Nikola Tesla was a Serbian American inventor and electrical engineer who is best known for his work in the field of alternating current (AC) utilised in electricity supply systems. Tesla also did lots of work around wireless technologies, that at the time were unheard of. Early uses of his work include wireless telegraphy for the transmission of Morse code by radio and wireless telephony. It’s claimed he supposedly possessed a photographic memory and is believed to have obtained over 300 patents throughout his life, however it’s also thought many of his inventions were never patented.
Nikola Tesla was born in the village Smiljan, Lika county, in the Austrian Empire (modern day Croatia). Although he was heavily praised as a promising and hardworking student Tesla failed to graduate from college due to a gambling addiction which impacted upon his final school years.
In 1881, Tesla moved to Budapest, Hungary, to work at the Budapest Telephone Exchange however upon his arrival realised the exchange was still under construction and not functional. Whilst waiting for the exchange to be completed he worked as a draftsman in the Central Telegraph Office instead. His time there was that impressive that once the Budapest Telephone Exchange became functional, Tesla was offered the position of chief electrician. During his employment, Tesla made many improvements to the exchange equipment and claimed to have perfected a telephone repeater or amplifier, however this claim was never substantiated.
In 1882, Tesla was given another job in Paris with the Continental Edison Company and was soon designing and building improved versions of generating dynamos and motors. In 1884, Tesla’s manager Charles Batchelor, who had been overseeing the works in Paris, was brought back to the US to manage the Edison Machine Works and asked that Tesla be brought to the US as well.
AC Current And Wireless Technologies
Once in the US Tesla continued his work on circuits and in December 1887, he filed for seven patents in the field of polyphase AC motors and power transmission. Five years later he began his famous Niagara Falls Power Project using 10 generators to produce and send power to Buffalo in New York using the now proven more productive alternating current circuits.
Tesla then moved on to investigate the behaviour of his circuits at higher frequencies. Part of his work would result in transformers, or ‘Tesla’ coils while another part resulted in tuned circuits.
In May 1899, Tesla moved to Colorado Springs to start working on a theory that it would be possible to transmit electrical power without wires through the atmosphere at high altitudes where the air in more conductive because it’s thinner.
In 1901 he started building Wardenclyffe Tower on Long Island, which was to become the very first telecommunications tower and would also test his idea for wireless power transmission.
Tesla Vs Marconi – The Patent Issue
In December 1901 Guglielmo Marconi transmitted and received the first radio signals across the Atlantic using seventeen of Tesla’s patents. Tesla had demonstrated the concepts of the technology in 1891 and 1893.
Three years later, in 1904, the U.S. Patent Office suddenly reversed a previous decision and gave Marconi a patent for the invention of radio, despite it using Tecla’s ideas. It is believed that Marconi had more powerful financial backing in the United States than Tesla and this may have persuaded the patent office to change the original decision however this hasn’t been proven.
Tesla always felt aggrieved at the decision to award Marconi the patent and believed it should’ve been reversed. In 1943, The United States Supreme Court, held Marconi’s radio patent invalid, recognizing Tesla’s more significant contributions as the inventor of radio technology.
On 7 January 1943, at the age of 86, Tesla died alone in Room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel. The cause of his death was ruled to be coronary thrombosis. In 1952, following pressure from Tesla's nephew, his entire estate was shipped from the US to Belgrade in 80 trunks marked N.T. In 1957, Tesla's ashes were also taken to Belgrade and are now displayed in a gold-plated sphere on a marble pedestal in the Nikola Tesla Museum.