|"were we," remarks b. a. behrend, distinguished author and engineer, "to seize and to eliminate the results of mr. tesla's work, the wheels of industry would cease to turn, our electric cars and trains would stop, our towns would be dark, and our mills would be dead and idle."|
dr. nikola tesla (1856-1943) dr. nikola tesla was born in croatia, which at that time, lay within austro-hungary. tesla was born "at the stroke of midnight" with lightning striking during a summer storm. he was born in smijani, near gospiae, lika (the krajina, a military district of austro-hungarian empire, now in croatia). at the moment of his birth, the midwife commented, "he'll be a child of the storm," to which his mother replier, "no, of light!" tesla was baptized in the old slavonic church rite. his baptism certificate reports that he was born on june 28th, (julian calendar; july 10 in the gregorian calendar), and christened by the sefb orthodox priest, toma oklobd'ija. it is interesting to note that he was a serbian, of valachian descent.
tesla was proud of his croatian motherland and serbian descent. when his mother died in 1892, he paid a visit to croatian capital zagreb, and gave a lecture about alternating current. on that occasion tesla said: "as a son of my homeland, i feel it is my duty to help the city of zagreb in every respect with my advice and work" - ("smatram svojom duznoscu da kao rodeni sin svoje zemlje pomognem gradu zagrebu u svakom pogledu savjetom i cinom"). nikola tesla, besides being a great inventor and an outspoken serbian patriot, had sincerely adored free serb states, serbia and montenegro. he had never hidden his patriotic feelings, on the contrary, he stressed them.
on june 1st 1892, tesla arrived in belgrade due to a call for assistance from the belgrade municipality. several thousand people were there to greet him at the belgrade train station. he addressed the gathered crowd, who saluted him:
"there is something within me that might be illusion as it is often case with young delighted people, but if i would be fortunate to achieve some of my ideals, it would be on the behalf of the whole of humanity. if those hopes would become fulfilled, the most exiting thought would be that it is a deed of a serb. long live serbdom!..." tesla further said to the students of belgrade university: "as you can see and hear, i have remained a serb overseas where i have done some researches. you should do so and by your knowledge and hard work you should glorify serbdom over the world."
one of tesla's proudest moments was when he was granted his united states citizenship; he never lost his love of his homeland, however.
his monument, carved by ivan mestrovic (who knew tesla personally), can be seen in zagreb. another monument, carved by croatian sculptor frano krsinic, can be seen on "goat island", near the former tesla hydropower plant on niagara falls, in the middle of the niagara river, between the united states and canada boarders. it is purposely left un-illuminated at night (for the effect, and, to provoke thought of what the world would be like without tesla's contributions). as i have personally visited this monument, it leaves one with an eerie feeling. one definitely feels a sense of sadness for tesla, a man that quite literally created our modern electrical world, now with a simple statue staring out from an island in the middle of nowhere.
this picture to the right (click thumbnail for larger view) is from a visit i recently took to niagara falls on the 4th of july, 2005. standing in front of this statue left me with a feeling of awe. just a statue, mind you, but, to state at the solumn expression on tesla's face, and then think of all he accomplished, it is just an amazing feeling. a part of the technical museum in zagreb is dedicated to nikola tesla. even today, so many years after tesla's death in 1943, his numerous manuscripts are still kept as "top secret" by the us ministry of defense (see margaret cheney, "tesla: man out of time", prentice hall, 1981).
nikola tesla, an american inventor and engineer, whose mastery of electricity came at a time when electricity was changing american life. tesla is the unsung creator of the electric age, without whom our radio, auto ignition, telephone, alternating current power generation, alternating current transmission, radio, and television, would all have been impossible. he discovered the rotating magnetic field, the basis of most alternating-current machinery, and held more than 700 patents. his inventions make him one of the foremost pioneers in the distribution of electric energy.
