Every so often, a genius emerges whose innovative ideas have the power to transform our world and shape our future. Nikola Tesla was such a visionary.
A man who harnessed the power of electricity to usher in a new era of technological advancement, Tesla left an indelible mark and paved the way for a brighter, more connected world.
He was a trailblazer who ventured where no one had dared before, and in doing so, he opened new realms of possibility for all humanity.
Who Was Nikola Tesla?
Nikola Tesla was born on July 10, 1856, in the small village of Smiljan – at the time located within the Austrian Empire, but now a part of modern-day Croatia.
Tesla’s father, Milutin Tesla, was an Orthodox priest. Nikola was fascinated by physics and electricity from an early age, and his gifted nature was quickly apparent.
As a young adult, he studied for a career in engineering and attended the Technical University at Graz and the University of Prague. However, he did not receive a degree from either.
After some time in Budapest, Tesla moved to Paris and gained employment working for the Continental Edison Company – yes, that Thomas Edison. There, the genius of electricity began to gain interest in electrical engineering.
Soon after, Tesla sailed to New York City to continue working for Thomas Edison, but their relationship quickly turned sour. But, in the grand scheme, maybe it was for the best. Upon leaving, Tesla received funding from investors and founded the Tesla Electric Company.
His eccentric, brilliant mind was set free to pursue new ideas, intricate inventions, and life-changing scientific endeavors. Today, we know Nikola Tesla as a trailblazing figure in science, responsible for some of the most important inventions the world has ever seen.
Alternating Current & the Induction Motor
While working for Thomas Edison in New York, Nikola Tesla understood the faults and shortcomings of Edison’s direct current (DC) power systems. Then, inspired by ideas of his own, in 1887, he created an induction motor that ran on alternating current (AC).
Now, to be sure, Tesla did not invent alternating current itself – the power system was already making its way across the US and Europe due to its natural advantages in transmitting high-voltage electricity, especially across long distances.
Yet, Tesla’s AC system was unique. The motor ran on a polyphase system – an innovation that generated a rotating magnetic field to spin the motor. This electric motor is sometimes seen as Tesla’s crowning achievement.
Tesla’s induction motor and the AC power system it utilized would eventually be sold to the famed George Westinghouse, marking the beginning of a beautiful collaboration that would span decades.
Later, the Westinghouse Company would also pay Tesla for many of his patents on alternating current generators, motors, and other systems, making him quite wealthy and enabling him to pursue new inventions.
The Tesla Coil
After his work with alternating current and the induction motor, Tesla turned his attention to other areas. His experiments quickly led to another of his most famous, most important inventions in 1889 – the Tesla coil.
Tesla coils are essentially high-frequency transformers that can produce high-voltage, high-frequency alternating current (AC) electrical energy. The coil itself consists of two main parts: primary and secondary coils, each with its own capacitor. And the potential uses are numerous.
The Tesla coil has been used in various applications, from powering electric motors and lighting to providing a spark for ignition systems in internal combustion engines.
The interesting properties of the Tesla coil have also made it quite popular in mainstream culture, given its capability to produce impressive electrical displays.
Certainly, the most impressive displays of a Tesla coil were those of Tesla’s “magnifying transmitter” in his lab at Colorado Springs. However, he believed the low air pressure at the high altitudes would make Colorado Springs an ideal location for safer experiments with large coils.
The result was Tesla’s magnifying transmitter – his largest and strongest coil. At a whopping 52 feet in diameter, it could generate millions of volts of electricity along with hundred-foot-long bolts of lightning. It must have been truly a mesmerizing display to witness.
During his time, Tesla believed that the device had the potential to revolutionize the generation, transmission, and usage of electricity, and he spent many years experimenting with it.
Despite facing many challenges, his work laid the foundation for modern wireless communication and power transmission systems, and his ideas continue to inspire.
In 1906, and on his 50th birthday no less, Nikola Tesla demonstrated his newest invention: a 200-horsepower, bladeless turbine that would come to be known as a Tesla turbine.
At the time, turbines were inefficient and relied on blades, but Tesla’s designs turned convention on its head and used combustion to rotate discs forming a centrifugal pump. As a result, the fluid moved in paths of least resistance, making the contraption much more fuel-efficient than competing models.
It took decades for conventional turbines to reach the same levels of efficiency. Tesla patented the ‘bladeless turbine’ in 1913, but although he would spend years trying to perfect the turbine with close colleagues, it never did make it into a practical device.
