Nikola Tesla – The Forgotten Wizard of Electricity

Tesla, age 34, in 1890

Birth Name:  Nikola Tesla *(Никола Тесла)

Nicknames:  Wizard of Electricity

Years Lived: July 10, 1856 – January 7, 1943 (86 years)

Place Born:  Smiljan, Austrian-Hungarian Empire (modern-day Croatia)

Place Died: Room 3327 New Yorker Hotel, New York City, New York

Family Origins: Western Serbia near Montenegro

Occupations:  Inventor, Electrical Engineer, Mechanical Engineer, Physicist and Futurist

Family: Milutin Tesla (father), Đuka Tesla-Mandić (mother), Dane (brother), Milka, Angelina and Marica (sisters)

Nikola Tesla became a great man in history because of his extraordinary contributions to the development of electricity and his many achievements in the fields of science and mathematics.  Although Thomas Edison, another inventor of the same era and Tesla’s opponent, might be better-known, Tesla’s success and his strengths to exhibit his spectacular inventions gained him a namesake in the history of modern electrical engineering 1.  Some would even say that he possessed the intelligence and creative mind unlike anyone else in his time next to Einstein.  At one time, he even envisioned communication satellites orbiting the earth!  He is probably most known for his improvements to the design of an invention currently used worldwide; alternating current or the AC electricity supply system 2.

The home Tesla grew up in located in Smiljan, Croatia.  It was destroyed by the Yugoslavian civil war and was later rebuilt by the Croatian government.
The home Tesla grew up in located in Smiljan, Croatia. It was destroyed by the Yugoslavian civil war and was later rebuilt by the Croatian government

Tesla was born on 1856 in the mountainous village of Smiljan, the military frontier of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire which is located in modern day Croatia.  His father was a Serbian Orthodox priest 3.  His maternal grandfather, who was also of the same profession 4, had a gift for designing home craft tools, mechanical appliances and had a passion for memorizing Serbian epic poetry.  Although Tesla’s mother, Đuka, never obtained any formal education, Nikola attributed his amazing memory and creative intelligence to the heredity and impact of his mother’s family 5,6.

Tesla had one older brother and three sisters.  When Nikola was only five, his

Nikola Tesla's family at their home in Smiljan
Nikola Tesla’s family at their home in Smiljan

elder brother, Dane, was killed in an accident 7.  That same year, Tesla began attending the school in his home town where he studied German, mathematics and religion 8.  The next year, the Teslas moved to Gospić where Nikola’s father continued working as a priest.  There, Nikola attended a local school 7.

In 1870, the Teslas moved to Karlovac where Nikola was greatly affected by his

mathematics teacher Martin Sekulić 4.  There, Tesla got to where he could perform basic calculus in his mind, making his teachers believe that he was actually cheating 9.  However, he completed his required four years of high school in only three years, graduating in 1873 4.

Milutin Tesla, Nikola's father
Milutin Tesla, Nikola’s father

Nikola then returned to his home town of Smiljan, where he contracted cholera.  For nine months, he remained incapacitated in bed, too ill to get up and was close to death several times.  Although his father desired his only remaining son to enter the priesthood like him 10, he promised Nikola that if he returned to health, he would enroll him in the finest engineering school.  That motivation along with reading many books in his father’s library (his favorite author being Mark Twain), Nikola made a full recovery 11.

In 1875, Tesla enrolled at Austrian

Polytechnic in Graz, Austria, on a Military Border scholarship.  Also known as Graz University of Technology or TU (Graz for short), the university was one of the best engineering schools in Europe at the time.  During his

TU Graz in 2014
TU Graz in 2014

freshman year, Tesla maintained perfect attendance, receiving flawless grades, passed nine tests 12 (close to two times as many that are necessary 13), founded a Serbian culture club 12 and even was honored in a letter of from the Dean of the technical faculty 13.  Tesla said that in college, he studied or was in class from 3 AM to 11 PM including every weekend and holiday 12.  Despite his rigorous work, his father “made light of [his] hard won honors.”  After his father’s death in 1879, 12 Nikola found a box of letters from his professors to his father that advised for Tesla to be taken away from the school or he would die as a result of exhaustion and overwork 12.

