We owe much of our everyday pleasures and conveniences to a long line of strange and intelligent men who sought new sources of power throughout history. Some names stand out more than others and there is no doubt that Nikola Tesla is one of those names. Tesla was born July 10, 1856 in Smiljan Lilka, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Legend has it that the future inventor was born during a terrifyingly powerful electrical storm, a fateful irony if ever there was one.
An Electric Partnership
The late 1800s was a fertile time for inventors. Mankind had entered the industrial age and was discovering the true influence that he could have over the natural world around him. Electricity was still a relatively new concept and had yet to be tamed as a reliable source of energy. It was during this time period in 1884 that Tesla arrived in New York city with a letter from a friend, introducing him to none other than Thomas Edison.
Edison and Tesla originally worked together in Edison’s labs. At first, Tesla was a counterpart, helping Edison to improve upon his many inventions that dealt with electricity, including the light bulb. However, Tesla was not convinced that Edison’s commitment to Direct Current (DC) electricity was sound. Direct current would require a power plant every two miles to supply sufficient power anywhere. Instead, Tesla favored Alternating Current (AC) which could be transported across long distances. The two men eventually became rivals in what was known as “The Current Wars.”
The ‘Father’ of Electricity
Tesla went on to invent an induction motor that ran on alternating current to generate a rotating magnetic field to turn the motor. The invention caught the attention of George Westinghouse who quickly purchased the forty patents to Tesla’s AC technology and hired Tesla to work for him. Westinghouse, at the time, was Edison’s number one rival in the DC vs. AC debate.
Tesla’s continued experiments in electricity would help create the foundation of our modern day power grid. In 1893, he demonstrated his AC electricity by lighting the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He designed the first Hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls, in 1895. His invention, the Tesla coil, is still used in television and radio sets as well as other electronic equipment. By the start of the 20th century, alternating current had become the standard source of power.
Man Beyond his Time and Above the Future
Many believe that Nikola Tesla was the brightest inventor and most gifted mind we have ever known, despite credits we have lauded upon others. He had eccentricities that suited a scientific genius. He was phobic about germs, and apparently wore white gloves every evening. Tesla had a disdain for pearls to the extent he would avoid being in the presence of anyone wearing them. A handsome man with thick black hair, he always posed for photos with what he believed his best side forward.
He certainly helped electricity put its best side forward by demonstrating the superiority of AC electricity for widespread distribution. Although Edison was an equally great man who provided his fair share of contributions to the progress of mankind, his blind dedication to DC was dead wrong. As a strong supporter of green energy I, Dr. Bulb, have to tip my hat to Mr. Tesla for his contribution to the development of electrical power sources.