Radio Remote Control
For much of his career, Tesla thought deeply about the concepts of wireless power and wireless transmission. As a result, radio waves, and specifically radio transmission, became the epicenter of his time and energy for a large section of his life, leading to many interesting and novel inventions.
One such invention Tesla developed was the radio-controlled boat. As a way to prove the capability of wireless transmission, Tesla proposed what he called the “telautomaton” and worked to make radio remote control a reality.
After Tesla claimed to have created it – and faced public skepticism in response – he demonstrated the radio-controlled boat in front of a crowd of onlookers at Madison Square Garden in 1898.
He even attempted to sell the technology to the military. Although his ‘radio-controlled torpedo’ pitch fell short, radio remote control would eventually gain steam during World War I and onward.
Niagara Falls Hydroelectric Plant
As alluded to earlier, the collaboration between George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla was easily one of the most fruitful scientific partnerships of the modern age. And the pinnacle of this relationship was constructed in 1895: the Tesla-Westinghouse Niagara Falls Power Plant.
In 1893, Westinghouse famously lit up the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago using Tesla’s AC power system, thus helping Westinghouse Electric to eventually secure the contract to install the first hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls.
The project was massive and made use of Tesla’s generators to become a major power source to Buffalo, New York, by 1896. Tesla would describe the plant as “a monument worthy of our scientific age, a true monument of enlightenment and of peace.”
Other Inventions and Controversy
Over the decades, Nikola Tesla spent time at various laboratories across New York, devising new experiments and inventions.
There was the lab at Houston Street, one on Grand Street, and of course, the famous Wardenclyffe Tower facility on Long Island. However, his lab on South Fifth Ave left the most lasting mark on his work – and for all the wrong reasons.
When a fire burned down his lab in 1895, Tesla lost an untold array of experiments, models, and notes related to his ongoing project – the radio.
Before the fire, Tesla was readying a test to transmit a radio signal over a distance of 50 miles, but he was forced to delay. As a result, he was beaten to the punch by a man named Guglielmo Marconi, otherwise known as the ‘Father of Radio.’
Marconi would claim nearly all of the early patents for the radio and the fame and credit that came with it. Despite having invented a stronger design simultaneously, Nikola Tesla is hardly recognized today for his invention of the radio.
Similarly, Tesla’s work in radiology and X-ray technology also goes widely unnoticed in our modern thinking of the man. The discovery of X-rays is credited to a man named Wilhelm Rontgen, but again, Tesla was discovering X-ray imaging in his own lab around the same time.
After hearing of Rontgen’s discovery in 1896, he began conducting formal X-rays experiments.
Tesla designed several novel devices and noted the potential danger to the human body, such as skin damage. It is likely that Tesla’s research pioneered the use of X-rays for medical purposes and helped to lay the foundations of radiology.
The Legacy of Nikola Tesla
Along with the hundreds of patents Tesla received and the many devices he built, his legacy was also colored by the kind of man he was.
Having a knack for the eccentric, he’s almost as well-known for his wild theories, like increasing human energy by shocking the brain, or by his failures – yes, he did try to make a death ray – than for his revolutionary successes.
All in all, Nikola Tesla reminds us that the power to shape the world lies within each of us.
His unwavering spirit, unbridled creativity, and fearless pursuit of knowledge should serve as a beacon of inspiration for all who dare to dream and innovate.
Tesla was a true pioneer of his time, and his impact on the world will continue to be felt for generations to come.
Carlson, W. Bernard. Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age – Reprint Ed. Princeton University Press, 2013.
Carlson, W. Bernard, “Inventor of dreams”. Scientific American, March 2005 Vol. 292 Issue 3 p. 78(7).
Martin, Thomas Commerford, “The Inventions, Researches, and Writings of Nikola Tesla”, New York: The Electrical Engineer, 1894 (3rd Ed.); reprinted by Barnes & Noble, 1995
Tesla Memorial Society of New York, https://www.teslasociety.com/exhibition.htm.
Vucevic, Danijela et al. “NIKOLA TESLA AND MEDICINE: 160TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BIRTH OF THE GENIUS WHO GAVE LIGHT TO THE WORLD – PART I.” Medicinski pregled vol. 69,9-10 (2016): 313-322. doi:10.2298/mpns1610313v
1 thought on “What were Nikola Tesla’s most important inventions?”
too bad the idiotic mr. e.. musk gets to use Tesla’s name…