Things took a turn for the worse when, during his sophomore year, Tesla and one of his

An early picture of Telsa while he was attending TU Graz
An early picture of Telsa while he was attending TU Graz

professors, Herr Poeschl, battled over certain mathematics concepts.  Furthermore, by the end of that year, Tesla’s scholarship was forfeited when he developed a fixation on gambling 12.  Leading into his junior year, Tesla gambled away all his allowance and tuition funds but was later able to win back the original losses and refunded the entire remaining finances back to his family.  Later, Nikola asserted that he “conquered [his] passion then and there,” but during his later years in the US, his addiction returned.  During a final exam, Tesla stated that he was not ready and appealed to postpone in order for more study time.  His appeal was unfortunately denied.  As a result, he never graduated from TU Graz and never received grades for the final semester 12.

After his failed attempt at an engineering degree, Tesla left Graz in the latter part of 1878, dis-communicating himself from his family in order to conceal his embarrassing withdraw from TU Graz 12.  Tesla then moved to Maribor (now in Slovenia), where he was employed as a draftsman for 60 florins a month (a little over $30).  In his off time, he enjoyed playing cards with friends 12.  In March 1879, Tesla’s father traveled to Maribor to persuade his son to return home but Nikola declined 12.

Gospić, Croatia
Gospić, Croatia

In April of that same year, Nikola’s father died at the age of 60 after an extended illness 14.  During that year, Tesla returned home in Gospić where he instructed a large high school class 14.  Tesla read many works, sometimes memorizing entire books and supposedly possessed a photographic memory 5, 14.  He was also a polyglot, speaking eight languages: Serbo-Croatian, Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin 15.

Charles-Ferdinand University
Charles-Ferdinand University

In January of 1880, two of Tesla’s uncles organized enough funds to assist him to relocate in Prague where he could continue in his college studies.  Regrettably, he arrived too late in the semester to apply at Charles-Ferdinand University.  He was, however, able to attend lectures 16,17.

In 1881, Tesla moved to Budapest, Hungary where he was employed as a draftsman for the Central Telegraph Office under Ferenc Puskas at the Budapest Telephone Exchange Telegraph Company.  Within a few months, Tesla was promoted to chief electrician 18.  One of Tesla’s chief accomplishments there was his improvements to the Central Station equipment and the perfection of a telephone repeater or amplifier.  These achievements were however never patented or publicly described 12.

In 1882, Tesla began employment at the Continental Edison Company in France, where he created and revised electrical equipment 19.  Two years later, Tesla immigrated to New York City 20.  During his trip to the US, his ticket, most of his money and some luggage were stolen. He claimed that he landed in New York with only four cents, a letter of recommendation, a few poems and hardly any of his possessions 21.

New York - 1884
New York – 1884

In New York, Tesla was employed by Edison to work for Edison Machine Works.  Tesla’s initial work for Edison started with basic electrical engineering but soon moved forward into solving more complex assignments 22.

war-of-currents-tesla-vs-edison-figure-6In 1885, Tesla said that he could recreate Edison’s ineffective motor and generators, making vast progress in both their service and economy.  Through several months of hard work, Tesla was able to finish his goal and asked Edison about a promised payment of $50,000.  According to Edison, he had only joked about the payment amount and remarked, “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor,” 23,24 As a result, Edison only offered Tesla an increase in pay of only $10 a week to Tesla’s already $18 per week pay ($715 today).  Understandably, Tesla declined the outrageous proposal and quit on the spot 25.

WorldsFairTeslaPresentationThe following year, Tesla founded his own company, Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing 26.  The company set up electrical arc light that was based on the lighting systems designed by Tesla and also had plans for dynamo electric machine commutators; the first patents Tesla had in the US 27.

