“Like a flash of lightning and in an instant the truth was revealed. I drew with a stick on the sand the diagrams of my motor. A thousand secrets of nature which I might have stumbled upon accidentally I would have given for that one which I had wrestled from her against all odds and at the peril of my existence.” Nicola Tesla.
The word ‘genius’ conjures images of brilliant, eccentric individuals such as Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, gifted thinkers, who challenged and changed the reality of our modern universe. Nicola Tesla, a contemporary of both of these historical figures, was a master of innovation; his accomplishments and vision, influencing the future of the world with his inventions of ‘AC current,’ the ‘Tesla coil’ and motors, wireless energy transmission, the telegraph system, as well as significant developments in x-rays and radar; some of his ideas which are still widely used today.
Born in a small village in what is now known as Croatia, Nicola was a delicate child, with a passion for engineering. After a first class education, he was brought to the attention of Thomas Edison with whom he worked briefly in 1884, while perfecting his new invention, ‘AC’ or alternating electrical current system. This invention placed him in competition with Edison’s own ‘DC’ or direct current system, which was widely used in America at that time. But it was not only Edison’s lack of vision and his overtly commercial attitude which irritated Tesla, but also his method of working; leading to an inevitable parting of the ways, after a dispute over an unpaid work bonus,
“If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search… I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.” said Tesla.
Edison was furious at Tesla’s apparent disrespect, having regarded himself as his mentor; the famous inventor launched a vicious campaign to brand Tesla’s AC current as dangerous and impractical, in the minds of the American public. Edison even stooped to distasteful demonstrations, such as publicly electrocuting a small dog with AC current, in order to prove his point. The feud intensified at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, where Tesla conducted demonstrations of his new AC system, proving beyond doubt its superior safety, efficiency and advanced transmission across greater distances. This event was a major turning point for Tesla, and with backing from George Westinghouse, who had already bought many of Tesla’s patents, Tesla’s Polyphase AC current, powered the first hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls, and Edison finally lost the battle of the currents.
In 1900, Tesla began working on his most controversial project; a global communication system conducted through a large, electrical tower, with the aim of providing a single source of free energy, available throughout the entire world! His idea was to harness the natural energy from the sea, wind and sun, sending it into the ionosphere, where it would generate unlimited amounts of energy. Obviously this was an extremely radical idea, which both astounded and also appalled Tesla’s financial backer, J .P. Morgan, who famously asked, “If anyone can draw on the power, where do we put the meter?” Unfortunately the system had to be abandoned for many practical reasons, but predominantly, Morgan’s withdrawal of financial backing; and so Tesla’s, stunning Wardenclyffe Tower was destroyed. Conspiracy theories abound to this day, as to the potential of ‘free energy’ and the real reasons the project was shut down.
In our modern world, Tesla’s work has inspired a whole new generation of engineers and scientists using his theories, with inventions such as the MRI scanner and the advancement of wireless energy transmission as a source of power for motor vehicles. There very are few scientist and inventors whose personal drive and vision has changed the world so dramatically, and to many, Nicola Tesla embodies the very definition of the word ‘genius.’
© Sonia Kilvington 2013