Nikola Tesla ~ The Unknown Inventor
by Lucas Quigley-Dunning

     Whenever anyone thinks about who invented electricity, they automatically think of Thomas Edison.  In fact, people probably see him as a really good guy and someone who has a good reputation.  If you ask anyone who Nikola Tesla was, they would probably say, "I don't know."  Well Nikola Tesla and the word electricity actually go together.

     Nikola Tesla lived from 1856 - 1943 and worked during the same time as Thomas Edison.  He actually worked for him at the beginning of his American career.  Tesla came from Croatia.  He was born as the clock struck midnight and a bolt of lightning hit his house.  When he was a little kid, he was at the river and he made a water wheel.  He told his mother, "The water flows through it and makes the wheel turn Mother."  He was interested in how things were powered even when he was little.  His mom wanted him to go to a proper school but his dad insisted that he go to seminary school, which is where you go to become a priest.  His father and grandfather were both priests.  His dad was very passionate about it so that's what he did.  Even though he went to seminary school, he still thought about inventions.  One day he came home and said, "I'm very interested in a waterfall I read about in America called Niagara."  

     Right after that, he got really sick.  His brother had just died three months before from cholera.  Now Nikola got cholera and the doctor said that there was very little hope he would survive.  His dad promised him that if he survived this, he would let him go to a university.  His dad said, "Perhaps this is God's message."  He survived and ended up going to the University of Budapest.  In 1884, he was on a ship to America that was taken over by some pirates and they robbed everyone and threw many of them overboard.  They just took Tesla's suitcase and let him live.  He was approved at Ellis Island and let in the country.  

     He went to Thomas Edison looking for work because he wanted to be an engineer.  Edison closed the door on him but Tesla kept trying and then showed him a letter from his college saying he was the best engineer they've ever come across, second to Edison.  Edison let him in.  That's how their relationship started.  

     During the time he worked with Edison, he was responsible for making a complete redesign of his DC motor.  A DC motor according to Google is ''any of a class of electrical machines that converts direct current electrical power into mechanical power."  To redesign the DC motor, Edison told him he'd pay him $50,000.  Tesla worked for a year with little rest.  Once he was finished, Edison had a party but everyone at the party gave Thomas Edison the credit and Tesla got none.  When Tesla asked about the money he promised to pay him, Edison responded with, "What was that?"  Then he said, "My dear Nikola, you obviously don't understand our American sense of humor."  After that, Tesla resigned.  

     Once Tesla left Edison, he tried many times to get a job as an engineer but nothing was available so he went to work as a ditch digger.  Clearly this was not his style of work.  Even though he wasn't doing what he wanted to do, his passion for engineering was still strong.  He eventually quit his job and started experimenting with AC currents.  In June 1887, in New York City, he showed off his new AC generator to many science experts.  In his experiment, he lit up the room with lights from Edison's DC motor and then he did it with his AC motor and it lit the room more.  He explained how it took a really long time for the DC currents to get to the light, which burned more energy and gave less light.  When Edison found out, he was angry and started trying to disprove Tesla.  

     After Tesla's presentation, he was approached by George Westinghouse who owned the power grid in Philadelphia.  Westinghouse wanted to make Tesla a deal to buy his AC motor.  He told Tesla he would buy his patents for $50,000 and Tesla agreed but also told him he wanted $2.50 per horse power.  After the deal was made, Thomas Edison went to Coney Island with an elephant, who he charged with electricity from Tesla's AC motor.  He used way too much and in an improper way on purpose and killed the elephant.  He wanted to prove that his DC motor was better than Tesla's AC motor.   It turns out he had done this plenty of times with other animals too, chickens and dogs.  Westinghouse and Tesla were furious because he made people think the AC motor was dangerous, when it really wasn't.  Eventually, Tesla's AC motor was used for the electric chair but the first execution of Wiliam Kemnler didn't go well.   The first time they switched the lever, he didn't die.  The second time they switched the lever, they left it on for eight minutes, producing 20,000 volts and his head caught fire.  Edison was watching the entire thing and when a reporter said how awful it was, Edison said, "Yes, print just that."  So he was trying to ruin his reputation.

     After the execution, Tesla held a meeting in NYC to prove that his AC motor was completely safe.  He used himself as the conductor.  He heated up the two sides, grabbed them with both hands and used his body as the conductor of electricity across to the light bulb without being harmed at all.  Someone asked him about the elephant test and he responded, "It was completely barbaric.  He dumped high voltage directly into the body without a ground except the internal organs."  He told them that his system worked according to the laws of nature.

     Tesla started working on a new device called the radio.  He got a call from Westinghouse saying that they won the bid to power the Chicago World's Fair. Westinghouse underbid Edison and General Electric. Tesla didn't want to go because he wanted to finish the radio but he did.  On the night it opened, President Grover Cleveland had them turn on the lights and then introduce Tesla as the amazing person who was responsible for it. Tesla went on stage and showed everyone again that his technique and AC motor was perfectly safe under proper use.  Edison was in the audience and tried to mess with him again and ended up looking bad.  Lord Kelvin was there and was going to let Edison work on the Niagara Falls project, but when he saw Tesla's presentation and that Edison was so against Tesla, he gave the job to Tesla.  In November 1896, Tesla and Lord Kelvin completed the Niagara Falls Project and the first power was successfully transmitted to Buffalo.  