Tesla suggested that his company should expand and advance his ideas for alternating 1363288823_ditch_diggingcurrent transmission systems and motors.  His investors argued with him and as a result he was fired.  Without an income, Tesla was forced to work as a ditch digger for $2 a day ($51 today).  The winter of 1886 through 1887 was a time of “terrible headaches and bitter tears” according to Tesla.  He went through a miserable time where he doubted the worth of his education 27, 28.

64With the financial backing of Charles F. Peck, an attorney from New York, and Alfred S. Brown, the director of Western Union, Tesla started up another company in April 1887: the Tesla Electric Company.  Peck and Brown funded a laboratory for Tesla on 89 Liberty Street in Manhattan.  This gave him enough assets to continue his work in alternating current motors and other inventions for power distribution.  Their contract stated that they must share fifty percent of the gains produced from Tesla’s patents 29.

It was on 89 Liberty Street in 1887 that Tesla first built a brushless alternating teslamotor7current induction motor that was modeled after a rotating magnetic field concept he claimed to have invented 5 years prior 30.  In May of the following year, he received another patent on his new development 31.

In July 1888, Tesla caught his long awaited break.  Through the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (now IEEE), Brown and Peck settled a licensing agreement with George Westinghouse for Tesla’s polyphase induction motor and transformer designs for a large sum of money.  In addition, Westinghouse hired Tesla for a one year contract for $2,000 ($52,500 in today’s money 32) a month to be an advisor at the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company’s Pittsburgh labs 33.

Carrick_Trolley_1890sDuring that year, Tesla relocated to Pittsburgh where he assisted in the designing an AC system to supply power to the city’s streetcars.  However, because of ensuing differences in design schemes between Tesla and city engineers, Edison’s DC traction motors were used instead to power the streetcars 34.


In 1891, the Tesla coil was patented 35.  The Tesla coil was utilized to produce high-voltage, low-current, high frequency alternating-current electricity 36, 37, 38.  Tesla tested many various compositions made up of two, and in some cases three, pared resonant electric circuits.  He used these coils to conduct creative tests in electrical lighting, phosphorescence, X-rays, high frequency AC developments, electrotherapy and wireless electrical transmission.  Tesla coils were used

industrially in spark-gap radio transmitters for wireless transmission until the 1920s, 36, 5, 1 and in medical equipment such as electrotherapy and violet ray devices.  Tesla coils are used today for entertainment and educational purposes.  Although a small version is used in leak detectors in high vacuum systems 39.

During that same year in 1891 at the age of 35, Tesla became a naturalized US citizen 40 and founded his labs on South Fifth Avenue and 46 E. Houston Street; both in New York. Using his latest invention, the Tesla Coil, all the electric lamps in both labs were lit using wireless electricity 41.

Starting in 1894, Tesla began experimenting with what he called “radiant energy of

Shadowgraph of a human foot in a shoe.Tesla obtained the image in 1896 with x-rays generated by his own vacuum tube, similar to Lenard's tube, at a distance of 8 feet
Shadowgraph of a human foot in a shoe.Tesla obtained the image in 1896 with x-rays generated by his own vacuum tube, similar to Lenard’s tube, at a distance of 8 feet

invisible kinds” 34, 42.  These “invisible energy rays” were later referred to as “Roentgen rays” or “X-Rays”.  Soon afterwards, much of Tesla’s early studies were lost in the 5th Avenue laboratory fire of March 1895.  According to an interview in The New York Times, Tesla quoted, “I am in too much grief to talk.  What can I say?” 19

It is said that Tesla could have accidentally taken the first X-ray photo.  This was before Wilhelm Röntgen declared his discovery of X-rays in December 1895.  After the official X-ray finding, Tesla continued his own research in X-ray imagery, developing a technique of his own invention that functioned from output of a Tesla Coil 43.

