Nikola Tesla

I would greatly recommend reading this brief explanation of Nikola Tesla, it gives us a good insight on how we think Elon Musk’s inspiration came into being, in the field of electronics and engineering the great technology of today wouldn’t have been possible without these two great legendary innovators.

This is a brief history of Nikola Tesla the great innovator was born on 10th July 1856, his place of birth was in Smiljan, Croatia. He passed away on 7 January 1943 aged 86, and studied in Graz University of Technology but never managed to complete his course. He later carried on his career in Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.

His main projects were Alternating Current better known as AC nowadays, High Voltage, High-Frequency Power, he also designed Induction Motor, Rotating Magnetic Field, Tesla Coil, Radio Remote Control Vehicle, from this you can start to think where Elon Musk’s idea came from.

Nikola Tesla moved to the United States in 1884 taking his telephony and electrical engineering experience to work for Thomas Edison based in New York City. During his work for Thomas Edison he had set up companies that produced electrical devices that bought interest from outside investors.

Nikola Tesla had great ideas, some of which are the Wireless Lighting and Electrical Distribution using High Voltage and High Frequency, some of his experiments was building Mechanical Oscillators and Generators, Electrical Discharge Tubes, and early X-ray imaging. He also unveiled the first wireless controlled boat, by this time he was named a mad scientist.

In 1875, Nikola Tesla enrolled in Austrian Polytechnic which was in Graz, Austria, during his first year, Nikola Tesla never missed a lecture and was very keen in learning, he had earned the highest grades possible back then, he was so into his educational course he passed nine exams double the amount required for his next venture, his father received a letter of commendation from the dean of the technical faculty, stating “Your son is a star of first rank.” After the demise of his father, Nikola Tesla found letters from his father’s professors, warning that unless Nikola Tesla were removed from school, he would be killed through working too hard. Nikola Tesla use to sleep for about 2 hours or dozing off when batteries need to be charged.

In his second year Nikola Tesla lost his scholarship and became addicted to gambling into his third year, Nikola Tesla gambled away his allowance and his tuition money, later on he gambled back some of the money and had won just enough to cover his initial losses which covered the money owed to his family by him. In the same year he was known to play billiards in the US, at this time he still had Exams to do, Nikola Tesla was not prepared and asked for an extension to study, but was denied so he never completed his graduation.

In December 1878, Nikola Tesla left Graz, to save himself from embarrassment, Nikola had split all relations with his family to hide the fact that he dropped out of school. His friends thought that he had drowned in a River. Nikola Tesla went to Maribor (part of Slovenia), where he worked as a draftsman for 60 florins (equivalent to £23.50/$33.45 a month).

In 1881, Nikola Tesla moved to Budapest to work under Ferenc Puskás at a telegraph company, the Budapest Telephone Exchange was under construction and not functional, so instead worked as a draftsman in the Central Telegraph Office. Within a few months, the Budapest Telephone Exchange became functional and Nikola Tesla was allocated the chief electrician position, during his employment, Nikola Tesla made many improvements to the Central Station equipment and claimed to have perfected a telephone repeater or amplifier, which was never patented (I’m assuming one of the reason why Elon Musk never patented the Tesla Model S).

In 1882 Nikola Tesla began working for the Continental Edison Company in France, designing and making improvements to electrical equipment.

In June 1884, Thomas Edison transferred Nikola Tesla back to New York City to work on the Edison Machine, the work was quite simple for Nikola Tesla as an electrical engineer and progressed on to bigger roles.

The bigger role was that Nikola Tesla to redesign the generators for the Edison company. Little that he knew that Edison had a trick up his sleeve, brushing it off as humour, Edison stated if Nikola Tesla done what he has promised, Edison would give him $50000, so Nikola Tesla got to work and accomplished what he set out to do, which was to improve service and economy. After completion of the task set, Nikola Tesla asked Edison about the $50000 in reply Edison said “don’t you understand our American Humour”, Instead Nikola Tesla was given a pay rise of $10 on top of the $18 he was earning weekly, but he refused and resigned at once.

