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Biography of Nikola Tesla - Engineer, Scientist & Inventor

Updated on September 2, 2016
Nikiola Tesla
Nikiola Tesla | Source

Nikola Tesla was born on July 10, 1856, in Croatia. He was an electrical engineer, physicist, and a genius inventor. Nikola Tesla is well known for inventing the modern Alternating Current (AC) electricity supply system and the induction motor.

This article is about the life story of Nikola Tesla and his inventions that have made the world what it is today.

Who was Nikola Tesla?

Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American born on July 10, 1856, in Smiljan Lika, a region of Croatia.

His father Milutin Tesla was a Serbian Orthodox Priest and his mother Djuka Mandic was an inventor of household appliances.

Nikola Tesla studied at the Realschule, Karlstad in 1873, the Polytechnic Institute in Graz, Austria and the University of Prague.

Nicola Tesla was keen on studying Mathematics and Physics, but soon his interests turned to the field of electricity.

Rotating Magnetic Field - Nikola Tesla's First Breakthrough

Nikola Tesla's first breakthrough came when he was in his native place, Croatia. There a professor told Tesla that it was impossible to make a motor powered by Alternating Current (AC) instead of using the Direct Current (DC).

Nikola Tesla performed experiments for two years in his mind before he arrived at a solution. The solution was a rotating magnetic field that would allow alternating current to power an engine without using the direct current.

Nikola Tesla - Beginning of his Career

Nikola Tesla started his career as an electrical engineer in a telephone company in Budapest in the year 1881.

During the year 1883 when he was living in Strasbourg, Nikola Tesla built a prototype of the induction motor and was able to run it without any glitch. Since no one was interested in the induction motor he was not able to promote it.

Nikola Tesla worked at the Continental Edison Company in Paris before he left for America where he designed dynamos.

In the year 1884, Nikola Tesla accepted an offer to work for Thomas Alva Edison, in the city of New York, America.

Genius at Work
Genius at Work | Source

Conflict between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Alva Edison

Nikola Tesla arrived in the United States in the year 1884 with an introduction letter from Charles Batchelor to Thomas Alva Edison.

The letter stated the following – “I know two great men, one is you and the other is this young man” (source – telsasociety .com).

After he joined the Company of Thomas Alva Edison in New Jersey, he worked on improving Edison’s dynamos. It was during this time the conflict between Edison and Nikola Tesla began. The topic of disagreement between the two was about the efficiency of the Direct Current (DC) versus the Alternating Current (AC).

The letter stated the following – “I know two great men, one is you, and the other is this young man” (source – telsasociety .com).

The War of the Electrical Giants

Thomas Edison was all for Direct Current (DC). Thomas Alva Edison had built electrical powerhouses that powered distribution lines with Direct Current along the Atlantic Seaboard.

Nikola Tesla pointed out that the many powerhouses built by Edison were not efficient because they supplied Direct Current through the power lines for distribution.

Nikola Tesla wanted to use Alternating Current (AC) because Alternating Current changes direction 50 or 60 times per second and can easily be stepped up to deliver high voltage levels thereby minimizing power loss across long distances.

Disadvantages of Thomas Alva Edison’s method

Using direct current for distribution through power lines was not efficient because direct current could not be transported to distances that exceeded 2 miles. This is because direct current flows continuously in one direction and does not have the capability of stepping up to higher voltages that were necessary for long distance transmissions.

Since direct current could not be transported for more than two miles a direct current power station had to be built at every two-mile intervals.

Thomas Alva Edison refused to accept Nikola Tesla's ideas, and he started a propaganda against Nikola Tesla claims.

Alternating Current changes direction 50 or 60 times per second and can easily be stepped up to deliver high voltage levels thereby minimizing power loss across long distances

Nikola Tesla's Partnership with George Westinghouse

Nikola Tesla presented his paper “A New System of Alternating Current Motors and Transformers” before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in the year 1888. George Westinghouse, an industrialist and inventor, was impressed with Nikola Tesla and visited his laboratory.

During his visit, he was very much impressed with a Nikola Tesla's model polyphase system made up of an alternating current dynamo, step-up and step-down transformers with an AC motor at the other end.

After the visit to Nikola Tesla’s lab George Westinghouse entered into a partnership with Nikola Tesla and together they planned to set up a power plant to supply the whole of America with electricity.

One of the original AC Tesla Induction Motor in the British Science Museum, London
One of the original AC Tesla Induction Motor in the British Science Museum, London | Source

Nikola Tesla's Induction Motor

During 1887 and 1888 Nikola Tesla set up an experimental shop at 89, Liberty Street New York where he invented the induction motor.

He used the principle of the rotating magnetic field for the construction of an alternating current induction motor and the polyphase system (another invention of Tesla) for the generation, transmission and distribution of electrical power.

