Known as one of the three “Fathers of Electricity,” Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor and engineer best known for his design of the modern alternating current (AC) electrical supply system.
One of 5 children, Tesla was born on July 10, 1856 in the Austrian Empire (modern day Croatia). His early years were fraught with sickness and poor luck. A bout with cholera, a near conscription into the Austro-Hungarian Army, exhaustion and a gambling addiction threatened to derail the would-be inventor.
By age 25, Tesla found himself working as a draftsman for the Central Telegraph Office and later the Budapest Telephone Exchange, where he claimed to have perfected the telephone amplifier.
The following year, Tesla began working with the Continental Edison Company in Paris, installing indoor lighting throughout the city in the form of an electric power utility. In 1884, Tesla emigrated to the US and worked alongside Thomas Edison, another “Father of Electricity,” at Edison Machine Works.
However, after only 6 months, Tesla quit and started his own company, Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing, where he developed and patented some of his most famous innovations.
Among his greatest contributions to the field of electricity:
- The AC Electrical System – AC is an electric current that periodically reverses direction and is the form in which electric power is delivered to businesses and residences. It’s also the type of energy that people typically use when they plug in appliances or devices. Tesla’s AC system provided a solution to the supplying the nation with long-distance power.
- The Hydroelectric Power Plant – Tesla developed the first AC hydroelectric power plant in Niagara Falls, New York, an auspicious start to worldwide usage of AC electricity.
- Tesla Coil – The “heart” of an electrical circuit, the Tesla Coil laid the foundation for wireless technologies (like radio) that are still used today.
Later in life, Tesla went on to work on a global, wireless communication system designed for sharing information and providing free energy throughout the world (sound familiar!?), which would be transmitted through a large electrical tower.
Sadly, Tesla’s vision proved too ambitious as the time. Following the closure of his free energy project, he suffered a nervous breakdown. He died a poor recluse at 86 in 1943.
Lucky for us, his legacy and innovation lives on today. You may have heard of Tesla Motors? Or the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe? His work throughout the 19th and 20th centuries still inspires us today.