born into a family of serbian origin, his father was rev. milutin tesla, a priest in the serb orthodox church metropolitanate of sremski karlovci. his mother was 衭ka mandic, herself a daughter of a serbian orthodox priest, who was talented in making home craft tools. his godfather, jovan drenovac, was a captain in the army protecting the military frontier. tesla was one of five children, having one brother and three sisters. his one older brother, dane, died when nikola was five. in his autobiography ("my inventions"), tesla tells of the early workings of his mind in a description that we can only regard with amazement. he began seeing flashes of light that interfered with his physical vision. when a word was spoken, he would envision the object so clearly that he had trouble distinguishing between the imagined (spoken) object and the real. in later years, he would build a machine in his mind, run it to see where it was flawed, and make whatever repairs and adjustments were needed, before he ever began his construction. at night and in solitude, tesla had an inner world of personal vision where he made journeys to distant places, studies, carried on conversations and met people that seemed as real to him as his outer world. by the time he was a teenager he spoke four languages. at about age 17, he found to his delight that he could create things in his mind, picturing them as the finished product without models, drawings or experiments. he invented such things as a low friction finless waterwheel and a motor driven by june bugs. again from "my inventions," we learn that tesla engaged in reading many works, as he stated, "at that age (24), i knew entire books by heart, word for word. one of these was goethe's faust." the relevance of this statement and his familiarity with goethe's faust will come into play further in this writing.
he trained to be an engineer, attending the technical university at graz, austria and the university of prague. beginning his studies in physics and mathematics at graz polytechnic, he then took philosophy at the university of prague. after finishing the studies at the polytechnic institute, doing two years of study in one, working 19 hours a day and sleeping only two, he suffered a complete nervous breakdown. during the malady, he observed many phenomena, both strange and unbelievable. his vision and hearing intensified beyond any normal human capacity. he could sense objects in the dark in the same way as a bat. it was a period in which his sensitivities were so heightened that the flashes of light that he had seen from the time he was a youth now filled the air around him with tongues of living flame. their intensity, instead of diminishing, increased with time, and seemingly attained a maximum when he was about twenty-five years old. his responses were so keenly tuned that a word would become an image that he could feel see and taste. it was during this time that he had one of his most famous ideas; the rotating magnetic field and alternating current induction motor. bringing himself back to the world as it is, tesla began work as an electrical engineer with the central telegraph office in budapest, hungary in 1881 and the following year, he went to work in paris for the continental edison company. in 1883 he constructed, after work hours, his first induction motor.
he sailed to america in 1884, arriving with four cents in his pocket. he found immediate employment with thomas edison - who quickly became a rival - edison being an advocate of the inferior dc power transmission system. for the remainder of his life, tesla would have, at times, difficulty getting his ideas and inventions funded because most financiers were in edison抯 corner. even later in his life, many of his ideas and inventions could not get funding, and so remained in notebooks, which are still examined to this day, by engineers searching for clues from his brilliant scientific mind. edison and tesla parted company within a year due to a false promise made by edison.
the story went like this; tesla was told (by edison) that if he could repair all of the faulty and broken down motors and generators in the edison plant that he would receive $50,000.00 for his effort. this tesla did, and in record time, no less. at the completion of the repair work, tesla approached edison for the monies that were promised, at which time edison replied that he was only "joking" about the money. tesla described the nature of the benefits from his proposed modifications, and reminded edison that he had worked nearly a year to redesign them and that in doing so, gave the edison company several enormously profitable new patents in the process. when tesla inquired again about the $50,000, edison replied to him, "tesla, you don't understand our american humor," and reneged on his promise. edison reportedly offered to raise tesla's salary by $10 per week as a compromise - at which rate it would have taken almost 100 years to earn the money edison had originally promised. tesla resigned on the spot. tesla did not find it very amusing and left his employ for good.
perhaps the lowest point in his life was in 1884-85 after he left edison, and without recognition or a mentor, had to take manual labor to survive. he was digging ditches at $2.00 a day when he met mr. a. k. brown of the western union telegraph company who put up some of his own money and interested a friend in joining him in tesla's project. shortly thereafter, tesla was commissioned with the design of the ac generators installed at niagara falls.
tesla and edison have often been represented as rivals. they were rivals, to a certain extent, in the battle between the alternating and direct current in which tesla championed the former. he won; the great power plants at niagara falls and elsewhere are founded on the tesla system. otherwise the two men were merely opposites. edison had a genius for practical inventions immediately applicable. tesla, whose inventions were far ahead of the time, aroused antagonisms which delayed the fruition of his ideas for years. however, great physicists like kelvin and crookes spoke of his inventions as marvelous. "tesla," said professor a. e. kennelly, of harvard university, when the edison medal was presented to the inventor, "set wheels going round all over the world. . . . what he showed was a revelation to science and art unto all time."
in april 1887, he established his own laboratory, where he experimented with shadowgraphs similar to those involved in the discovery of x-rays.
in 1888 his discovery that a magnetic field could be made to rotate if two coils at right angles are supplied with ac current 90 degrees out of phase made possible the invention of the ac induction motor. the major advantage of this motor being its brushless operation, which many at the time was believed impossible.
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