Nikola Tesla was born on the 10th July 1856 and was a Serbian American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.
Tesla gained experience in telephony and electrical engineering before emigrating to the United States in 1884 to work for Thomas Edison in New York City. He soon struck out on his own with financial backers, setting up laboratories and companies to develop a range of electrical devices. His patented AC induction motor and transformer were licensed by George Westinghouse, who also hired Tesla for a short time as a consultant. His work in the formative years of electric-power development was involved in a corporate alternating current/direct current "War of Currents" as well as various patent battles. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1891.
Tesla went on to pursue his ideas of wireless lighting and electricity distribution in his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New York and Colorado Springs and made early (1893) pronouncements on the possibility of wireless communication with his devices. He tried to put these ideas to practical use in an ill-fated attempt at intercontinental wireless transmission, his unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower project. In his lab, he also conducted a range of experiments with mechanical oscillators/generators, electrical discharge tubes, and early X-ray imaging. He also built a wireless controlled boat, one of the first ever exhibited.
Tesla was renowned for his achievements and showmanship, eventually earning him a reputation in popular culture as an archetypal "mad scientist". His patents earned him a considerable amount of money, much of which was used to finance his own projects with varying degrees of success.
Tesla was born into a Serb family in the village of Smiljan, Austrian Empire (modern-day Croatia). His father, Milutin Tesla (1819–1879), was an Orthodox priest. Tesla's mother, Đuka Tesla (née Mandić; 1822–1892), whose father was also an Orthodox priest, had a talent for making home craft tools and mechanical appliances and the ability to memorize Serbian epic poems. Đuka had never received a formal education. Nikola credited his eidetic memory and creative abilities to his mother's genetics and influence. Tesla's progenitors were from western Serbia, near Montenegro.
Tesla was the fourth of five children. He had an older brother named Dane and three sisters, Milka, Angelina and Marica. Dane was killed in a horse-riding accident when Nikola was five. In 1861, Tesla attended the "Lower" or "Primary" School in Smiljan, where he studied German, arithmetic, and religion. In 1862, the Tesla family moved to Gospić, Austrian Empire, where Tesla's father worked as a pastor. Nikola completed "Lower" or "Primary" School, followed by the "Lower Real Gymnasium" or "Normal School".
In 1870, Tesla moved to Karlovac to attend school at the Higher Real Gymnasium, where he was profoundly influenced by math teacher Martin Sekulić. The classes were held in German, as it was a school within the Austro-Hungarian Military Frontier. Tesla was able to perform integral calculus in his head, which prompted his teachers to believe that he was cheating. He finished a four-year term in three years, graduating in 1873.
In 1873, Tesla returned to his birth town, Smiljan. Shortly after he arrived, Tesla contracted cholera; he was bedridden for nine months and was near death multiple times. Tesla's father, in a moment of despair, promised to send him to the best engineering school if he recovered from the illness (his father had originally wanted him to enter the priesthood).
In 1874, Tesla evaded being drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army in Smiljan by running away to Tomingaj, near Gračac. There, he explored the mountains in hunter's garb. Tesla said that this contact with nature made him stronger, both physically and mentally. He read many books while in Tomingaj and later said that Mark Twain's works had helped him to miraculously recover from his earlier illness.
In 1875, Tesla enrolled at Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, Austria, on a Military Frontier scholarship. During his first year, Tesla never missed a lecture, earned the highest grades possible, passed nine exams (nearly twice as many as required), started a Serb culture club, and even received a letter of commendation from the dean of the technical faculty to his father, which stated, "Your son is a star of first rank." Tesla claimed that he worked from 3 a.m. to 11 p.m., no Sundays or holidays excepted. He was "mortified when [his] father made light of [those] hard won honors." After his father's death in 1879, Tesla found a package of letters from his professors to his father, warning that unless he were removed from the school, Tesla would die through overwork. During his second year, Tesla came into conflict with Professor Poeschl over the Gramme dynamo, when Tesla suggested that commutators were not necessary. At the end of his second year, Tesla lost his scholarship and became addicted to gambling. During his third year, Tesla gambled away his allowance and his tuition money, later gambling back his initial losses and returning the balance to his family. Tesla said that he "conquered [his] passion then and there," but later, he was known to play billiards in the US. When exam time came, Tesla was unprepared and asked for an extension to study, but was denied. He never graduated from the university and did not receive grades for the last semester.
