The Lightening Man: An Introduction to Nikola Tesla

Modern society depends heavily on the benefits of electricity and technology. One of the major contributors to this basic element of technology is an inventor and engineer known as Nikola Tesla. Although Tesla lived in the 19th century, many of his inventions are still in use to some capacity today. Despite the importance of many of his discoveries, however, Tesla is largely forgotten in favor of other inventors, such as his fellow inventor and nemesis Thomas Edison. People who are unfamiliar with Tesla will be fascinated by both his life and his inventions.

Nikola Tesla's History

On July 10, 1856, Nikola Tesla was born to Serbian parents, Djuka Mandic Tesla and an Orthodox priest named Milutin Tesla. He was born during an electrical storm in Smiljan, Lika in Croatia and was the second son and fourth child in a family of five children. It is believed that Tesla possessed a photographic memory and that as a child he went to school and completed four years of study in three years' time. In 1875, Tesla enrolled at the Austrian Polytechnic University at Graz, Austria and later attended the Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague. While at Graz, he studied mechanical and electrical engineering and it was also where Tesla first developed his interest in alternating currents. In 1881, Tesla moved to Budapest where he worked for a time as an electrician and then an electrical engineer. In 1882 Tesla found employment at the Continental Edison Company in Paris. His employment at the Edison Company helped him to gain employment with Thomas Edison in America after moving to New York in 1884. His employment with Edison, however, did not last. Their methods were vastly different and clashed. These differences, and Edison's failure to pay a promised bonus to Tesla for improving Edison's inefficient motor, eventually led to Tesla and Edison parting ways.

After parting ways with Edison, Tesla worked as a ditch digger for several years. In 1885 Tesla sold the patents rights to his polyphase system of alternating current dynamos, transformers and motors to Edison's rival, George Westinghouse. In 1891 Tesla became a citizen of the United States and established laboratories in New York. In 1917 he received the Edison Medal from the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. Despite Tesla's numerous successes and patents, he struggled with financial difficulties and became increasingly reclusive. In 1943, on January 7, Tesla died of heart failure in his room at the New Yorker Hotel. At the time of his death, Tesla was suffering financially and was under significant debt.

Tesla Coils

In 1891, Nikola Tesla created what is considered his greatest invention, the Tesla coil. This is a transformer that produces high voltage, high frequency alternating current electricity. The original Tesla coils was made using spark gap electrodes, a capacitor, and a power supply. The apparatus also included a coil which was the transformer itself. The coil is the primary part of the circuit. During that time, Tesla coils were commonly used for early radio transmissions and wireless telegraphy. Tesla used these coil for his experiments and investigations into X-rays, to investigate the wireless power and the Earth's electromagnetic field. His largest coil was built in 1899 in his Colorado Springs lab. It was 52 feet in diameter and was patented as a high-frequency lighting system.

Scientific Contributions and Inventions

In addition to the Tesla coil, Tesla made many significant inventions and contributions to the field of science. In fact, Tesla held well over 700 patents at the time of his death. In 1882 he discovered the rotating magnetic field. He developed a polyphase alternating current system of generators, motors and transformers. In 1898 he patented a radio-based remote control system and revealed a remote-controlled boat to the public. Another major invention was the AC induction motor. The AC motor was eventually used to replace manual labor in factors and uses electrical energy to produce mechanical energy in household appliances. It is considered one of the greatest invention of all time. In addition to his many scientific discoveries and inventions, Tesla also invented the radio. Originally credit went to Marconi for the invention, however in 1943 the United States Supreme Court ruled that Tesla was the original inventor.

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