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Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla.
1856 - 1943.

Nikola Tesla was born on 10 July 1856, in Smiljan near Gospic, in the Lika region of the Austrian Empire (today in Croatia). Legend has it that it was precisely at midnight during an electrical storm, the midwife commented, 'He'll be a child of the storm,' to which his mother replied, 'No, of light'. His father was Rev. Milutin Tesla, a priest in the Serbian Orthodox Church, his mother Ðuka Mandic, herself a daughter of a Serbian Orthodox Church priest. Nikola was one of five children, having one brother and three sisters. His family moved to Gospic in 1862. Tesla went to school in Karlovac, then studied electrical engineering at the Austrian Polytechnic in Graz where he studied the uses of alternating current.

During his early life, Tesla was stricken with illness time and time again. He suffered a peculiar affliction in which blinding flashes of light would appear before his eyes, often accompanied by hallucinations. Much of the time the visions were linked to a word or idea he might have come across; just by hearing the name of an item, he would involuntarily envision it in realistic detail. In later years Tesla would visualise an invention in his brain in precise form before moving to the construction stage; a technique sometimes known as picture thinking. Tesla also often had flashbacks to events that had happened previously in his life; this began to happen during childhood.

In 1878 he left Graz and went to Maribor, Slovenia, where he was first employed as an assistant engineer for a year. He suffered a nervous breakdown during this time. Tesla was later persuaded by his father to attend the Charles-Ferdinand branch of the University of Prague, which he attended for the summer term of 1880. However after his father died he left the university, only completing one term.

In 1881 he moved to Budapest, Hungary, to work for a telegraph company, the American Telephone Company. He met Nebojsa Petrovic, a young inventor from Austria. Although their encounter was brief, they did work on a project together using twin turbines to create continual power. On the opening of the telephone exchange in Budapest, 1881, Tesla became the chief electrician to the company, and was later engineer for the country's first telephone system. He also developed a device that, according to some, was a telephone repeater or amplifier, but according to others could have been the first loudspeaker. In 1882 he moved to Paris, France, to work as an engineer for the Continental Edison Company, designing improvements to electric equipment. In the same year, Tesla conceived of the induction motor and began developing various devices that use rotating magnetic fields (for which he received patents in 1888).

On June 6, 1884, Tesla first arrived in the US in New York City. He had little besides a letter of recommendation from Charles Batchelor, his manager in his previous job, to Thomas Edison. Batchelor wrote: "I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man." Edison hired Tesla to work for his company Edison Machine Works. Tesla's work for Edison began with simple electrical engineering and quickly progressed to solving the company's most difficult problems. Tesla was offered the task of a complete redesign of the Edison company's direct current generators. Edison offered him the then staggering sum of $50,000 (almost $1 million today, adjusted for inflation) if he completed the motor and generator improvements. Tesla said he worked nearly a year to redesign them and gave the Edison company several enormously profitable new patents in the process. When Tesla inquired about the $50,000, Edison reportedly replied to him, "Tesla, you don't understand our American humour," and reneged on his promise. At Tesla's salary of $18 per week, the bonus would have amounted to over 53 years pay, and the amount was equal to the initial capital of the company. Tesla resigned when he was refused a raise to $25 per week. Tesla eventually found himself digging ditches for a short period of time - ironically for the Edison company! Edison had also never wanted to hear about Tesla's AC polyphase designs, believing that DC electricity was the future. Tesla focused intently on his AC polyphase system, even while digging ditches.

In 1886, Tesla formed his own company, Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing. The initial financial investors disagreed with Tesla on his plan for an alternating current motor and eventually relieved him of his duties at the company. Tesla worked in New York as a common laborer from 1886 to 1887 to feed himself and raise capital for his next project. In 1887, he constructed the initial brushless alternating current induction motor, which he demonstrated to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (now IEEE) in 1888. In the same year, he developed the principles of his Tesla coil and began working with George Westinghouse at Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company's Pittsburgh labs. Westinghouse listened to his ideas for polyphase systems which would allow transmission of alternating current electricity over large distances.

When Tesla was 36 years old, the first patents concerning the polyphase power system were granted. He continued research of the system and rotating magnetic field principles. Tesla served, from 1892 to 1894, as the vice president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, the forerunner (along with the Institute of Radio Engineers) of the modern-day IEEE. From 1893 to 1895, he investigated high frequency alternating currents. He generated AC of one million volts using a conical Tesla coil and investigated the skin effect in conductors, designed tuned circuits, cordless gas discharge lamps, and transmitted electromagnetic energy without wires, building the first radio transmitter. In St. Louis, Missouri, Tesla made a demonstration related to radio communication in 1893.

After a very inventive life, Tesla died of heart failure alone in the New Yorker Hotel, some time between the evening of January 5 and the morning of January 8, 1943, at the age of 86. Despite selling his AC electricity patents, and holding of many other patents, Tesla was essentially destitute and died with significant debts, this was probably because Tesla was willing to give 'his' technology to the world for free. Later that year the US Supreme Court upheld Tesla's patent number U.S. Patent 645,576, in effect recognizing him as the inventor of radio.

In life, Tesla was an eccentric and brilliant man, called the "prodigal genius." In death his legacy lives on as even today his theories continue to be explored and confirmed. It is nearly impossible to enter a modern room or vehicle, whether an automobile or the space shuttle and not see some device, whether a computer screen or a telephone, that can be traced back to his genius.

Some of the many inventions, innovations and ideas attributed to Tesla:

Even today scientists continue to scour through his notes. Many of his far flung theories are just now being proven by our top scientists. For example, the Tesla bladeless disk turbine engine that he designed, when coupled with modern materials, is proving to be among the most efficient motors ever designed. His 1901 patented experiments with cryogenic liquids and electricity provide the foundation for modern superconductors. He talked about experiments that suggested particles with fractional charges of an electron, something that scientists in 1977 finally discovered, quarks!

A truely remarkable man, I can't do justice to him with just this small space!
The real Father Of Radio, by US Supreme Court ruling!

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