The inside of Tesla's remote control boat
The inside of Tesla’s remote control boat

Tesla’s ideas on the likelihood of broadcasting via radio waves began in speeches and presentations he conducted several years prior 44.  Many instruments like the Tesla Coil added to additional developing of the first radio 45.  In 1898, Tesla unveiled a radio controlled boat (that he called “tele-automaton”) to a public audience during an electrical demonstration at Madison Square Garden 36.  The crowd’s response at never seeing such “magic” was very predictable.  They suggested that Tesla was using telepathy or that the boat was controlled by a trained monkey hidden inside the device 46.  Tesla even attempted to sell his idea to the US military to develop a radio-controlled torpedo but they showed no interest in his innovative idea 47.

Remote control radio continued on as an undeveloped fresh idea until World War I and afterward, when several countries utilized the novelty in their military operations 48.  On May 13, 1899, Tesla seized his moment to continue to display “tele-automatics” in a lecture at the Commercial Club in Chicago while he was travelling to Colorado Springs 12.

Marconi operating apparatus similar to that used by him to transmit the first wireless signal across the Atlantic Ocean, 1901
Marconi operating apparatus similar to that used by him to transmit the first wireless signal across the Atlantic Ocean, 1901

In 1900, Tesla was awarded patents for a “system of transmitting electrical energy” and “an electrical transmitter”.  A year later, Italian inventor and electrical engineer Guglielmo Marconi made the first legendary 2,200 mile transatlantic radio transmission from Newfoundland, Canada to Cornwall, England.  This won him the Nobel Prize in 1909 along with Karl Ferdinand Braun.  Tesla repudiated that Marconi had accomplished his deed by using 17 of Tesla patents.  This started the years of patent feuds over radio transmission between Tesla’s and Marconi’s patents.  At first, Tesla won the conflict but because of an overturned ruling, Marconi was awarded with the patents in 1904.  Finally, in 1943, a US Supreme Court verdict restored every previous patent back to Tesla, British physicist and writer Oliver Lodge and American  mathematician, physicist and inventor John Stone 49.

Because of the lack of space to conduct his many high voltage electrical and radio wave

Tesla's Colorado lab, 1899
Tesla’s Colorado lab, 1899

experiments in Manhattan, on May 17, 1899 Tesla moved his labs across the country to Colorado Springs, Colorado near Foote Ave. and Kiowa St 12, 50.  When he reached his destination, he explained to news reporters that he was running wireless telegraphy experiments, transmitting signals from Pikes Peak to Paris.

During his first few months in Colorado Springs, Tesla recorded his original spark length at five inches long but very “thick and noisy” 12.  He then began studying atmospheric electricity, observing lightning signals by way of his receivers.  It was through this examination that he created artificial lightning with currents of up to several million volts and arcs of up to 135 feet long! 51

Tesla with his magnifying transmitter producing millions of volts of electricity
Tesla with his magnifying transmitter producing millions of volts of electricity

Resounding booms and thunder-like peals from the colossal discharges of energy could be felt and heard up to 15 miles away in Cripple Creek!  It is said that people who were walking through town could see sparks arcing from their feet to the ground.  Charges of electricity also leapt up from water nozzles when they were touched.  Light bulbs within the 100 foot radius of the lab glimmered even when they were turned off.  Horses fled their stalls after being shocked through their metal shoes.  Butterflies were reduced to floating smoldering trails of ash, swirling in circles 52.

During his experimentation, Tesla unintentionally roasted a local power station generator, resulting in a temporary blackout.  In an August 1917, interview with The Electrical Experimenter, Tesla described what occurred as an “example of what has been done with several hundred kilowatts of high frequency energy liberated.  It was found that the dynamos in a power house six miles away were repeatedly burned out due to the powerful high frequency currents set up in them and which caused heavy sparks to jump through the windings and destroy the insulation,” 53

Several times at his lab, Tesla noticed bizarre indicators in his radio receiver that he resolved may have been telecommunications from other planets.  However, the “alien signals” he heard been may have picked up from one of Marconi’s early experiments in Europe in July 1899 54 or transitions from other inventors 55.

John J. Astor IV
John J. Astor IV

Also in 1899, the iconic Colorado businessman and investor John Jacob Astor IV supplied $100,000 (almost $3 million today) for Tesla to continue to advance and create new lighting systems in Denver and Colorado Springs.  Rather than put this very generous investment to use, the funds went instead to support Tesla’s experiments at his Colorado Springs labs 12.

