Nikola Tesla Biography, Inventions and Contributions

Philip Kelley

Nicholas Tesla (1856-1943) was a Serbian-American electrical engineer, physicist and inventor, known for the discovery of the rotating magnetic field, which was the basis of alternating current.

Born in present-day Croatia, he came to the United States in 1884, where he worked for a time with Thomas Edison. During his career he designed and developed ideas for outstanding inventions, including the Tesla coil, the induction motor, and the dynamo. He also made contributions to the discovery of X-rays, radar or remote control.

Nicholas Tesla

It is said that Tesla was one of the great inventors in history, although not such a good businessman. His alternating current design would become the standard from the 20th century to the present day. In 1887 he founded the Tesla Electric Company and at the end of that same year he successfully patented various inventions related to alternating current..

However, he could not see the commercial value of his ideas and died poor and without the prestige that he has today. Thomas Edison, who had the skills of an inventor and a businessman, discerned with Tesla on methods and ideas and was finally able to get rich off the electrical installations of his Edison Manufacturing Company..

Article index

  • 1 Biography
    • 1.1 First studies
    • 1.2 University education
    • 1.3 Relationship with Edison
    • 1.4 Relationship with Westinghouse
    • 1.5 Other inventions
    • 1.6 A personal project
    • 1.7 Last years
    • 1.8 Personal characteristics
  • 2 Inventions and contributions
    • 2.1 Alternating current
    • 2.2 The induction motor
    • 2.3 The current transformer
    • 2.4 Wardenclyffe Tower
    • 2.5 The radio
    • 2.6 Submarine
    • 2.7 Mechanism for driving propellers
    • 2.8 Wireless power transmission
  • 3 References


Nikola Tesla was born in Smiljan, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on July 10, 1856, on a stormy night..

His parents were Milutin and Djuka; Milutin was a priest of the Orthodox area of ​​the Serbian Church, and Djuka was more focused on invention, since he even produced small tools for the home..

First studies

Tesla's father

Tesla's father insisted that his son approach religious work; however, Nikola was not attracted to that world.

It is said that Tesla was very skilled with mathematics and that from an early school age he was able to make quick and accurate calculations, even if they were complex. This triggered some Tesla school teachers to accuse him of cheating when solving problems..

University education

Tesla at 23

Eventually his father accepted that his son would not be a priest and allowed him to study engineering. He began to study electrical engineering, but did not complete this specialization, even though there are records that indicate that he was a very good student, well above average.

In 1880 he went to Prague, where he studied at the University of Carolina; After completing them, Tesla dedicated himself to working in different companies dedicated to electric power, located in Budapest and Paris..

In Budapest, Tesla worked as a technical draftsman at the central telegraph office and at that time he came up with the principle through which rotating magnetic fields are generated. This discovery was the basis of what later were the generators and electric motors that he built.

While in Paris, he worked at the Thomas Edison branch of the company in that city, and his job was to identify faults that occurred in power plants. In that context, Tesla was assigned in 1883 to the task of building the induction electric motor. It was the first to be built in history; for this he was transferred to Strasbourg

Thanks to this event, Tesla was recommended by Charles Batchelor, the general manager of the Edison company, to work directly with Thomas Edison. In 1884 Tesla traveled to the United States and worked with Edison, being his subordinate.

Relationship with Edison

Thomas Edison was an advocate of direct electric current, and this concept went against what Tesla considered a better option to harness this energy. As a result of these differences, Edison and Tesla had constant discussions.

According to various historians, Tesla had superior mathematical knowledge and skills to Edison's. Thanks to this condition, Tesla was able to foresee that the alternating and polyphase option of the devices that distribute the electrical current was preferable and more efficient than the option of direct electrical current that Edison supported..

Despite this evidence, Edison was never willing to support Tesla's discovery. Some authors affirm that it has to do with an expression of the ego, in addition to implying to destroy a system that at the time had many investors.

Default issues

Apparently there were also money problems, as Edison promised Tesla a payment of $ 50,000 to improve a design related to DC generators..

Tesla fulfilled the task, even well above what was expected by Edison; however, Edison ultimately did not pay the money promised to Tesla, which is why the latter decided to leave the company.

As a result of this displeasure, Tesla continued to focus on his training and further refined his concepts related to alternating current, which made him place himself above the postulated by Edison and, therefore, was the trigger for a problematic relationship between the two. scientists.