Starting in 1894, Tesla began investigating what he referred to as radiant energy of "invisible" kinds after he had noticed damaged film in his laboratory in previous experiments (later identified as "Roentgen rays" or "X-Rays"). His early experiments were with Crookes tubes, a cold cathode electrical discharge tube. Soon after, much of Tesla's early research—hundreds of invention models, plans, notes, laboratory data, tools, photographs, valued at $50,000—was lost in the 5th Avenue laboratory fire of March 1895. Tesla is quoted by The New York Times as saying, "I am in too much grief to talk. What can I say?" Tesla may have inadvertently captured an X-ray image—predating, by a few weeks, Wilhelm Röntgen's December 1895 announcement of the discovery of x-rays—when he tried to photograph Mark Twain illuminated by a Geissler tube, an earlier type of gas discharge tube. The only thing captured in the image was the metal locking screw on the camera lens.
In March 1896, after hearing of Wilhelm Röntgen's discovery of X-ray and X-ray imaging (radiography), Tesla proceeded to do his own experiments in X-ray imaging, developing a high energy single terminal vacuum tube of his own design that had no target electrode and that worked from the output of the Tesla Coil (the modern term for the phenomenon produced by this device is bremsstrahlung or braking radiation). In his research, Tesla devised several experimental setups to produce X-rays. Tesla held that, with his circuits, the "instrument will ... enable one to generate Roentgen rays of much greater power than obtainable with ordinary apparatus."
Tesla noted the hazards of working with his circuit and single-node X-ray-producing devices. In his many notes on the early investigation of this phenomenon, he attributed the skin damage to various causes. He believed early on that damage to the skin was not caused by the Roentgen rays, but by the ozone generated in contact with the skin, and to a lesser extent, by nitrous acid. Tesla incorrectly believed that X-rays were longitudinal waves, such as those produced in waves in plasmas. These plasma waves can occur in force-free magnetic fields.
On 11 July 1934, the New York Herald Tribune published an article on Tesla, in which he recalled an event that would occasionally take place while experimenting with his single-electrode vacuum tubes; a minute particle would break off the cathode, pass out of the tube, and physically strike him. "Tesla said he could feel a sharp stinging pain where it entered his body, and again at the place where it passed out." In comparing these particles with the bits of metal projected by his "electric gun," Tesla said, "The particles in the beam of force ... will travel much faster than such particles ... and they will travel in concentrations."
Tesla's theories on the possibility of the transmission by radio waves go back as far as lectures and demonstrations in 1893 in St. Louis, Missouri, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the National Electric Light Association. Tesla's demonstrations and principles were written about widely through various media outlets. Many devices such as the Tesla Coil were used in the further development of radio.
In 1898, Tesla demonstrated a radio-controlled boat (U.S. Patent 613,809 —Method of an Apparatus for Controlling Mechanism of Moving Vehicle or Vehicles).
Tesla's radio wave experiments in 1896 were conducted in Gerlach Hotel (later renamed The Radio Wave building), where he resided.
In 1898, Tesla demonstrated a radio-controlled boat—which he dubbed "teleautomaton"—to the public during an electrical exhibition at Madison Square Garden. The crowd that witnessed the demonstration made outrageous claims about the workings of the boat, such as magic, telepathy, and being piloted by a trained monkey hidden inside. Tesla tried to sell his idea to the U.S. military as a type of radio-controlled torpedo, but they showed little interest. Remote radio control remained a novelty until World War I and afterward, when a number of countries used it in military programs. Tesla took the opportunity to further demonstrate "Teleautomatics" in an address to a meeting of the Commercial Club in Chicago, while he was travelling to Colorado Springs, on 13 May 1899.
