long distances on distribution lines, first in one direction, and then in another in multiple waves. Alternating current changes directions 50 to 60 times per second and can be stepped up to higher voltages that minimize power loss. This was a much stronger and more efficient way. After Tesla introduced his motors, generators and transformers using the polyphase alternating current, George Westinghouse bought Tesla's U.S. patents and they became partners. This partnership would prove that the war of the currents was won by alternating current that would later supply the nation with electricity.

In 1882, Tesla discovered the Rotating Magnetic Field, the basis for all devices using alternating current. By using the rotating magnetic field principle, he was able to construct the induction motor and the polyphase system for generation, transmission, and distribution of electrical power. This power is widely used throughout the world in industry and in our everyday household appliances.

In Colorado Springs, Colorado, from 1899 to 1900, Tesla built a laboratory to experiment with high voltage, high frequency electricity, and radio frequency magnetic waves. There he created the Tesla Coil Magnifying Transmitter, capable of generating around 300,000 watts of power and producing a bolt of lightning 130 feet long! Using his transmitter, Tesla successfully managed to transmit 30,000 to 50,000 watts of power without wires.

From these experiments, his most important discovery in this lab was the Terrestrial Waves, which enabled him to prove that the earth could be used as a conductor. Using this discovery, he was able to light 200 lamps without wires from 25 miles away. Due to these terrestrial waves, Tesla at one time believed he received signals from another planet in his Colorado Lab. Tesla's work with radio-frequency electromagnetic waves brought about his discovery and invention of the radio. Despite claims by Marconi for the invention of radio, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Marconi patent and instead awarded it to Tesla.

Tesla was responsible for a great many inventions and devices as well as principles we still use today. His work with gas-filled lamps led to the creation of fluorescent lighting. His work with electromagnetic waves led to the invention of the radio, radar and the MRI, a type of x-ray enabling us to look inside the human body. Tesla's greatest achievement, the invention of the alternating current motor, led to the creation of the electric utility. People still refer to this as the "Edison Company" even though they use the Tesla-Westinghouse alternating current system for their electricity use, not the Edison direct current.

Noted inventions:

  • Alternating current induction motor
  • Polyphase transmission system
  • Multiphase power system (we use this today)
  • Wireless transmission of energy
  • Hydroelectric generator
  • Radio
  • Radar
  • Fluorescent light
  • Vacuum tubes
  • Tesla coil
  • Loud speaker
  • MRI x-rays