After leaving the Edison Company, Nikola Tesla partnered two businessmen in 1886, Robert Lane and Benjamin Vail, who agreed to finance an electric lighting company in his name, which was called Tesla’s Electric Light & Manufacturing. His company installed electrical arc light based illumination systems, he had designs for dynamo electric machine commutators, this was the first patent issued to Tesla in the US. Although the ideas were great there was little interest, and soon Nikola Tesla had lost his money yet again.

AC and Induction Motor

In 1886, based on Nikola Tesla’s patents Alfred S. Brown, a Western Union superintendent, and New York attorney Charles F. Peck, agreed to back him financially and handle his patents. Together in April 1887 they formed the Tesla Electric Company with an agreement that profits generated from patents would go ⅓ to Tesla, ⅓ to Peck and Brown, and ⅓ to fund development. They set up a laboratory for Nikola Tesla, where he worked on improving and developing new types of electric motors, generators and other devices.

In July 1888, Brown and Peck negotiated a licensing deal with George Westinghouse for Nikola Tesla’s poly phase induction motor and transformer designs for $60,000 in cash and stock and a royalty of $2.50 per AC horsepower produced by each motor. Westinghouse hired Nikola Tesla for one year for a fee of $2,000, which is roughly equivalent to $52,700 today.

During the same year, Nikola Tesla worked in Pittsburgh, helping to create an Alternating Current system to power city cars. There was much conflict between Nikola Tesla and other Westinghouse engineers over how best to implement AC power. They later came to a settlement of 60 cycles AC current system, this would match the AC that Tesla designed, later realising that this would not work as Nikola Tesla’s design would need constant speed they switched the plan to go for DC (Direct Current).

On 30 July 1891, at the age of 35, Nikola Tesla became an accepted citizen of the United States, after a few years on, In 1893, George Westinghouse won the bid to light the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago with Alternating Current, beating out a General Electric bid by one million dollars. At the Columbian Exposition, under a banner announcing the “Tesla Polyphase System”, Tesla demonstrated a series of electrical effects previously performed throughout America and Europe, this included using high-voltage, high-frequency alternating current to light a wireless gas-discharge lamp. To give an explanation on how this works is within a room there was suspended two hard-rubber plates covered with tin foil. These were about fifteen feet apart, and served as terminals of the wires leading from the transformers. When the current was turned on, the lamps or tubes, which had no wires connected to them, but lay on a table between the suspended plates, or which might be held in the hand in almost any part of the room, were made luminous. These were the same experiments and the same apparatus showed by Nikola Tesla in London about two years previous.

Another Interesting subject to follow is the Egg of Columbus which Nikola Tesla explained the Rotating Magnetic Field in an Induction Motor would make a copper egg stand.

Niagara and patents

In 1893 Richard Dean Adams of Niagara, acquired the help of Nikola Tesla, Richard Dean Adam’s company was in the making of two-phase and three-phase AC, high-voltage DC, and even compressed air. Nikola Tesla advised Adams that a two-phased system would be the most reliable and that there was a Westinghouse system to light incandescent bulbs using two-phase alternating current already. Based on Nikola Tesla’s advice and Westinghouse’s demonstration that they could build a complete AC system at the Columbian Exposition, a contract for building a two-phase AC generating system at the Niagara Falls was awarded to Westinghouse Electric. A further contract to build the AC distribution system was awarded to General Electric.

X-ray another Nikola Tesla experiment

Starting in 1894, Nikola Tesla started to investigate, something he referred to as radiant energy that was invisible, he noticed this when it damaged his film in his laboratory whilst doing some experiments. His early experiments were with Crookes tubes, a cold cathode electrical discharge tube, Nikola Tesla may have inadvertently captured an X-ray image.