In 1900, Tesla was granted patents for a "system of transmitting electrical energy" and "an electrical transmitter." When Guglielmo Marconi made his famous first-ever trans atlantic radio transmission in 1901, Tesla quipped that it was done with 17 Tesla patents, though there is little to support this claim. This was the beginning of years of patent battles over radio with Tesla's patents being upheld in 1903, followed by a reverse decision in favor of Marconi in 1904. In 1943, a Supreme Court of the United States decision restored the prior patents of Tesla, Oliver Lodge, and John Stone. The court declared that their decision had no bearing on Marconi's claim as the first to achieve radio transmission, just that since Marconi's claim to certain patents were questionable, he could not claim infringement on those same patents (there are claims the high court was trying to nullify a World War I claim against the U.S. government by the Marconi Company via simply restoring Tesla's prior patent).
On 17 May 1899, Tesla moved to Colorado Springs, where he would have room for his high-voltage, high-frequency experiments; his lab was located near Foote Ave. and Kiowa St. He chose this location because the polyphase alternating current power distribution system had been introduced there and he had associates who were willing to give him all the power he needed without charging for it. Upon his arrival, he told reporters that he was conducting wireless telegraphy experiments, transmitting signals from Pikes Peak to Paris. On 15 June 1899, Tesla performed his first experiments at his Colorado Springs lab; he recorded his initial spark length at five inches long, but very thick and noisy.
Tesla investigated atmospheric electricity, observing lightning signals via his receivers. He stated that he observed stationary waves during this time. The great distances and the nature of what Tesla was detecting from lightning storms confirmed his belief that the earth had a resonant frequency.
He produced artificial lightning, with discharges consisting of millions of volts and up to 135 feet long. Thunder from the released energy was heard 15 miles away in Cripple Creek, Colorado. People walking along the street observed sparks jumping between their feet and the ground. Sparks sprang from water line taps when touched. Light bulbs within 100 feet of the lab glowed even when turned off. Horses in a livery stable bolted from their stalls after receiving shocks through their metal shoes. Butterflies were electrified, swirling in circles with blue halos of St. Elmo's fire around their wings.
While experimenting, Tesla inadvertently faulted a power station generator, causing a power outage. In August 1917, Tesla explained what had happened in The Electrical Experimenter: "As an example of what has been done with several hundred kilowatts of high frequency energy liberated, it was found that the dynamos in a power house six miles away were repeatedly burned out, due to the powerful high frequency currents set up in them, and which caused heavy sparks to jump through the windings and destroy the insulation!"
During his time at his lab, Tesla observed unusual signals from his receiver which he concluded may be communications from another planet. He mentioned them in a letter to reporter Julian Hawthorne at the Philadelphia North American on 8 December 1899 and in a December 1900 letter about possible discoveries in the new century to the Red Cross Society where he referred to messages "from another world" that read "1... 2... 3...". Reporters treated it as a sensational story and jumped to the conclusion Tesla was hearing signals from Mars. He expanded on the signals he heard in a 9 February 1901 Collier's Weekly article "Talking With Planets" where he said it had not been immediately apparent to him that he was hearing "intelligently controlled signals" and that the signals could come from Mars, Venus, or other planets. It has been hypothesized that he may have intercepted Marconi's European experiments in July 1899—Marconi may have transmitted the letter S (dot/dot/dot) in a naval demonstration, the same three impulses that Tesla hinted at hearing in Colorado—or signals from another experimenter in wireless transmission.
In 1899, John Jacob Astor IV invested $100,000 for Tesla to further develop and produce a new lighting system. Instead, Tesla used the money to fund his Colorado Springs experiments.