Today, Nikola Tesla’s induction motor and the polyphase system is used in household and industrial appliances worldwide.

More of Nikola Tesla's Achievements

Nikola Tesla designed the first hydro-electric power plant in Niagara Falls in the year 1895. The Tesla Coil that he invented in 1891 is used in the radio, television sets and other electronic equipment’s today.

In the year 1896 Nikola Tesla constructed an instrument to receive radio waves. He built an experimental station in Colorado Springs in 1899 to experiment with high-voltage, high-frequency electricity and other electrical phenomena. It was in Colorado Springs that Nikola Tesla discovered the terrestrial stationary waves.

Nikola Tesla patented the basic radio system in 1896 by publishing diagrams that described all the elements of the radio transmitter. These diagrams were used by Marconi later on.

Based on the transmission he received while testing a magnifying transmitter, Nikola Tesla claimed that there has been an extra-terrestrial presence on earth. He also stated that the universe harbors intelligent extraterrestrial life forms

Transmitting Tesla Tower and Laboratory in Wardenclyffe, Long Island
Transmitting Tesla Tower and Laboratory in Wardenclyffe, Long Island | Source

Nikola Tesla's Vision

Nikola Tesla built a laboratory and transmitting tower in Wardenclyffe, Long Island between 1901 and 1905. The tower was 187 foot tall and had a magnifying transmitter. This tower was supposed to be the first wireless broadcasting system transmitting signals and power to any place in the world.

Nikola Tesla stated that the magnifying transmitter could turn earth into a gigantic dynamo and could project electricity in unlimited amounts to any place in the world. He wanted to provide the world with free electricity.

Tesla also claimed that the wireless power could be used for interplanetary communication.

J.P Morgan, who financed Nikola Tesla's project, did not agree with his idea of broadcasting power wireless to any place in the world. The following question was his concern – “If anyone can draw on the power, where do we put the meter?” J.P.Morgan withdrew his funds leaving Nikola Tesla stranded.

Even though Nikola Tesla had patented many of his inventions, he was penniless towards the end.

Nikola Tesla died on January 7th, 1943 in the Hotel New Yorker. He lived there for the last ten years of his life. A state funeral was held at St. John the Divine Cathedral in the New York City.

Nikola Tesla and Thomas Alva Edison - Mutual Respect for Each Other

Nikola Tesla and Thomas Alva Edison were not on fighting terms all the time.

Once when Edison attended a conference where Tesla was giving a speech, Edison slipped into the back of the auditorium because he did not want to be seen by the crowd.

Nikola Tesla on seeing him requested the crowd to give Edison a standing ovation.

More Interesting Facts About Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla was a handsome man who remained a bachelor during his lifetime. He was fashion savvy and took great pride in how he dressed.

Tesla had his personal tailor, and he believed that to be successful one had to dress to look favorable.

Nikola Tesla had a photographic memory and could memorize books and images. He was able to visualize in three dimensions.

He could not stand the sight of anyone wearing pearls and if any of his employees wore pearls he sent them right back home. He hated jewelry and any round object. Tesla was averse to touching anybody's hair.

Nikola Tesla was obsessed with hygiene because he almost died of cholera when he was a teenager. Tesla was also obsessed with the number "3".

Nikola Tesla did not think about the remuneration part for his inventions and did not make sure that he got his dues. Telsa was only bothered about the money that he needed for his experiments.

During his lifetime, Nikola Tesla won many awards and accolades but he died as a poor man.

Honoring Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla was truly a great scientist, inventor and genius whose inventions have made the world what it is today.

In honor of Nikola Tesla -

  • Many states in the USA including New York City declared July 10th, the birthday of Nikola Tesla, as Nikola Tesla Day.
  • The corner of the 40th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan was named "The Nikola Tesla Corner".
  • The Statue of Liberty Museum has a large photo of Nikola Tesla
  • The Liberty Science Centre in Jersey City, New Jersey holds a daily demonstration of the Tesla Coil creating a million volts of electricity in front of spectators
  • His supporters opened a Tesla Science Center at the lab in the giant transmitting tower that Tesla built in Wardenclyffe, Long Island, New York
  • The Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, Serbia was built to dedicate and honor the life and work of Nikola Tesla.


© 2015 Nithya Venkat


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    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

      FlourishAnyway Tesla was sadly never recognized for his brilliance but as you say he is being celebrated nowadays.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      4 years ago from USA

      Whenever I think of people whom history has neglected to properly recognize for their brilliance, I think of Tesla (although he's come into a bit of his own recognition in the last few years).

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      5 years ago from Dubai

      Reynold Jay oh yes, I agree. Thank you for your visit.