In January of 1900, Tesla moved away from Colorado Springs back to the east coast.  His labs were later torn down in 1904 and all the equipment was auctioned off later in order to fulfill a debt 56, 57.  Despite Tesla’s short time in Colorado Springs, the experiments he conducted there paved the way for the creation of the trans-Atlantic wireless telecommunications facility (also known as Wardenclyffe) near Shoreham, Long Island 58.

In 1900, equipped with $150,000 (over $4 million today) 26 with 51% financed from J.

J. P. Morgan
J. P. Morgan

Pierpont Morgan, Tesla began his plans for the Wardenclyffe Tower facility 59.

Tesla later beseeched Morgan to inquire for more funds in order to construct a more powerful transmitter.  The monies however never arrived because of the stock market crash of 1901 where Morgan lost a large sum of investments 55.  In December of 1901, Marconi was responsible for the first trans-Atlantic wireless broadcast.  This concluded Tesla’s short relationship with Morgan.

The Wardenclyffe Tower
The Wardenclyffe Tower

Throughout the next five years, Tesla composed over 50 letters to Morgan, imploring and appealing for more funds to finish the erection of Wardenclyffe.  Tesla carried on with the undertaking himself for an additional nine months and finally completed construction of the 187 foot tower 55.  In June of 1902, Tesla’s enterprises were moved to Wardenclyffe from Houston Street 59.

One of Tesla’s few outlandish theories was that the utilization of electricity to the human brain would improve intelligence.  In 1912, he designed “a plan to make dull students bright by saturating them unconsciously with electricity” by installing wires into the schoolroom walls and, “saturating [the schoolroom] with infinitesimal electric waves vibrating at high frequency. The whole room will thus, Mr. Tesla claims, be converted into a health-giving and stimulating electromagnetic field or ‘bath’” according to a 1912 edition of “Popular Electricity Magazine” 60.  This idea was actually temporarily allowed by William H. Maxwell, the superintendent of New York City schools 60!

A street sign bearing Tesla's name near his former lab on Long Island, NY.  Although the lab buildings are still standing, it has been vacant for many years
A street sign bearing Tesla’s name near his former lab on Long Island, NY. Although the lab buildings are still standing, it has been vacant for many years

Prior to World War I, Tesla received most of his capital from investors overseas.  After the war began, Tesla lost all the funding from his patents in European countries.  Finally, because of the lack of financial resources, Tesla was forced to sell Wardenclyffe for $20,000 (almost $480,000 today) 26, 59.  After Tesla moved out, the Wardenclyffe Tower was demolished by developer George Boldt to make the land a more practical for real estate and so Tesla’s tower wouldn’t be used as a land mark for a possible German invasion 61.

In an article in the August 1917 edition The Electrical Experimenter Magazine, Tesla hypothesized that electricity might be utilized to locate submarines by using the reflection of an “electric ray” of “tremendous frequency” by observing the signal on a fluorescent screen.  This method holds a very close resemblance to the modern radar 62.  However, after experimentation, Tesla’s idea was proved to be incorrect.  It was found that high frequency radio waves were incapable of piercing through water 63.

In the 1930s, Émile Girardeau was one of the pioneers of the first radar system that was

Emile GIRARDEAU (1882-1970)

built in France.  Almost 20 years later, Girardeau commented that Tesla’s broad theory was very accurate in that a very strong high frequency signal would be required for radar use.  Girardeau mentioned once, “Tesla was prophesying or dreaming, since he had at his disposal no means of carrying them out, but one must add that if he was dreaming, at least he was dreaming correctly,” 5, 64

Although Tesla remained a bachelor his entire life and fathered no natural children, he was in several relationships.  In the mid 1920’s, he told Dragislav Petkovich, a Serbian reporter for Politika, that he had never touched a woman.  However, he had been in love only once in his life while he was student.  The girl’s name was Anna who Tesla might have met while in Gospić during one of his trips back to his home town in Croatia.  Tesla remained in contact with Anna.  In the early 1900s, she had a son who Tesla took care of after he immigrated to New York City.  Sadly, Anna’s son took up boxing and was later killed during his first boxing match 65.

