Born 160 years ago today, in what is now Croatia, Tesla was one of the great minds of the late-19th – early-20th centuries, but was lost somewhat in the shadow of Thomas Edison – largely, I think, because he lacked the business acumen that came so easily to Edison. The two worked together for a time when Tesla first arrived in the United States, but differences in personality drove them apart as much as their differences in methodology. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that Tesla was less interested in the commercializations of his inventions and discoveries than he was in just making them. Edison was very definitely interested in both the discovery and the commercial application. This, unfortunately led to many of Tesla’s works remaining unpatented – or patented by other inventors.
He was broke, and alone, when he died in 1943, but his development of alternating current electricity as a more efficient answer to Edison’s direct current, an idea that he further developed for – and sold to – George Westinghouse, would alone have been enough to cement his place in history. But he didn’t stop there. He designed the first hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls, New York in 1895. He also developed electrical transformation devices to create an energy field of high voltage charges – popularly known now as Tesla Coils, which were instrumental in the design of wireless radio transmissions. His passion for the development of wireless electrical transmission led him on to the development of wireless radio. He was a front-runner, with multiple related patents before Guglielmo Marconi, with more stable funding sources, advanced further with his own technology.
Tesla has recently gained a bit more attention in recent years, previously he was ignored by most non-geeks – and Elon Musk thoughtfully named his electric car line in his honor. 🙂
“The scientific man does not aim at an immediate result. He does not expect that his advanced ideas will be readily taken up. His work is like that of the planter — for the future. His duty is to lay the foundation for those who are to come, and point the way. He lives and labors and hopes.” — Nicholas Tesla, 1934
Image of Tesla in front of his electrical transformer, borrowed from http://www.livescience.com/45950-nikola-tesla-biography.html