Relationship with Westinghouse

George Westinghouse

In 1885 Nikola Tesla founded his company, which he called Electric Light & Manufacturing Company. Within the framework of this company Tesla made several inventions and obtained the corresponding patents. However, at that time there was a strong crisis that prevented the project from continuing to prosper..

Faced with this situation, Tesla counted on the intervention of George Westinghouse, an inventor, engineer and businessman from the United States, who agreed to help him on the condition of obtaining patents for the most important inventions..

Among these patents, those of the Tesla motor stand out, as well as that of a current transformer through which it was easier to distribute said current to the people who would finally use it..


The relationship with George Westinghouse lasted a while longer. In 1893 Westinghouse wanted to make a demonstration of the benefits of alternating current in the framework of the World's Columbian Exposition and asked Tesla to collaborate in the area of ​​energy supply.

Tesla demo

Tesla more than met Westinghouse's expectations, as it was commissioned to devise a system through which an ever-imagined number of light bulbs were lit together, which turned out to be more than all that could be found in Chicago..

In addition, another attraction that was quite striking for the public attending this exhibition was the demonstration of a wireless electric power.

Tesla also helped Westinghouse to achieve a project that was very important for humanity. It is about the possibility of generating electricity in Niagara Falls, located on the border between Canada and the United States..

From this collaboration by Tesla, what was the first large-scale AC power plant in the world was built.

In 1899, Tesla moved to a laboratory in Colorado Springs, United States, to begin his experiments with high voltage and electric field measurements..

Nikola Tesla in his lab in Colorado Springs circa 1900.

Other inventions

After having to close his company, Tesla founded a laboratory in New York focused on the electrotechnical area, where he continued working on different inventions.

One of the innovations he achieved was the discovery of the principle of the rotating magnetic field. Likewise, in this period he also began to work with polyphase alternating current systems..

A personal project

The Wardenclyffe Tower in 1904

A motivation that Nikola Tesla had from very early in his life was to be able to find a way to get both communications and energy wirelessly and for free to a large part of the population.

In the early 1900s Tesla began to materialize this desire, launching the construction of the so-called Wardenclyffe Tower. This tower was about 30 meters high and was located in New York, in Shoreham, Long Island. Its function was to transmit free wireless energy.

The land for the installation of this tower consisted of about 81 hectares. The tower was specifically designed for transatlantic commercial telephony; However, a good part of its structure was not fully operational, mainly due to a monetary issue..

This was so because the main investor in the project, the banker John Pierpont Morgan, decided to support Guillermo Marconi, who had managed to make radio broadcasts faster..

In 1917 the Wardenclyffe Tower was destroyed, partly as an act of the US government to avoid attracting the attention of the Germans, in the context of World War I..

Last years

Tesla in 1898, holding a light bulb that was still burning away from the generator. Author: Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896).

Despite the relevance of this scientist in his time, Nikola Tesla was not a man who had a lot of money in his life. In fact, for years he was suffering financial hardships.

Many consider that this economic hardship is also the result of poor management of their money, as well as a number of payments that were never actually made. Historians indicate that there were many small inventions that Tesla did not patent, and that may have helped him in his time of monetary need..

It has also been indicated that Nikola Tesla was a beneficiary of two pensions during the last years of his life. These years he lived in New York; stayed in different places from which he left without paying and eventually stayed in a hotel room paid for by Westinghouse.

Nikola Tesla died at the age of 86 in his hotel room. He was alone and it was an employee who discovered him lifeless in the room; Tesla went into cardiac arrest.

Personal characteristics

Nikola Tesla was a very particular character. He spoke 8 different languages ​​and prided himself on having an impeccable photographic memory, thanks to which he could read and memorize entire books very quickly..

Tesla also indicated on several occasions that his imagination was such that for many inventions it was enough to imagine the corresponding artifact to start manufacturing it, without having the need to draw plans or some type of drawing.

He was a moderately sociable man, although he decided never to marry because he felt that he was a more creative person by staying out of marriage.

Many personalities of the time recognized his work and its importance; for example, Mark Twain became a promoter of various Tesla inventions. Also, when he turned 75 Tesla appeared on the cover of the magazine Times and received a letter of congratulations from Albert Einstein.

In addition to being known and admired for his facets as an inventor and engineer, Nikola Tesla was also widely recognized for being a poet and even a philosopher..

Inventions and contributions

Alternating current

His time at Edison Machine Works, Thomas Edison's company dedicated to manufacturing electrical components, made him aware of the possibilities but also the limitations of the production of electrical energy through direct current..