The Colorado experiments had prepared Tesla for the establishment of the trans-Atlantic wireless telecommunications facility known as Wardenclyffe near Shoreham, Long Island.
From this facility, Tesla hoped to demonstrate wireless transmission of electrical energy across the Atlantic.
In 1900, with $150,000 ($4,266,600 in today's dollars; 51% from J. Pierpont Morgan), Tesla began planning the Wardenclyffe Tower facility to be built in Shoreham, New York, 100 miles east of the city on the North Shore of Long Island.
Tesla later approached Morgan to ask for more funds to build a more powerful transmitter. When asked where all the money had gone, Tesla responded by saying that he was affected by the Panic of 1901, which he (Morgan) had caused. Morgan was shocked by the reminder of his part in the stock market crash and by Tesla's breach of contract by asking for more funds. Tesla wrote another plea to Morgan, but it was fruitless. Morgan still owed Tesla money on the original agreement, and Tesla had been facing foreclosure even before construction of the tower began.
In December 1901, Marconi successfully transmitted the letter S from England to Newfoundland, defeating Tesla in the race to be first to complete such a transmission. Over the next five years, Tesla wrote more than 50 letters to Morgan, pleading for and demanding additional funding to complete the construction of Wardenclyffe. Tesla continued the project for another nine months into 1902. The tower was erected to its full 187 feet (57 m). In July 1903, Tesla wrote to Morgan that in addition to wireless communication, Wardenclyffe would be capable of wireless transmission of electric power. On 14 October 1904, Morgan finally replied through his secretary, stating, "It will be impossible for [me] to do anything in the matter," after Tesla had written to Morgan when the financier was meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury in an attempt to appeal to his Christian spirit.
In June 1902, Tesla moved his lab operations from Houston Street to Wardenclyffe.
On his 50th birthday in 1906, Tesla demonstrated his 200 horsepower (150 kilowatts) 16,000 rpm bladeless turbine. During 1910–1911 at the Waterside Power Station in New York, several of his bladeless turbine engines were tested at 100–5,000 hp.
Tesla invented a steam-powered mechanical oscillator—Tesla's oscillator. While experimenting with mechanical oscillators at his Houston Street lab, Tesla allegedly generated a resonance of several buildings. As the speed grew, it is said that the machine oscillated at the resonance frequency of his own building and, belatedly realizing the danger, he was forced to use a sledge hammer to terminate the experiment, just as the police arrived. In February 1912, an article—"Nikola Tesla, Dreamer" by Allan L. Benson—was published in World Today, in which an artist's illustration appears showing the entire earth cracking in half with the caption, "Tesla claims that in a few weeks he could set the earth's crust into such a state of vibration that it would rise and fall hundreds of feet and practically destroy civilization. A continuation of this process would, he says, eventually split the earth in two."
Tesla theorized that the application of electricity to the brain enhanced intelligence. In 1912, he crafted "a plan to make dull students bright by saturating them unconsciously with electricity," wiring the walls of a schoolroom and, "saturating [the schoolroom] with infinitesimal electric waves vibrating at high frequency. The whole room will thus, Mr. Tesla claims, be converted into a health-giving and stimulating electromagnetic field or 'bath.'" The plan was at least provisionally approved by then superintendent of New York City schools, William H. Maxwell.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d12, Spirit d10, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d4, Knowledge (Weird Science) d12, Knowledge (Science) d12, Notice d12, Repair d12, Shooting d6, Stealth d4,
Cha: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 4; Toughness: 6; Sanity: 7
Hindrances: Doubting Thomas
Edges: Arcane background (Weird science), Charismatic, Gadgeteer, Jack of all trades, McGyver, Power points x 2
Powers: Armor (Electrical plasma field), Bolt (Tesla coil pistol), Damage field (Amplified Van de Graaf generator), Teleport (Phased dis-integrator/re-integrator beam)
Power Points: 20
Gear: Lab coat, tool kit, schematics