Nikola Tesla was an inventor, discoverer, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, theoretical and experimental physicist, mathematician, futurist and humanitarian. He is responsible for over ninety percent of the transmission of electrical power the world relies on today thanks to his discovery of the rotating magnetic field. The inventor utilized this discovery in his invention and patent of the first commutatorless alternating current induction motor which changed the future of power transmission. All electrical technology using or generating alternating current today is due to Tesla, without which all our trolley cars, electric vehicles, subways, manufacturing/industrial plants and electrified power lines, which bring power to almost every single electrical appliance/equipment in our homes/work, would be impossible.
Tesla was a Serbian born on July 10, 1856 at midnight in Smiljan, Lika (in what is now Croatia). He was educated at an early age by his parents before attending the Gymnasium Karlovac in Croatia, the Polytechnic Institute in Graz, Austria; and the University of Prague excelling in linguistics, mathematics and sciences. He was a hyper-polyglot who could speak eight languages including: Serbo-Croatian, English, Czech, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin. He claimed to have had a three-dimensional memory and thought process that tormented him in his youth, but later aided him with building his inventions in his own mind without wasting any physical energy. He was known to be able to recite by heart full books, mathematical formulas and poetry such as Goethe’s “Faust,” Njegoš’ “The Mountain Wreath,” Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Byron’s “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” and Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin.”
In 1881 while walking with a friend in a City Park reciting Goethe’s “Faust,” Tesla first envisioned the rotating magnetic field and his induction motor– complete, perfect, and operable in form. This visualization would represent the same diagrams shown in a lecture given before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1888.
After his revelation, in 1882, Tesla’s began working for a telephone company in Europe, while he worked independently on his induction motor. In 1884, he moved to America in hopes of capitalizing on his new discovery. Initially, Tesla was hired by Thomas Edison, but the famous American inventor was not interested in Tesla’s alternating current system, due to his already strong interest in direct current power transmission. Tesla would continue working for Edison until Edison promised him $50,000 to make improvements on his DC generation plants. After completing the task, Tesla asked to be paid, but Edison denied him his offer and explained that the offer of $50,000 was just an “American joke.” Edison offered Tesla a small raise, but Tesla resigned instead.
After his fallout with Edison, Tesla was offered his own lighting company by some small investors, but unfortunately, they were also not interested in Tesla’s alternating current system. Tesla would invent a new and efficient arc lamp for the company, but would be forced out of the business after completing his work. This was a bitter blow to the young Serbian who resorted to digging ditches for $2 an hour in order to get by in a new country.
Tesla’s luck would soon change in 1887, after he received a chance to demonstrate his system of alternating currents to some financiers with his famous “Egg of Columbus” demonstration. This great event would lead to the filing of his Alternating Current Poly-phase Induction Motor patent. This opened a wide door for the introduction and commercial development of alternating current motors.
Tesla pushed forward building apparatuses equal in productivity to DC motors, forcing the scientific community to recognize his work. Because of this work, in May of 1888, a publication of Tesla’s work was read before the American Institutes of Electrical Engineers. Prior to Tesla’s invention, it was considered impossible to eliminate the brushes and commutators on the old motors, but the introduction of Tesla’s new electrical theory and practice was an obvious departure from the old into the new. It was completely revolutionary yet so simple. The introduction of his new patent would spark a strong interest in American entrepreneur, George Westinghouse, who would later buy Tesla’s patents, and throw all his resources into the development of Tesla’s work. This new industry in power transmission would eventually start a feud between the Westinghouse Company and Thomas Edison’s General Electric Company–known as the “War of Currents" (AC/DC)…(to be continued…)