Tesla with an unknown woman
Tesla with an unknown woman

Later, of course, Tesla was enchanted by several women like the playwright and musical composer Marguerite Merrington (who never married) and also Robert Johnson’s wife Katharine.  Tesla basically took a celibacy vow and instead was married to science.  He believed that family life would interfere with his scientific pursuits.  Tesla was also cordial with many other women, most of which were married to wealthy investors.  Such acquaintances included Anne Morgan, the daughter of J. P. Morgan who remained un-married, Ava Astor, the wife of John Jacob Astor, one of his investors in Colorado, and Mrs. Corine Robinson, Teddy Roosevelt’s sister 65.

In 1928, Tesla earned his final patent for a “novel method of transporting bodies through

Blueprints for Tesla's VTOL aircraft
Blueprints for Tesla’s VTOL aircraft

the air.”  This patent was for a biplane that was able to launch vertically, called the Vertical Take-Off and Landing or VTOL aircraft.  This VTOL aircraft, after its initial take-off would be “gradually tilted through manipulation of the elevator devices” while in flight until it leveled off and flew like a traditional plane 66.  Tesla thought the plane would sell for less than $1,000 (about $13,440 today) 5.  Tesla’s VTOL designed aircraft was most likely very unrealistic.  “He missed how long the blades would have to be to give you any kind of meaningful lift and all the issues dealing with stability,” wrote inventor Woody Norris in Air & Space Magazine, “The thing would just spin maddeningly in circle,” 67 Tesla’s VTOL aircraft design was however the pioneering conception for what became the tilt-rotor/tilt-wing theory and the earliest outline for utilizing turbine engines in rotor aircraft that is similar to Igor Sikorsky’s first helicopter 68.

MID129-19Beginning in 1934, the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company started paying Tesla $125 per month (about $2,100 today) in addition to covering his rent at the Hotel New Yorker.  Tesla would remain as a resident at this hotel for almost ten more years and for the remainder of his life.  Some say that Westinghouse was troubled about the possibility of negative press.  How would it look if their previously employed famous inventor was living under destitute circumstances? 36, 69, 58  This arrangement has been referred to as being “couched” in the design of a “consulting fee” to avoid Tesla’s opposition to receiving charity or as Tesla biographer Marc Seifer put it, as a type of “unspecified settlement” 58.

While Tesla was a resident at the Hotel New Yorker, he no longer had a lab to work at.  He

Tesla during an interview at the Hotel New Yorker, 1935
Tesla during an interview at the Hotel New Yorker, 1935

was basically retired but still continued drafting designs for electrical components and other inventions.  Because of his change in lifestyle, he began a new hobby; feeding pigeons.  One night after midnight in the fall of 1937, Tesla departed from his residence to make his regular walk to the cathedral and the library to feed pigeons.  Several blocks into his journey, while crossing a street, he was hit by a taxicab and thrown to the ground.  His back was severely injured and three of his ribs were broken.  The exact degree of his injuries was never known because he declined to visit a doctor, a rule he had lived by almost all his life.  After gathering himself from the street, Tesla didn’t blame anyone and refused medical attention.  His only request was to be taken back to his hotel in a cab.  He was laid up in bed for several months and couldn’t even feed pigeons from his window; soon, they stopped coming.  That spring of 1938, he finally emerged from his hotel room and immediately continued his pigeon-feeding ritual but not as frequently 15.

The Death RayIn the late 1930s, Tesla made assertions about a “tele-force” weapon he had developed after studying the Van de Graaff electrostatic generator that utilized a cardboard belt to produce high voltages.  Tesla used a similar design to generate enormous charges as well.  Only instead of using a cardboard belt, he used an ionized stream of air.  This electrified stream would repulse energy partials that were then shot out of an open-ended vacuum tube which was formed into a cannon 17, 70.