Tesla understood that by shortening the magnetic cores it was possible to multiply the production of power generators. Thus he invented alternating current that would allow production at a lower cost and with a range much greater than 800 meters that direct current allowed..

With this discovery, what many recognize as the second industrial revolution would begin, initiating a long journey of contributions to science..

Induction motor

Patent drawing D381,968, illustrating the Tesla principle of the AC induction motor

The discovery of alternating current meant that not only had the possibility of bringing light to the whole world been discovered, but that it was possible to drive any type of machine with this power.

Demonstrating that a motor was started by creating a circular magnetic field, Tesla presented his new invention: the induction motor, which would give life to elevators, fans and dozens of household appliances.

Current transformer

Tesla's success grew in parallel with the deterioration of his relationship with Edison, from whom he did not receive the agreed price for his research on alternating current. Edison began a smear campaign against the Westinghouse company with whom Tesla was working at the time. 

The way to create distrust in the face of the possibilities of alternating current was to present it as a dangerous, almost criminal invention. Thus Edison presented the electric chair and with it the destructive potential of Tesla's inventions.

The media attack did nothing but inspire Tesla and thus created the current transformer, a machine capable of converting 100,000 volts into 110 volts for domestic use, in a totally safe way.

The system of production and distribution of energy became more and more complete and convinced Tesla that it was possible to provide the entire planet with electric light almost free of charge..

The rivalry between the two increased and the project to create a hydroelectric plant in Niagara Falls faced the energy titans.

Edison lost the duel, as his Edison Eléctric boardmates, now General Electric, almost vetoed him and agreed with Tesla, favoring the consolidation of the project that gave light to the entire United States..

Wardenclyffe Tower

In his laboratory, Tesla continued to devise a way to bring light, the same light that had been flashing in his eyes since he was a child, to the entire planet.

Thanks to the tests he carried out with the famous Tesla coil, he became convinced that it was possible to transmit electrical energy without wiring. The tests had him convert 120 volts into 500 volts and the power that this discharge radiated could ignite light bulbs that acted as receivers..

He devised and built the Wardenclyffe Tower to transfer energy wirelessly, from where he thought it could be distributed for free to the world, not only light, but also take advantage of electromagnetic waves for transmission of images and sound.

Tesla was confident of his invention to achieve maximum power transfer with high energy efficiency.


His studies and experiments managed to arouse the interest of investors.

However, the coincidence of the interoceanic tests that Marconi did, making use of Tesla's knowledge, to affirm the beginnings of radio from electromagnetic waves, made Tesla's mentors think that the world already had the answer to what I was looking for and the project stopped.

Almost 40 years later science would recognize Tesla as the inventor of radio.


The transmission of electrical energy without wiring motivated Tesla's mind to devise an underwater machine that could act as a generator and thus transport the energy to receivers on the other side of the ocean.. 

His research now allows us to enjoy the possibilities of submarines at an industrial and research level. This first step towards the submarine would be perfected by Isaac Peral several years later.

Mechanism to drive propellers

For Tesla, the possibilities of transmitting electrical energy were also in the air and that is why he devised the mechanism to make a propeller work that would later be used to create the airplane and much later the helicopter..

Wireless power transmission

Nowadays, it is increasingly common to find applications based on Tesla research and inventions. The transmission of energy without wiring allows in the medical area to recharge mechanisms such as the cardiac pacemaker from an external battery.

Thanks to his studies on rays it is also possible to carry out in our times various diagnoses and therapies, and his research on electromagnetism is the source for magnetic resonance.

In the same way, it is increasingly popular to see the recharging of smartphones through batteries that do not use cables and in record time.

The automotive industry has also benefited from Tesla's inventions, not only for the creation of electric cars but also for their recharging without wiring, a system that is becoming increasingly popular in the world..


  1. Tesla Nikola. A new System of lternate current motors and transformers. American Institute of Electrical Engineers, May 1888. EnergyThic - Tesla's writtings in
  2. Cohen Samuel. The Electrical Experimenter, June 1915, Magazine p. 39.45
  3. McGreevy P. Imagining the Future at Niagara Falls. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 1987. Pages 48-62
  4. Das Barman et alt. Wireless powering by magnetic resonant coupling: Recent trends in wireless power transfer system and its applications. Volume 51, November 2015, Page 1525-1552
  5. Villarejo-Galende et alt. Nikola Tesla: lightning bolts of inspiration. Rev Neurol 2013, 56 (2). P. 109-114

Yet No Comments