In 1896, after hearing of Wilhelm Roentgen’s discovery of X-ray and X-ray imaging (radiography), Nikola Tesla began to do his own experiments in X-ray imaging, developing a high energy single terminal vacuum tube of his own design that had no target electrode and that worked from the output of the Tesla Coil (the modern term for the phenomenon produced by this device is bremsstrahlung or braking radiation). Nikola Tesla developed several experimental setups to produce X-rays. Nikola Tesla also mentioned with his circuits, the instrument will enable one to generate Roentgen rays of much greater power that is already obtainable with ordinary apparatus.

Nikola Tesla noted the hazards of working with his circuit and single node X-ray producing devices, would cause skin damage, He also believed early on damage to the skin was not caused by the Roentgen rays, but by the ozone generated in contact with the skin, and to a lesser extent, by nitrous acid.


Radio with Nikola Tesla

Wireless transmission of power and energy demonstration was done during his lecture in 1891 on high frequency, Tesla’s demonstrations and values were noted, many devices such as the Tesla Coil were used in the further development of radio. In 1896 The experiments of the radio waves was conducted in the Gerlach Hotel where he resided, the hotel was later known as ‘The Radio Wave Building.’

In 1898, Nikola Tesla demonstrated a radio controlled boat which achieved a U.S. Patent ’Method of an Apparatus for Controlling Mechanism of Moving Vehicle or Vehicles’. He demonstrated a radio controlled boat to the public during an electrical exhibition at Madison Square Garden. The audience never seen such demonstrations before and made remarks such as magic, telepathy, and being piloted by a trained monkey hidden inside. Tesla tried to sell his idea to the U.S. military as a type of radio controlled torpedo, there was no interest until World War I and afterward, when a number of countries used it in military plans.


Battle of Patents

In 1900, Nikola Tesla was granted patents for a “system of transmitting electrical energy” and “an electrical transmitter.” When Guglielmo Marconi made his famous first-ever transatlantic radio transmission in 1901, Tesla realised that it was done using his patents, he didn’t have enough evidence to support his claims. Patent battles over radio with Tesla’s patents began in 1903, followed by a reverse decision in favour of Marconi in 1904 and finally In 1943, a Supreme Court of the United States decision restored the prior patents of Tesla.


Colorado Springs

May 17th 1899, Tesla moved to Colorado Springs to start work on his high-voltage, high-frequency experiments, He chose this location because the Polyphase Alternating Current Power Distribution System had been introduced there and he had friends who were willing to give him all the power he needed without charging for it. On 15 June 1899, Tesla executed his first experiments at his Colorado Springs lab, where he recorded his initial spark length at five inches long, but very thick and noisy.

Tesla investigated atmospheric electricity, observing lightning signals with his receivers. He observed stationary waves during this time. The sheer distances and the nature of what Tesla was detecting from lightning storms confirmed his belief that the earth had a resonant frequency.

He produced artificial lightning, with discharges consisting of millions of volts that were up to 135 feet long. Thunder from the energy released was heard 15 miles away in Cripple Creek, Colorado. People who were walking along the street witnessed sparks jumping between their feet and the ground, sparks sprang from the water line taps when touched, light bulbs within 100 feet of the lab glowed even when turned off, horses in a livery stable bolted from their stalls after receiving shocks through their metal shoes and butterflies were electrified.

While experimenting, Tesla mistakably faulted a power station generator, causing a power outage. In August 1917, it was established that the dynamos in a power house six miles away were repeatedly burned out, due to the powerful high frequency currents set up in them, this caused heavy sparks to jump through the windings and destroy the insulation.

During his time at the lab, Nikola Tesla witnessed unusual signals from his receiver which he concluded may be communications from another planet. He mentioned them in a letter to reporter Julian Hawthorne at the Philadelphia North American on 8 December 1899 and going into December 1900 a letter saying there was possibilities that Tesla was hearing signals from Mars. In 1899, John Jacob Astor IV invested $100,000 for Tesla to further develop and produce a new lighting system. Instead, Tesla used the money to fund his Colorado Springs experiments.

