Nikola Tesla was a genius born ahead of his time. As sometimes happens with great intellect, many considered him mad. His theories and ideas about the future were viewed as bizarre. During the latter part of his life, his ideas earned him the title of mad scientist by the scientific community. Those with whom he had worked and those who benefitted from his research ostracized him.
Tesla was born in the area known as Serbia on Jan. 10, 1856, later becoming a U.S. citizen. Often hailed as the father of electricity, he was primarily an inventor. He was also a mechanical and electrical engineer, whose experiments with alternating current formed the core of our current day electrical systems. He pioneered work in the fields of electromagnetism, robotics, radar, computer science and remote control technology. He also owned a large number of patents.
He started to attend classes at Austrian Polytechnic, but dropped out after a short time. He cut ties with his family and suffered a nervous breakdown not too long afterward. He was well read in a number of disciplines. He had a photographic memory, which would help immensely in his later work. Tesla often claimed that he experienced a bright flash of light just prior to identifying a breakthrough solution in his research projects, as well as completes visualization of new inventions.
He worked on developmental projects in electricity and telephones in France, Slovenia and Budapest before arriving in the U.S. where he developed the Tesla coil. He became interested in what would later be known as x-rays and conducted extensive experimentation with them. Further work led him to the wireless transmission of electricity, known as the Tesla effect. He also built the first radio transmitter, and a type or robotic remote control he hoped the military would utilize to create guided torpedoes. He hypothesized that the energy of the universe could be harnessed to operate machinery and equipment.
He was the first to discover that the Earth resonated to a particular frequency. He theorized that the planet would crack like an egg if subjected to specific frequencies for an extended period due to harmonic resonance. At one point in his research, he observed signals that he claimed originated in outer space. Later experts would claim the signals were nothing more than natural radio interference. He designed an ion-propelled aircraft, but was unable to obtain the funding to build it.
In the latter part of his life, he developed an obsession with the number three, displaying symptoms of obsession-compulsive disorder. The disorder was neither understood nor treatable at that time, leading many to dub him a mad scientist, and leading to the ruin of his reputation.
The inventor is perhaps best known for his claims of creating an energy weapon that others dubbed a ray gun in jest. He claimed to have constructed one and used it, but upon seeing its devastating effects, dismantled it, vowing never to use it again. He was ridiculed, but in fact, he’d created the first particle beam accelerator. Others of his time insisted the gun never existed.
Even though he was a college dropout, he was fluent in eight languages. At one point, he destroyed a contract, as it didn’t dovetail with his vision of free power. If he’d accepted the terms, he would have been the first billionaire in the nation’s history.
Throughout his life, Tesla remained a bachelor and had strong ideas on procreation, advocating selective breeding for humans. He was also one of the first supporters of equality for men and women.
When he died of a heart attack on Jan. 7, 1943, he was alone and heavily in debt. When his safe was opened, the federal government seized all his papers and impounded them through the Alien Property Custodian office, despite being a naturalized citizen. After reading them, the government stamped them top secret. His extended family fought a protracted court battle for their return and won. The papers were placed in the Tesla Museum. Since that time, awards have been established in his name and many statues have been erected in his honor.
Many of his ideas, theories and research since his death has been associated with bad science and fringe groups, though his experiments and research did adhere to scientific methods. Much of his research was found to be accurate and applicable in the decades since his death. Mocked in life during his later years, his genius nevertheless provided the basis and impetus for many of our current day accomplishments.