Nikola Tesla is possibly the most universally loved Serbian in the history of Serbians. Is that debatable? Probably, but the ‘Electric Jesus’ would probably come out on top of any worldwide popularity poll on the subject. The genius is considered to be the man who invented the 20th century, the brains behind the technological revolution that made the world the place it is today. Tesla had at least 278 patents, but here are 11 of the most important things that he gave the world.
Tesla didn’t exactly invent Alternating Current (AC), but the ‘Electric Jesus’ was the man who made AC practical and usable for the entire planet. It wasn’t until wealthy investor George Westinghouse got behind him that Tesla’s work on AC began to be taken seriously, and the AC/DC wars were on.
It was a question of practicality in truth. Thomas Edison’s Direct Current (DC) needed many power plants to provide electricity to large numbers of people, while Tesla’s AC used thinner wires and was able to transmit over great distances. Edison embarked on a very public smear campaign against AC, going so far as using AC to electrocute cats and dogs, but Tesla won out in the end.
It is Alternating Current that Tesla is arguably best known for, and it was this that helped catapult the Serb into the scientific stratosphere.
How can one talk about Nikola Tesla without mentioning the coil that takes his name? The Tesla Coil is used to produce high-voltage, low-current, high-frequency electricity. That might fly over the heads of many, so look at it like this – it was a contraption that created flying arcs of electrical energy.
That sounds quite dangerous, but Tesla wasn’t one to shirk in the face of potential electrocution. His coil created huge amounts of energy and allowed him to light bulbs without using wires, among other things. The Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade demonstrates this excellently, allowing the visitor to light a bulb using nothing but their hand and a little bit of Tesla magic.
Tesla was awarded a patent for remote control in 1898, after using a battery-powered boat as a demonstration. Years passed before the technology was used in any meaningful way, but it is difficult to imagine a modern world without remote control tech.
Tesla’s invention saw a boat controlled by radio signals, which subsequently powered the rudders and propellers. It was another of Nikola’s inventions that went way over the heads of many at the time.
The credit for inventing the radio initially went to Italian engineer Guglielmo Marconi, but it was later revealed that Tesla had come up with the invention first. Tesla had two radio patents accepted in the late 19th century, but the financial clout of Marconi’s backers saw the Italian awarded the patent that mattered. Radio was one example of Tesla’s overactive mind and creative tendencies getting the better of him, allowing someone else to swoop in and get the credit for the Serb’s creation.
It is difficult to imagine a world without remote control, but one without wireless technology? Unthinkable. Tesla had a dream that one day every single person on the planet would be able to receive free energy. He set about building a tower that would use natural frequencies to transmit date across the globe – undoubtedly a precursor to the world wide web.
Tesla was well on his way to finishing the tower when his backer pulled the plug, citing the lack of profitability in the project as his reason. Modern wireless communication is still traced back to Nicky T however.
It may be obsolete today, but at the beginning of the 20th century electrotherapy was all the rage, if ‘all the rage’ is an acceptable thing to say about revolutionary medicine. People soon grew tired of having electric currents thrust through their bodies, and the practice stopped. It was revolutionary back in 1900 however, and Tesla’s violet ray was at the centre of it all. He introduced it at the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893, the same event in which he presented his famous Egg of Columbus.
Speaking of things that were once ‘all the rage’, there was a time in the 20th century when you couldn’t walk down a city high street without being bombarded by neon signs of all shapes and sizes. The technology for these monstrosities is of course traced back to Nikola Tesla, who developed and used fluorescent bulbs some four decades before they became popularised. Tesla didn’t invent neon lights themselves, but it was his wireless lighting work that led to their creation.
Nikola Tesla is the ‘father’ of many things, and another discipline that he is credited with kicking off is the typically futuristic world of robotics. The magical combination of science and engineering had existed since the days of Yan Shi of course, but it was Tesla who dragged it kicking and screaming into popular culture. It was 1898 when Tesla demonstrated the first radio-controlled vessel, paving the way for the robotic explosion that took place in the 20th century. If you’ve ever enjoyed Isaac Asimov, you have Tesla to thank.
Some 63 years after French mathematician François Arago argued the existence of rotating magnetic fields, Tesla utilised these to create the first AC induction motor. The invention made a world of difference to the efficiency of energy generation, and in many ways was responsible for kickstarting a second industrial revolution. The lights in your home, your electric toothbrush and your hoover? It all comes back to Tesla’s induction motor.
We can’t quite decide whether it sounds like the coolest thing on the planet or the scariest. The likelihood is both, but Tesla’s invention had both eyes firmly fixed on peace as opposed to war. The idea was to make nations entirely impregnable to attack. The existence of death rays would make war obsolete, although such thinking is quite clearly steeped in problems. Tesla’s invention of the laser has nonetheless helped evolve medical practices. Win some, lose some.
X-ray is another invention that is credited to someone else but came about thanks in no small part to the genius of Nikola Tesla. It was some throwaway experiments with discharge tubes (proof itself that Tesla was no ordinary chap) that led to the discovery when Nikola noticed that photographic plates nearby were damaged as a result of his noodling. Two years later Tesla produced some of the first images of the human body using X-rays, which he referred to as ‘Shadowgraphs’.
Nikola Tesla’s legend has gained seemingly unstoppable momentum over the last few years, and many are beginning to doubt the importance of the great man from Smiljan. Even the most cursory of researchers will find it difficult to deny his ingenuity and Nikola Tesla remains one of the great scientific minds in the history of humanity.