Who was Nikola Tesla, the inventor who inspired the name of Elon Musk’s cars?

Who was Nikola Tesla?

Nikola Tesla is an American engineer and inventor. He was born on July 10, 1856 in Smiljan, a town in what is now Croatia but was once part of the Austrian Empire. He is the fourth of five children of a Serbian Orthodox family. Emigrated to the United States in 1884, he is considered one of the most prolific inventors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In his career, he filed some 300 patents for around a hundred inventions relating in particular to electricity and alternating current.

What studies did Nikola Tesla do?

The young Nikola shows very early great intellectual abilities and a very good visual memory. He also turns out to be very gifted in mathematics and with languages. From childhood, he began to express his creative genius through various experiments and inventions. He also developed a great interest in physics and in particular in electricity. It was this passion that drove him to join the Graz University of Technology in Austria in 1875, where he stood out with his excellent results and his exams passed with flying colors. It is also there that he first came up with the idea of ​​an alternating current. But for lack of means, the student will never finish his third year and will never obtain his university degree.

How did Nikola Tesla become an engineer?

It was after leaving his family at the age of 22 and settling in Budapest, Hungary that Nikola Tesla landed his first job. He was hired by the Central Office of the Hungarian Telegraph where he was quickly spotted by his superiors. Promoted to engineer, he was assigned to the design of a new telephone system. It was in this setting that Tesla’s first real invention was born.

Preferring to concentrate on his personal research, the young engineer did not stay long in the Hungarian office. After a break, he landed a new job in 1882 with a transportation production company where he took advantage of his job to conduct experiments on alternating current. That same year, he went to Paris to join the local company founded by Thomas Edison and specialized in electric lighting.

Over the next few years, he advanced his research and designed his first prototype AC motor. But his projects struggle to interest his colleagues and superiors. In 1884, Tesla emigrated to New York in the United States where he again joined the Edison teams in charge of the city’s electrical network. If the engineer shines with his skills, a dispute pushes him to resign in 1885. From there, begins his career as an independent inventor and his rivalry with Thomas Edison.

What are Nikola Tesla’s greatest inventions?

– Alternating current: Nikola Tesla’s most important contribution remains his participation in the development and adoption of alternating current electricity. alternative current or AC). The latter opposes direct current (direct current, DC) which was, in the 19th century, the most used to transport electricity and supply cities including New York. But it generates frequent incidents and has drawbacks, including that of being poorly transported over long distances and therefore of requiring a nearby source. Conversely, alternating current can be transported over great distances at lower current and therefore greater efficiency, thus requiring fewer sources to supply a given sector. Thanks to his work, Nikola Tesla will develop a system to produce, use and transport electricity via alternating current. This gave rise until the end of the 90s to a rivalry called “war of currents” between Edison and Tesla, each defending his system.

– A hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls: it was one of the projects that put an end to the “war of the currents” in 1893. With the company of engineer George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla developed a hydroelectric system that made it possible to convert the energy generated by Niagara Falls electricity and transporting it to power nearby industries in Buffalo. All in the form of alternating current. Several patents relating to this system will be filed.

– The Tesla coil: Developed around 1891, the Tesla coil is an electrical device that operates under high-frequency alternating current and produces very high voltages. It notably consists of two sets of windings, two coils, one primary and one secondary, associated with a high voltage power supply. The system is well known for the electric arcs it generates in the air. Today, many amateur experimenters apply themselves to making coils to observe the phenomenon.

– Wireless electrical energy transmission: From 1890, Nikola Tesla embarked on the project of creating a system for transmitting energy wirelessly, using coils. He performs several demonstrations during which he manages to wirelessly light incandescent bulbs located near a coil. He carried out larger-scale experiments by setting up an experimental station in Colorado Springs before embarking on a major project in 1901: he had a 57-meter high tower, the Wardenclyffe tower, built on the island. of Long Island near New York, which was to constitute the first element of its wireless transmission network. But for lack of money, the building changes in failure and is finally destroyed in 1917.

– The radio : Thanks to his work on wireless transmissions, Nikola Tesla played an important role in the development of radio. He filed several patents on a wireless system and then on radio technology in the 1890s. However, it was the Italian Guglielmo Marconi who made the first transatlantic radio transmission in 1901 after having filed some thirty patents on his side. This earned him to be sued by Tesla for patent violations. If Marconi is considered today as one of the main inventors of radio and wireless telegraphy for which he also received a Nobel Prize in Physics. One of his patents, however, was invalidated in 1943 by the United States Supreme Court due to the existence of an earlier patent filed by Tesla.

Nikola Tesla in his laboratory in 1899 while his generator produces electric arcs. © John Parrot/Stocktrek Images

During his career, Nikola Tesla filed some 300 patents for a hundred inventions. A glimpse of the man’s prolific genius. In addition to the earlier contributions discussed, he was also interested in X-rays, accidentally taking one of the first X-ray photographs of the United States in 1895. Among his creations, there are also remote-controlled boats, including a submersible. The engineer’s last patent was filed in 1928 and described a vertical take-off and landing biplane.

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How did Nikola Tesla die?

The failure of his Wardenclyffe tower project in particular, the difficulties in developing his latest inventions and the expiration of many of his patents caused Tesla to go bankrupt in the 1920s. The last years were difficult for the engineer who lived recluse, his genius forgotten by all. In 1937, he was the victim of an accident from which he would never fully recover. He died on February 7, 1943 in New York at the age of 86. A few days later, all his papers and works were requisitioned by the FBI for a reason which remains unknown and which still gives rise today to many more or less sensible theories.

Many tributes to Nikola Tesla

Since his death, many tributes have been paid to Nikola Tesla and his important contributions. A unit used to measure magnetic fields bears his name as well as a lunar crater. Schools, an airport, a coal-fired power plant and several companies have also been named in his honor. This is particularly the case of Tesla, Inc., the firm of billionaire and entrepreneur Elon Musk specializing in the design of electric cars. Several monuments honor the memory of the engineer who also inspired numerous works of fiction.

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