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 

      5 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      Tesla is BIG, BIG,.BIG, for those who know their science. I'm starting to see Tesla in many Sci Fi TV series. All of us would do well to work as hard as he did. Let's face it none of us are as smart as him.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      5 years ago from Dubai

      aesta1 thank you and glad you came to know more about this genius.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      We have been following the car, Tesla, but this is the first time I've heard of Nikola Tesla. It's good you posted this here.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      5 years ago from Dubai

      ChitrangadaSharan thank you for reading and your appreciation.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      5 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Wonderful informative hub!

      I have read about Nikola Tesla. All your biography hubs are very well researched and well presented.

      Thanks for the education, voted up!

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      5 years ago from Dubai

      Nell Rose thank you and yes what a great genius!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      Hi Vellur, fascinating read, I remember watching a tv program about him a few weeks ago, its amazing how his name is not such a household name as others, he was a genius, great hub, nell

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      5 years ago from Dubai

      tobusiness thank you and am glad you enjoyed reading this hub.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      5 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      This is an interesting and very illuminating article. Isn't it strange how so many of the best brains in history have died pennyless? Tesla was a genius and a fascinating character. I thoroughly enjoyed this read. Well done.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      5 years ago from Dubai

      Anne Harrison thank you for your visit and vote.

    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 

      5 years ago from Australia

      An interesting article - we are certainly indebted to him. Voted up

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      5 years ago from Dubai

      Tesla is a genius and this world would be getting free electricity if only he achieved what he started to do. Thank you for your visit, vote up and share.

      CatherineGiordano thank you and yes the truth always wins, thank you for your visit and vote up.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I never knew this about Tesla. The wonderful thing about science is that the truth always wins out. You showed his genius and his foibles. Voted up ++

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Just imagine what having free electricity could do for people around the world! Too bad that never happened! Tesla was certainly a genius and I know much more about him after reading this very interesting hub of yours. Up votes and will share++.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      5 years ago from Dubai

      pstraubie48 glad you came to know about this brilliant man and yes as you say his brain must have been on full throttle all the time. Thank you for the angels and the many vote ups. Thanks for the share too.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      5 years ago from North Central Florida

      Very interesting. I knew very little about this obviously extra-ordinary man. His brain must have been constantly filled with one idea after another, chomping at the bit to be heard.

      Thanks for sharing so that we all may know more of him.

      Angels are on the way this morning ps

      Voted up+++ and shared

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      5 years ago from Dubai

      tillsontitan thank you and yes we owe much to Tesla. Thank you for the vote ups.

      RonElFran thank you for reading and am glad you came to know about this great man.

      Easy Exercise thank you for your visit and am glad you came to know more about Tesla. Thanks for the vote up too.

      FlourishAnyway thank you for your appreciation and vote up.

      Audrey Howitt thank you for your visit.

      billybuc thank you for stopping by and am happy to came to learn about Tesla through this hub.

      AliciaC thank you for reading, much appreciated.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for sharing the interesting and useful information about such an important man, Vellur.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very interesting information, Vellur. I learned a great deal here.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      5 years ago from California

      Wonderful, wonderful hub!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      5 years ago from USA

      This was a well researched, quality hub that should be HOTD. Beautifully formatted and educational. Voted up and more.

    • Easy Exercise profile image

      Kelly A Burnett 

      5 years ago from United States

      I've always admired Tesla but oh, my did I learn allot! Thank you! And now I even know when to celebrate his birthday! July 10th - great hub! Voted up!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      5 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I've known the name of Tesla, but not very much about him. After reading this, I feel I've gotten to know him a bit.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      5 years ago from New York

      A great subject! We owe so much to Tesla but I wonder how many people realize it?

      You certainly did your homework and provided us with so many interesting facts.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      5 years ago from Dubai

      cam8510 oh yes wish there was such a machine to resurrect Nikola Tesla, there can be no other like him, thank you for reading, vote up and share.

      vasantha T k thank you for stopping by and the vote up.

    • vasantha  T k profile image

      vasantha T k 

      5 years ago from Bangalore

      Interesting and informative hub, Nithya, voted up

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      If someone could just invent a machine to resurrect Tesla, we might get somewhere. Thanks for the informative article. Voted up and shared.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      5 years ago from Dubai

      Jodah if only J.P.Morgan had not withdrawn funding it would be like a dream come true for all of us. Thank you for reading and for the vote up.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      5 years ago from Queensland Australia

      What an amazing invented and electricity pioneer Tesla was. This was a wonderful and informative hub. Imagine if J.P.Morgan had not withdrawn funding for the wireless broadcasting of free electricity. I have read that this is truly possible but the big electricity providers will always oppose it. Well done. Voted up.


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