     Once Tesla was back in his lab, he started fiddling with one of his electromagnetic oscillator devices, which made the ground and the building shake.  The building started to crumble around him so he smashed the device and it stopped.  The police came thinking it was an earthquake.  Later that evening, Tesla couldn't sleep and felt like something wasn't right.  He saw his mother dying in his dreams and when he woke up someone was there telling him that his laboratory was on fire.  It got totally destroyed and he lost everything.    A few months later, Tesla went back home to Croatia and found that his mom was very sick.  When she saw him, she told him that she dreamed he would come.  Right after she said it, she died.  Now that he had lost everything he had ever cared about, he felt really alone.  He traveled to Calcutta, India to meet with a man named Swami Vivikananda who taught him yoga.  He returned to America to Colorado Springs, where his new lab would eventually be.  

     He continued to work on making the ground a conductor.  Meanwhile, Marconi was working on the radio by using his patents. In the end, Marconi got the Nobel Prize in Physics for his "invention" of wireless telegraphy.  The one thing that Tesla was really determined to do was create wireless power throughout the world.  He was approached by J.P. Morgan, a billionaire who gave him $150,000 to try and fulfill that idea.  He really needed about a million dollars to pull it off.  Tesla went to the Long Island Sound in Shoreham and started building a cell tower basically to try and achieve his dream.  He eventually ran out of money and J.P. Morgan said that he wouldn't fund him anymore.

     Tesla had a lot of issues.  He couldn't shake anyone's hand, he never married or had a family, he was sometimes called a mad scientist.  He supposedly had a nervous breakdown near the end of his life.  He died alone in a creepy hotel in New York City in 1943.  After he died, his notes and letters were eventually confiscated by the U.S. government because he claimed to have invented a laser beam that could end all wars at the same time.  The government confiscated his notes which were never be seen again.  He is appreciated today for inventing AC currents, remote controls, robotics, the radio, laser, X-ray, and how light is distributed.  I think Nikola Tesla was a great inventor who was never recognized as he should have been for the work he did.  He was kind of crazy but he was also a devoted scientist who would never give up.  




     [skip from 55 to 1.23 and from 2.10 to 2.19] 

    This song is appropriate because it's all about doing whatever you have to do to achieve your goal.  In the very beginning, there is a narrator talking about what greatness is.  Then the song part starts with, "I came from the bottom now I'm coming to the top," which is just how Tesla began his career.  He began working for Edison, then dug ditches, then became an amazing inventor with practically no help or money.  In the song it says, "There's no money provided," (.38) which really describes how Tesla worked.  He didn't care about the money, he just wanted to make the world better. There's a part that says, "Stop trying to be like those other guys," which is true to Tesla because he doesn't want to be like any other inventor, even Thomas Edison, who everyone thought was the best.  Another line is, "If you EVER want to make it, you got to show effort and show DEDICATION and crave it like basically nothing else matters but getting that paper and that education, just take it from me."  Tesla was willing to give up everything to become a great inventor who changed the world.  He had no family, no wife, no children.  He had no real relationships.  It was all about the work he did.  The chorus of the song is how "they're going to hate you, they'll hate you, so you've got to leave them behind."  Overall, the whole song reminds me of Tesla's life.

Photo of a young Nikola Tesla

A quote that sums up Tesla

The fight over currents: alternating vs. direct currents.  Edison and Tesla constantly at war!

The horrifying murder of an elephant by Thomas Edison to prove Tesla wrong.  He purposely used the AC current wrong and the elephant was killed.

Without Tesla, Marconi would have never "invented" the radio.


    Nikola Tesla was a troubled man. He was lonely, a little crazy and probably one of the smartest people to ever live.  Meanwhile, not many people even know who he is.  The main reason he was unknown was because his ideas and patents were basically stolen from him and he never got credit for inventing many, many things.  What was it that kept him going?  The idea that he wanted to make the world safer with better and more efficient electricity kept him going.  How was he able to keep working so hard without any recognition? It was his perseverance.

    Tesla could have given up inventing and working in his laboratory about fifty times but he didn't.  When Edison ripped him off on the $50,000 he promised to pay him for reconstructing his DC motor, he still continued to invent new things.  When the newspapers printed stories that weren't true about his AC motor, such as it being a dangerous, harmful form of electricity, Tesla simply did another presentation.  Edison tried to sabotage him to make him look bad in front of millions of people.  Tesla simply hooked up the AC current to himself and used himself as a conductor to show how very safe it was.  He was the bridge between the light and the plug.  When Marconi used his patents and got credit for inventing the radio as Tesla was about the finish it, he was okay with it.  He just wanted the world to have the invention.  When J.P. Morgan stopped giving him money to fund a very big cell tower to spread electricity across the Eastern seaboard, he didn't just go get a job, he kept trying to get funds. 

    I've never seen such perseverance in a human being.  I think it made him a better inventor because he was so driven to make the world a better place.  He had the choice to just get another job or start a whole new company.  He chose to start a whole new company.  It wasn't for the money.  It wasn't for attention.  It wasn't to be famous.  He was just a driven inventor who would stop at nothing to get the job done. 

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