Nikola Tesla: "The Mad Scientist"
Nikola Tesla has been called “The man who invented the 20th century,” “The Forgotten Wizard” and even a “Mad Scientist.” With the possible exception of the last, the titles are not without merit. He is probably best known for his many innovative contributions in the field of electromagnetism in the late 1900s and early 20th century. He invented radio X-rays, the vacuum tube amplifier and much more. It's been said he was a true visionary far ahead of his time in the field of scientific development. The only problem was he never received credit for these and others until many years later.
Nikola was born in 1856 in Smiljan Lika, Croatia. His father,Milutin Tesla was a Serbian Orthodox clergyman and his mother,Djuka Mandic was an uneducated but brilliant person who invented household appliances. Nikola immigrated to America in 1884. With him was four cents in his pocket and an introduction letter from Charles Batchelor, an inventor and associate of Thomas Edison. It was addressed to Edison. Batchelor wrote “I know two great men, “one is you and the other is this young man.” Edison put him to work at the Edison Machine Works.
Edison was to find himself extremely challenged by the young genius. Tesla immediately began making improvements to Edison’s dynamos. Edison had done much work with direct electrical current (DC) and had built electrical powerhouses up and down the Atlantic seaboard. Tesla showed Edison the inefficiency of this system in relation to using an alternating current (AC).
For example, Edison’s lamps were weak and inefficient when supplied by direct current. This was because DC couldn’t be transported long distances without power amplification stations placed every two miles or so. AC didn’t have this problem.George Westinghouse, another famous inventor and visionary, used Tesla's system to light the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893.
Tesla soon decided to open his own laboratory, Tesla Electric Light and Manufacturing. He experimented with shadowgraphs a precursor to those later used by Wilhelm Röntgen when he “discovered” X-rays in 1895. In fact, he blazed a trail for many inventions we take for granted today, such as the fluorescent light, laser beam, wireless communications, wireless transmission of electrical energy, remote control, robotics and many others.
He invented the Tesla induction coil, possibly one of the world’s top 10 greatest inventions, still widely used in radio, television sets and other electronic equipment.Tesla was a brilliant inventor, mechanical engineer and electrical engineer.
However, many of his contemporaries considered him a compulsive eccentric. His theoriesconcerning interplanetary communication and claims of having invented a “death ray,” capable of destroying airplanes at a distance of 250 miles brought much criticism and derision. The scientific community, later in his life, ostracized him as being a “mad scientist.”
Although Guglielmo Marconi is cited in many history books as inventing the radio, it was Tesla who patented the original basic system and drew its’ schematics in 1896. The United States Supreme Court ratified the situation in 1943, declaring Marconi's patent invalid and giving Tesla the credit. Tesla is said to have registered over 700 patents.
Time Magazine featured Tesla on its’ cover on his75th birthday in 1931. Tesla received congratulatory letters from many distinguished scientific notables, including Albert Einstein.
Tesla died January 7th, 1943 in the Hotel New Yorker. His funeral was held at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City and attended by over 2000 people including several Nobel Laureates. Telegrams of condolence were received from many prominent personages, including first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Vice President Wallace. Tesla was cremated and his ashes were enshrined in a golden spherical urn. The urn is on permanent display at the Tesla Museum in Belgrade.
Life Magazine's special issue of September, 1997, declared Tesla as one of the 100 most famous people of the last 1,000 years. Many of the scientists’ ideas which gave him the image of a mad scientist are now proven modern technology and have changed the course of history.
Tesla never married, preferring to devote his entire life to the advancement of science.