In 1906, Tesla proved his 200 horsepower (150 kilowatts) 16,000 rpm bladeless turbine. Tesla invented a steam powered mechanical oscillator called Tesla’s oscillator. While experimenting with mechanical oscillators at his Houston Street lab, Tesla supposedly generated a resonance of several buildings. Tesla also claims that in a few weeks he could set the earth’s crust into such a state of vibration that it would rise and fall hundreds of feet and practically destroy civilization and a continuation of this process would, eventually split the earth in two.

Tesla speculated that the application of electricity to the brain enhanced intelligence. In 1912, he crafted “a plan to make dull students bright by saturating them unconsciously with electricity,” wiring the walls of a school room, saturating the school room with infinitesimal electric waves vibrating at high frequency.


Nobel prize rumours

On 6 November 1915 there have been successive claims by Tesla biographers that Edison and Tesla were the original recipients and that neither was given the award because of their enmity toward each other, each of them sought to minimize the other’s achievements and right to win the award, both refused ever to accept the award if the other received it first, both rejected any possibilities of sharing it, and even that a wealthy Edison refused it to keep Tesla from getting the $20,000 prize money. In the later years after these rumours, neither Tesla or Edison won the prize.

In 1928, Tesla received his last patent, U.S. Patent for a biplane capable of taking off vertically (VTOL aircraft) and then be “gradually tilted through manipulation of the elevator devices” in flight until it was flying like a conventional plane. Although the aircraft was probably impractical, it may be the earliest known design for what became the tiltrotor/tilt wing concept as well as the earliest proposal for the use of turbine engines in rotor aircraft.

Starting in 1934, the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company began paying Tesla $125 per month as well as paying his rent at the Hotel New Yorker, expenses the company would pay for the rest of Tesla’s life, still to discover the reasons for this. Several sources say Westinghouse was worried about potential bad publicity surrounding the poor conditions their top engineer inventor was living under. It has been described as being couched in the form of a “consulting fee” to get around Tesla’s dislike to accept charity, or some say it is a settlement fee of some sort.

In 1935, in an annual birthday celebration interview, Tesla announced a method of transmitting mechanical energy with minimal loss over any terrestrial distance, a related new means of communication, and a method of accurately determining the location of underground mineral deposits.

In the fall of 1937, after midnight one night, Tesla left the Hotel New Yorker to make his regular commute to the cathedral and the library to feed the pigeons. While crossing a street a couple of blocks from the hotel, Tesla was unable to dodge a moving taxicab and was thrown heavily to the ground. Tesla’s back was severely wrenched and three of his ribs were broken in the accident, Tesla refused to consult a doctor. Tesla didn’t raise any question as to who was at fault and refused medical aid, only asking to be taken to his hotel with a cab. Tesla was bedbound for several months and was unable to continue feeding pigeons from his window. In early 1938, Tesla was able to get up. He started to feed the pigeons although he couldn’t walk much and had a messenger do his pigeon chores for him on a regular basis.

Directed energy weapon

Later on in his life, Tesla made claims concerning a “tele-force” weapon after studying the Van de Graaff generator. The press variably referred to it as a peace ray or death ray. Tesla described the weapon as capable of being used against ground based infantry or for anti-aircraft purposes.

Tesla gives the following description that the nozzle would send concentrated beams of particles through the free air, so much tremendous energy that they will bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 200 miles from a defending nation’s border and will cause armies to drop dead in their tracks, it is also known as projector gun. Tesla had plans for a directed energy weapon from the early 1900s until his death of a similar sort.

In 1937, Tesla published a document in an attempt to illustrate the technical description of a “superweapon that would put an end to all war.” This treatise is currently in the Nikola Tesla Museum archive in Belgrade. It describes an open ended vacuum tube with a gas jet seal that allows particles to exit, a method of charging particles to millions of volts, and a method of creating and directing non dispersive particle streams (through electrostatic repulsion). Tesla tried to interest the US War Department, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia in the device.

