Nikola Tesla was one of those electrifying intellects whose radical inventions placed him dangerously on the precipice between freakish scientific mind and weirdo madman mystic. But despite being largely unknown in popular culture, he is behind most of the technology that surrounds us today.
The Croatian-born engineer, who spoke eight languages and memorized books of poetry, almost single-handedly developed technology that harnessed the power of electricity for household use, inventing things like electrical generators, FM radio, remote control, robots, spark plugs, fluorescent lights and giant Frankenstein-esque machines that shoot lightning bolts through the air.
He had an other-worldly ability to visualize the most complex machines – performing advanced calculus and physics equations in his head whilst lesser geniuses fumbled with chalk. But his visionary thinking clashed with the harsh world of businessmen and commerce. Most of his revolutionary ideas were stolen or manipulated from him, chiefly by Thomas Edison, who made vast fortunes from Tesla’s ideas, leaving Tesla struggling and poor most of his life. (Yes, the light-bulb was Tesla’s idea).
Tesla’s inventions were so far ahead of his time that many thought he was insane. He once lit 200 light bulbs from a power source 26 miles away, freaking out the sharpest scientific minds of the day. However his eccentric reputation was partially warranted. Tesla often claimed to receive cosmic visions in the middle of the night, he spoke to pigeons (only the urbane ones) and occasionally thought he was receiving electromagnetic signals from extraterrestrials on Mars. There’ll be an App for that soon and we won’t even blink an eyelid.
When Tesla died in 1943, J. Edgar Hoover aided by the FBI confiscated all of his personal paperwork and indecipherable scribbles, locking them away, just to be safe. Despite holding 700 patents at the time of his death and developing technology that would lead to the second industrial revolution, Tesla died penniless and alone in a small hotel room in New York City.
Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures