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.
Nikola Tesla was born on July 10, 1856, in what is now Smiljan, Croatia. He was one of five children which included siblings Dane, Angelina, Milka and Marica, in the family. Tesla’s interest in electrical invention was spurred by his mother, Djuka Mandic, who invented small household appliances in her spare time while her son was growing up. Tesla’s father, Milutin Tesla, was a Serbian orthodox priest and a writer, and he pushed for his son to join the priesthood. But Nikola’s interests lay squarely in the sciences
In 1884 Tesla arrived the United States with little more than the clothes on his back and a letter of introduction to famed inventor and business mogul Thomas Edison, whose DC-based electrical works were fast becoming the standard in the country. Edison hired Tesla, and the two men were soon working tirelessly alongside each other, making improvements to Edison’s inventions. However, several months later, the two parted ways due to a conflicting business-scientific relationship, attributed by historians to their incredibly different personalities: While Edison was a power figure who focused on marketing and financial success, Tesla was commercially out-of-tune and somewhat vulnerable.
After parting ways with Edison, in 1885 Tesla received funding for the Tesla Electric Light Company and was tasked by his investors to develop improved arc lighting. After successfully doing so, however, 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. Setting straight to work, by the end of the year, Tesla had successfully filed several patents for AC-based inventions.
The Fall from Grace
Having become obsessed with the wireless transmission of energy, around 1900 Nikola set to work on his boldest project yet: 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. With funding from a group of investors that included financial giant J.P Morgan, in 1901 Tesla began work on the project in earnest, designing and building a lab with a power plant and a massive transmission tower on a site on Long Island, New York, that became known as Wardenclyffe. However, when doubts arose among his investors about the plausibility of Tesla’s system and his rival, Guglielmo Marconi—with the financial support of Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison—continued to make great advances with his own radio technologies, Tesla had no choice but to abandon the project. The Wardenclyffe staff was laid off in 1906 and by 1915 the site had fallen into foreclosure. Two years later Tesla declared bankruptcy and the tower was dismantled and sold for scrap to help pay the debts he had accrued.
Death and Legacy
After suffering a nervous breakdown, Tesla eventually returned to work, primarily as a consultant. But as time went on, his ideas became progressively more outlandish and impractical. He also grew increasingly eccentric, devoting much of his time to the care of wild pigeons in New York City’s parks. He even drew the attention of the FBI with his talk of building a powerful “death beam,” which had received some interest from the Soviet Union during World World II.