During the period in which the negotiations were being conducted, Tesla said that efforts had been made to steal the invention. His room had been entered and his papers had been inspected, but the thieves, or spies, left empty handed. He said that there was no danger that his invention could be stolen, he did not have the time to put it on paper, the blueprint for the tele force weapon was all in his mind.


Nikola Tesla’s Death

On 7 January 1943, at the age of 86, Tesla died alone in a room of his New Yorker Hotel. His body was later found by maid Alice Monaghan after she had entered Tesla’s room, ignoring the “do not disturb” sign that Tesla had placed on his door two days earlier. Assistant medical examiner H.W. Wembly examined the body and ruled that the cause of death had been coronary thrombosis. Tesla’s remains were taken to the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home at Madison Ave. A long-time friend and supporter of Tesla, Hugo Gernsback, commissioned a sculptor to create a death mask, now displayed in the Nikola Tesla Museum.

Two days later, the FBI ordered the Alien Property Custodian to seize Tesla’s belongings, even though Tesla was an American citizen. Tesla’s entire estate from the Hotel New Yorker and other New York City hotels was transported to the Manhattan Storage and Warehouse Company under the Office of Alien Property (OAP). John G. Trump, a professor at M.I.T. and a well-known electrical engineer serving as a technical aide to the National Defence Research Committee, was called in to analyse the Tesla items in OAP custody. After a three-day investigation, Trump’s report concluded that there was nothing which would constitute a hazard in unfriendly hands, Trumps report stated;

Tesla’s thoughts and efforts during at least the past 15 years were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character often concerned with the production and wireless transmission of power; but did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.

In a box claimed to contain a part of Tesla’s “death ray”, Trump found a 45-year-old multi decade resistance box.

On 12 January, two thousand people attended a state funeral for Tesla at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. After the funeral, Tesla’s body was taken to the Ferncliff Cemetery in Ardsley, New York, where it was later cremated. There was a second service on the following day, conducted by prominent priests in the Trinity Chapel in New York City.



In 1952, following pressure from Tesla’s nephew, Sava Kosanović, Tesla’s entire estate was shipped to Belgrade in 80 trunks marked N.T, (Nikola Tesla). In 1957, Kosanović’s secretary Charlotte Muzar transported Tesla’s ashes from the United States to Belgrade. The ashes are displayed in a gold-plated sphere on a marble pedestal in the Nikola Tesla Museum. Despite having sold his AC electricity patents, Tesla was poor and in debt when he died.



Newspaper representation of Tesla’s theoretical invention, the thought camera, which would photograph thoughts. In 1933 Tesla obtained around 300 patents worldwide for his inventions. Some of Tesla’s patents are not accounted for, and various sources have discovered some that have reclined hidden patent archives. There are a minimum of 278 patents issued to Tesla in 26 countries that have been that are known. Many of Tesla’s patents were in the United States, Britain, and Canada, and many other patents were approved in countries around the globe. Many inventions developed by Tesla were not put into patent protection.


Nikola Tesla’s Personal life

Nikola Tesla walked between 8 to 10 miles per day. He squished his toes one hundred times for each foot every night, saying that it stimulated his brain cells. Near the end of his life, Tesla walked to the park every day to feed the pigeons and even brought injured ones into his hotel room to treat them. There was a specific injured white pigeon that visited him daily, he spent over $2,000 building a device that comfortably supported her so her bones could heal so that would heal the broken wings and legs.

Tesla’s understanding of physics as he disagreed with the theory of atoms being composed of smaller subatomic particles, he said there was no such thing as an electron creating an electric charge, Tesla believed that atoms are absolute and they could not change state or be split in any way. Tesla claimed to have developed his own physical principle regarding matter and energy that he started working on in 1892.

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