Tesla’s legacy still lights up the world | Public
Nikola Tesla, whose name is now associated with one of the world’s first electric cars, was a wizard of the Industrial Revolution. He was born in 1856 in Croatia, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time. He died in 1943 after having laid the foundation for much of our electrified world of today.
Tesla’s father was a writer and a priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Nikola was encouraged to enter the priesthood, but he was more interested in physics and engineering. He had a brilliant mind, a photographic memory and spoke numerous languages. His early research got him interested in electricity, its transmission, and ways to make it useful to humankind. Tesla was a compulsive worker, never married, and refused to have friends because they kept him from this studies and research.
In 1884, Tesla emigrated to the United States and became a U.S. citizen. Throughout his life, Tesla’s innovative research led to an enduring legacy in modern technology and fascination with the man himself. By the time of his death, he held almost 700 worldwide patents.
When he came to the U.S., Tesla had little more than the clothes on his back and a letter of introduction to the famed inventor Thomas Edison. At this time Edison’s direct current (DC) based electrical works were fast becoming the standard of the country. Tesla worked for Edison for a brief time making improvements on some of his inventions. However, the two men had incredibly different personalities, and they soon parted ways.
Tesla thought alternating current (AC) was the future of electricity and that Edison’s ideas for DC were not the wave of the future. The two men eventually became bitter rivals and Edison’s ideas for a DC based world became impractical and ultimately failed. Tesla went on to achieve dozens of breakthroughs related to AC power. He invented the first alternating current motor and developed the early generation and transmission technology for AC electrical systems in use today. He also investigated and utilized the rotating magnetic field that is the basis for all AC machinery.
Tesla was an eccentric genius, and later in life, many of his ideas and proposals became progressively more outlandish and impractical. He became what some might think of as the “mad scientist.” He grew increasingly withdrawn and spent much of his time caring for wild pigeons in the parks of New York City. However, today his name lives on and his legacy still turns the lights on all over the world.
Larrie Stone is a retired Dana College Science professor.