Nikola Tesla is undoubtedly one of the greatest scientific minds of all time. You may have heard of him as the namesake of Tesla Motors (and also their new competitor in the electric vehicle space Nikola Motor Company). Or perhaps you’ve heard of him as the guy who had the credit for discovering electricity stolen from him by the famous Thomas Edison. Regardless of when and where you’ve heard of him, there’s no doubt that Nikola Tesla left a lasting impact on the world, and many people aren’t aware of just how massive that impact actually was.
So, in remembrance of one of the greatest minds that has ever graced our world, this article will go through some of Tesla’s greatest and most famous inventions and briefly explain how they worked. And while you’re reading, look around the room that you’re sitting in and count just how many appliances that trace their roots back to Tesla’s inventions. And when you’re done, throw up a little peace sign or a salute to thank him for all that he’s contributed to our modern world.
Nikola Tesla Background
Before diving into Tesla’s inventions, let’s take a look at how he rose to become one of the greatest inventors in history. He was born in Smiljan, Croatia in 1856. His father Milutin was an orthodox priest and writer, and he always pushed Nikola to join the priesthood. This wasn’t Nikola’s destiny, however, as he later went to study at the Realschule in Karlstadt, Germany, and later at the Polytechnic Institute in Graz, Austria, and the University of Prague.
In 1881, Tesla moved to Budapest and started working at the Budapest Telephone Exchange where he made many improvements to the company’s electric equipment. In 1882, he moved to Paris and started working for the Continental Edison Company. After impressing management with his engineering ability, he moved to New York City in 1884 and began working for Machine Works where he apparently only met with Thomas Edison a handful of times.
Tesla only worked at Machine Works for a total of six months before quitting. His reason for quitting is somewhat unknown. Some say that it was over a dispute about a bonus he did not receive, while others claim it was because Edison wouldn’t give his radical ideas about alternating current the time of day. Regardless, soon after leaving Machine Works, he was able to gain financing for a new lighting and utility company called Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing.
After he got his own company, Tesla continued to work on alternating current and eventually the induction motor. And despite the fact that Thomas Edison smeared Tesla’s inventions throughout his career, claiming that they were dangerous, Tesla eventually received a huge sum of money from Westinghouse Electric to license his AC induction technology. Westinghouse Electric was later able to secure the contract to provide the power for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition) over Edison’s company, proving the viability of alternating current over direct current.
Tesla spent the remainder of his career in New York City coming up with countless more inventions until his death at the age of 86 in 1943. Tesla was found dead in Room 3327 of the Hotel New Yorker on 40th Street and Sixth Avenue. The cause of death was determined to be coronary thrombosis. Two days later, the FBI came to seize all of Tesla’s belongings from the hotel, and they called in John G. Trump (yes, uncle of Donald Trump) to analyze the findings. Since then, there are claims that many of these items are still in the FBI’s possession.
Nikola Tesla Inventions
There are a ton of conspiracy theories out there about what happened to Tesla’s works and belongings after his death, some of them which seem more plausible than others (and, yes, some of them which involve Donald Trump). However, rather than getting into some of Tesla’s inventions that people believe are being covered up by the FBI, let’s take a look at some of the things we know he invented.
Alternating current (AC) is a type of electric current that runs in opposite directions cyclically, as opposed to direct current (DC) which always runs in the same direction. Things that are powered by batteries typically use DC current, which is why there’s a positive side and a negative side.
Appliances that are plugged into a wall, on the other hand, tend to use AC current. In general, AC current is cheaper to generate and has fewer energy losses when it’s being transmitted over long distances. It’s these advantages that allowed AC current to become so popular.
The Tesla coil was the result of Tesla trying to figure out how to send electricity from place to place wirelessly. The invention, which used AC current and shot sparks and lightning bolts through the air, was eventually used to transmit some of the first wireless telegraphs.
While the Tesla coil may look like something out of a sci-fi movie, it’s actually still used in some televisions, radios, and other electronics, and it formed the basis for all other wireless communication.
While the invention of the modern neon sign is credited to Georges Claude, Nikola Tesla was playing around with a similar technology far before him. Tesla was interested in creating lighting that didn’t require any wires or electrodes.
So, similar to how a modern neon sign works, he started filling glass tubes with small amounts of glass and then illuminating them with AC current. Unlike a modern neon sign, however, Tesla tried to transmit that AC current wirelessly. And based on the fact that we still don’t have wireless neon lights today, it seems that Tesla bit off more than he could chew. Still, his work laid the foundation for neon signs as we know them today.
Continuing his pursuits into the capabilities of wireless transmission using AC induction, Tesla was apparently working on a radio that could transmit messages 50 miles or more until his laboratory burned down in 1895.
Unable to complete his version of the radio, someone else got a patent for a similar technology before him. But had he succeeded, Tesla’s radio would have been far stronger than his competitor’s alternative.
Tesla was able to eventually complete his radio transmission technology after the fire, and he used it to create the first-ever radio-controlled toy boat.
The boat’s engine, lighting, and steering could be remotely controlled, and this technology is still used in modern drones today. While this invention had major effects on warfare, Tesla originally intended it to be used for machinery that would take away a great deal of the burden of labor from human beings.
Nikola Tesla’s shadowgraph was the predecessor to modern X-rays. However, rather than using X-radiation, Tesla’s shadowgraph used radio waves to penetrate surfaces and create a shadow image of what lay behind them.
While X-ray technology was first invented by German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen, Tesla improved upon the technology by making the images far more clear.