Firstly I want to apologize to my avid readers for not posting in so long. I know there are only 5 of you and I’ve spoken to each of you individually in the past week but nonetheless, I feel a public apology is required to make me sound popular and in-demand.
I’ve spent the last 8 weeks travelling through Scandinavia and the Balkans. Or more accurately I’ve spent the last 8 weeks falling in love with Scandinavian men, eating Swedish Meatballs, getting fat due to eating too many Swedish meatballs, pretending I can drink new people I meet under the table, only ever succeeding in drinking myself under the table, trying to understand Balkan politics, getting a headache and giving up, generally re-falling in love with the Balkans, their people and culture and picking up the odd Canadian at various stages of the trip.
Now that you’re updated on what I’ve been up to I can get to the point of this post…and that is to declare my love for Nikola Tesla. Now before you say it, I know he died nearly 70 years ago and was reportedly in love with a pigeon, but I’m choosing to ignore those minor details and focus on the bigger picture.
Coming from a Balkan background, I grew up hearing stories about Tesla and his inventions, but after visiting his museum in Belgrade a couple of days ago I only now grasp the true genius the man was and how much he has impacted the world as we know it.
Tesla was a super-genius whose intellect placed him dangerously on the precipice of “great scientific mind” and “bat-shit crazy”. He was born in 1856 in modern day Croatia to Serbian parents (this is where the aforementioned Balkan politics can get complicated but I digress). Tesla spoke 8 languages and almost single-handedly developed technology that harnessed the power of electricity for household use. His inventions include electrical generators, FM radio, remote controls, robots and florescent lights just to name a few. In between accidently causing earthquakes and enormous bolts of lighting, Tesla also harnessed the power of Niagara Falls and created the first hydroelectric plant. Tesla did advanced calculus in his head, memorized entire books word for word and successfully pulled off scientific experiments that modern day technology still can’t replicate. Pretty hard act to follow if you ask me.
But despite his colossal genius, he was a naïve businessman and was constantly taken advantage of.
In 1884 Tesla began working for Edison in New York. Edison offered Tesla $50,000 (a modern day million dollars) to improve his DC generators; when Tesla did just that Edison stole his idea and told Tesla he simply didn’t “understand American humor”.
Naturally, Tesla quit working for Edison and started working on his alternating current electrical system. He entered a contract with Westinghouse that would earn him a dollar per horsepower royalty for his AC system. Given today, everyone in the world uses his AC system, the contract would have effectively made him the richest person in the world. But Tesla tore up that contract and gave his invention away for free. Whilst Edison measured the value of his inventions by how much money they made Tesla measured his by how much good they did.
The case of the radio is another where Tesla was robbed. Marconi was an Italian inventor who won the Nobel Prize for inventing the radio. When he became world famous for sending the first translantic message Tesla was quoted as saying “Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue. He is using seventeen of my patents”. In 1943 an American Supreme Court ruled that Marconi in fact stole many of Tesla’s patents and thus Tesla was the true inventor of the radio. Yet despite the ruling, Tesla never received a Nobel Prize.
Of course like most other diabolical masterminds, Telsa was also mildly insane. He was prone to nervous breakdowns, had bizarre visions at night and occasionally thought he was receiving electromagnetic signals from Mars (although, who are we to say he wasn’t?) He also suffered from OCD, hated round objects, human hair and anything that wasn’t divisible by three.
The sad part of this whole story is that Tesla died alone in a New York hotel room penniless and in debt. The FBI confiscated all his personal belongings and his body was bizarrely exhumed years after his burial and cremated. His ashes are on display with all his remaining possessions in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, the only one of its kind.
Despite being one of the greatest minds ever to have lived, having nearly 300 registered patents and contributing so much to society, Tesla today remains largely overlooked among lists of the greatest inventors and scientists of the modern era. It’s clear when you read about his life that money and recognition meant nothing to him. He was a true inventor who found happiness in his creations. He was a man displaced in time and the definition of true genius.
Here’s hoping more people learn about his contribution to humanity, his ‘madness’ becomes embraced rather than feared and his name lives on.