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Engineers that changed the world - Nikola Tesla - Part I

written by: johnsinit•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 12/25/2008

Nikola Tesla was by far one of the greatest scientists and inventors and probably one of the greatest men to have lived. Tesla’s work surrounded electricity and magnetism and he produced inventions that shocked, awed and enlightened the world. His biography is so reach it required 2 articles...

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    Childhood and early years

    Nikola Tesla was born in village Smiljan in Austro-Hungarian Empire in the year 1856 (this territory now belongs to Croatia). A legend says that it was exactly midnight and electric storm under way. Tesla was not very good at school and could hardly complete his college education, dropping out of two universities without completing even a single a year. He was however an avid reader and possessed a photographic memory. Tesla worked as an engineer in the countries that he stayed in before coming to the US, devoting his free time to his only two past times: reading and experimenting. During this time he built what can be called the first loudspeaker and began working with rotating magnetic fields. Young Tesla developed a very eccentric personality, and many would describe him “crazy” – also because many of his ideas were far beyond the scientific research of the time.

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    Arrival in the US

    In 1884 Tesla decided to move to America, seeking more resources for his research. When he arrived in New York, he had little more than a few cents and a letter of recommendation from his former employer to Thomas Edison. The letter said: “I have known only two great men – one is you (Edison) the other is this young man”. Nikola Tesla had worked with and for Edison but disagreed with him on many points. The main argument was over the main scope of the research. Edison’s work on electricity was built on direct current, whereas Tesla considered alternating current to be far superior. To prove himself correct he took on Edison’s challenge of successfully redesigning each of the company DC generators which he accepted and completed.

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    Leaving Edison

    Tesla was promised $50,000 (today equivalent is more than $1.1 million) for this job by Edison. The payment never happened… Due to this occurrence and many other differences, Tesla had quit Edison’s company and resorted to digging ditches in order to support himself for sometime. Later, at the time of nearing his death, Edison would go on to say that the biggest mistake of his like was concentrating only on developing direct current instead of the vastly superior alternating current. But at the time Tesla had to leave Edison in order to promote his own ideas.

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    More to come

    Tesla inventions and theories went beyond the scope of magnetism into areas of nuclear physics, robotics, remote control, radar, computer science, ballistics and theoretical physics and some were often considered ‘fantastic’. His later (and most notable) years will be discussed in the next article.