Saturday, July 11, 2009
Happy Birthday Nikola Tesla
One day late... 153 years ago, on July 10, 1856, Nikola Tesla was born in Serbia. He later moved to Paris and then to the United States. Tesla was brilliant, he was eccentric and he, quite literally, changed course of the world.
Nikola Tesla was one of the founding fathers of the harnessing of electricity and how it is used by each and every one of us today. His experiments with electricity and magnetism are the foundation on which our power grids are presently built. Tesla was on the frontlines of the “War of the Currents” between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. This war was to see who would dominate the future, Edison with Direct Current or Westinghouse with Alternating Current. Tesla had, at one time worked for Edison but Edison thought that his ideas for Alternating Current were foolish and could not be realized in the real world. Edison said of Tesla, “His ideas are splendid but they are utterly impractical.” Edison cheated Tesla out of work that he did for him and it was not long before that Tesla was working for Westinghouse. Westinghouse & Tesla won out in the end but that was not before Edison, seeing that his hold on the future was in jeopardy, went on a huge publicity campaign against AC power which included the electrocution of “Topsy” the elephant and the covert funding of the Electric Chair. The “Wizard of Menlo Park” had a bit of a dark side.
Tesla was also one of the original pioneers of Radio and was credited by the United States Supreme Court in 1943 for being the “Inventor of Radio”. Chances are he would have been the father of transatlantic communication via his Wardenclyffe Tower (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wardenclyffe_Tower) project but his funding ran out. Wikipedia (my favorite second brain and the main source of the data found in this particular blog) states this: “After his demonstration of wireless communication (radio) in 1894 and after being the victor in the "War of Currents", he was widely respected as one of the greatest electrical engineers who worked in America. Much of his early work pioneered modern electrical engineering and many of his discoveries were of groundbreaking importance. During this period, in the United States, Tesla's fame rivaled that of any other inventor or scientist in history or popular culture, but due to his eccentric personality and his seemingly unbelievable and sometimes bizarre claims about possible scientific and technological developments, Tesla was ultimately ostracized and regarded as a mad scientist. Never having put much focus on his finances, Tesla died impoverished at the age of 86.”
I wonder what the world would look like today if the whole Wardenclyffe Tower project was funded and successful. Wireless internet, that glorious modern wonder that we now take for granted, may have been available decades earlier. Yes, I know that’s pure, unadulterated speculation on my part but what if? Tesla was “ultimately ostracized and regarded as a mad scientist” and he “died impoverished at the age of 86.” He was too busy envisioning the future to take care of the present. Of his failure to find the backers needed to complete the construction of the Wardenclyffe Tower Tesla said, “It is not a dream, it is a simple feat of scientific electrical engineering, only expensive — blind, faint-hearted, doubting world! [...] Humanity is not yet sufficiently advanced to be willingly led by the discoverer's keen searching sense. But who knows? Perhaps it is better in this present world of ours that a revolutionary idea or invention instead of being helped and patted, be hampered and ill-treated in its adolescence — by want of means, by selfish interest, pedantry, stupidity and ignorance; that it be attacked and stifled; that it pass through bitter trials and tribulations, through the strife of commercial existence. So do we get our light. So all that was great in the past was ridiculed, condemned, combatted, suppressed — only to emerge all the more powerfully, all the more triumphantly from the struggle."
Nikola Tesla towards the end of his life may have been ridiculed and ostracized but he was a brilliant inventor and innovator who deserves a far better epitaph.
Happy Birthday Mr. Tesla