To many today, Thomas Alva Edison is the forerunner in pioneering electricity that has illuminated the whole world making it brighter and radiant than ever. But a very few know the legacy of Nikola Tesla and his contributions that have stood strong through times. Tesla even explained how to design a smartphone communication during 1901, that is almost 72 years before Martin Cooper of Motorola did it practically from his laboratory in 1973. There are many inventions that can be credited to the Serbian electrical engineer Tesla, including X-rays, radio, robotics, remote control, Laser, wireless communication, etc. Does that sound like covering everything? Yes, he had almost touched every horizon for a newer beginning. But he didn’t lead the life of a celebrated inventor but remained a modest man who loved poetry and philosophy as much as oscillators and dynamos.Tesla’s father was a priest and he wanted his son to become a priest too. Tesla often fell ill when he was young. Once when he was so sick that he was considered to be in the deathbed, his father promised that he will send him to one of the top most Engineering colleges if he gets well. Thus, Tesla escaped his destiny of becoming a priest and started his engineering career, after recovering from the illness.
As a great physicist, his rivalry with Edison is a well-known fact in history even though many suggest that the relationship between Nikola and Edison was cordial but filled with professional competition. In fact, Tesla worked for Edison during his initial years helping him design direct current generators. Eventually Edison promised to pay Tesla $50,000 if he helped him improve the design of DC dynamos and later when Tesla completed the design, denied the sum of money by saying, ‘Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor’.
May it be competition or animosity between the two iconic inventors, it was furious. Edison was developing his direct current system to make it the universal standard of electricity transmission, whereas Tesla came up with the alternate current system, which was more economical in electricity transmission or distribution. Indeed, Tesla wanted Edison to adapt his version of power distribution mechanism. When Edison refused, Tesla quit the job and built his own business with the help of George Westinghouse. This difference in opinion and the events thereafter was termed as ‘War of Currents’. Edison was running propaganda against AC system, by electrocuting animals and thus showcasing the dangers of AC system to the public.
The war came to an end when Westinghouse’s electric company got the approval to supply electricity to the World Fair event, Chicago in 1893, which became a spectacle for Tesla’s AC system of electricity distribution. Soon after, Westinghouse Electricity Company also won the contract to transmit electricity 26 miles away to Buffalo, New York after being generated at a hydro-electric power plant in Niagara Falls. With that, the war of currents got finally over. Thus, it was Tesla’s success that outshone the cunning Edison to light up the world brighter and splendid.Even though Edison is credited with the invention of the electric bulb, it was not his sole contribution, but an idea built over the efforts of many scientists who worked on it before Edison. He just patented and did business in selling them. However, the contributions of Edison to the modern world cannot be undermined.
Tesla invented that he can transmit and receive radio signals and patented the same invention. As his laboratory caught fire he was not able to exhibit his finding to the public. A year later Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, used Tesla’s findings to successfully transmit and receive radio signals for his wireless telegraphy. Tesla didn’t raise any objection even after knowing that he has already patented the work. Instead he said, ‘Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue. He is using 17 of my patents’.
Tesla’s life was never a celebrated one. He has lived his life in a series of hotels in New York City and died in room number 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel almost penniless. During his last days, he fed pigeons outside the Public Library of New York. Having had 700 patents in his name, he entered into an agreement to pay the royalties of AC to Westinghouse and that of the wireless system to J.P. Morgan. Had he not signed the agreements, he would have been affluent during his end days.
Thus, he had an undying and uncommon dedication to his work that was least bothered about money or fame or anything worldly. He didn’t enter into a relationship with any woman saying that it would hinder his work. He was not just a scientist, but also a philosopher who understood the unknown realms of life, like the way he did physical science. He also criticized Einstein’s theory of relativity for considering space to be curved. He is a naturally gifted inventor who can uncover the mysticisms of the universe, at least to himself. He had the power to visualize things in his mind and design without the need to put them on paper. He spoke eight languages: English, French, Latin, Italian, German, Hungarian, Czech and Serbo-Croatian.
Once on his way to feed the pigeons he was hit by a taxi and got three of his rib bones broken. He didn’t get anxious and think of arguing with the taxi driver. He left to his hotel room, denied any treatment and recovered after some months during which he didn’t feed the pigeons.Talking about the pigeons he fed he said once, ‘I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them for years. But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings, that one was different. It was a female. I had only to wish and call her, and she would come flying to me. I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.’
On his seventy-fifth birthday in 1931, Time Magazine published his photo on the cover with the caption reading ‘All the world’s his power house’!