The news papers referred to Tesla’s latest invention as the “peace-ray” or the “death-ray” 71, 72.  Tesla described this weapon as capable of being utilized against ground infantry or for antiaircraft intentions.  According to Tesla, the particle gun’s nozzle would “send concentrated beams of particles through the free air, of such tremendous energy that they will bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 200 miles from a defending nation’s border and will cause armies to drop dead in their tracks,” 73, 74  Tesla is said to have been devising concepts for a directed-energy weapon since he was in Colorado in the early 1900s 75, 76.

In 1937, at the age of 81 during a meeting in Tesla’s honor regarding the death-ray, Tesla

A diagram of what the death ray might possibly have looked like
A diagram of what the death ray might possibly have looked like

stated, “But it is not an experiment…I have built, demonstrated and used it.  Only a little time will pass before I can give it to the world,” 77  This death-ray cannon was fashioned to be as high as the tower at Wardenclyffe.  The main shaft, which could have been as tall as 100 feet, would hold the ionized airstream “belt” 65.

During the same year, Tesla wrote a paper regarding charged particle beam weapons 58 called “The Art of Projecting Concentrated Non-dispersive Energy Through the Natural Media” 77.  This essay was an effort to clarify the technical description of a “super weapon that would put an end to all war”.  During World War II, Tesla even attempted to sell his “death-ray” cannon to the US War Department 78, England, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia 79.  All his solicitations were unfortunately turned down.

While Tesla was attempting to sell his super weapon, he claimed that his invention was almost stolen but some thieves, or spies, who had left empty-handed.  He claimed that even if the papers had been taken, he wouldn’t have worried; for the blueprint of the “tele-force weapon” was all in his mind 80.

Nikola Tesla spent the remainder of his days like he had during most of his life – working.  He continued living in The New Yorker Hotel and spent much of his time with his closest friend; his nephew Sava Kosanović.  One would think that a person such as Tesla, who contributed so much to technology, would have a secured financial lifestyle in his old age.  However, that was not the case.  For Tesla, money was his least desire.  He surrendered all the payoffs he held rights to in his contracts with Westinghouse.  If he would have held on to the financial benefits of his patents, he could have created a huge business empire and luxurious retirement benefits.  Regardless, even in his aging years he was content to live a simple life and was too proud to accept a modest pension even when the Yugoslav government offered him one 81.

Even into his 80s during the beginning of WWII, Tesla remained in the public eye.  The biography_nikola_teslascientist/engineer then guided his attention to political problems.  He would sometimes give lectures to the Yugoslavian community.  He spoke honestly and profoundly in favor of Yugoslavian unity between Serbs, Croatians and Sloves in Europe and America.  In April 1942, through his nephew, he spoke to the public in a letter entitled “To My Brothers in America” 81.

Tesla meets King Peter II of Yugoslavia on July 15, 1942. Tesla's nephew, Sava Kosanović, is third from the left
Tesla meets King Peter II of Yugoslavia on July 15, 1942. Tesla’s nephew, Sava Kosanović, is third from the left

This letter was brought to the attention of the Yugoslavian King, Peter Karadjordjevic II.  He visited President Roosevelt in June of the same year, seeking aid in his country’s conflict against oppression from Germany.  The king actually made a personal visit to Tesla’s hotel room.  After the visit, the young king wrote in his journal that Tesla’s words were very moving and they had both cried 81.

Tesla lived out the remainder of his life living like a hermit, using messengers, porters and communicated to the outside world through his nephew Sava.  He worked every day from 9:00 AM until 6:00 PM or later, with dinner at exactly 8:10 PM at Delmonico’s Restaurant and later the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  Tesla would telephone his dinner order to the headwaiter, who commented once, “The meal was required to be ready at eight o’clock…He dined alone, except on the rare occasions when he would give a dinner to a group to meet his social obligations.  Tesla would then resume his work, often until 3:00 AM,” 15

Tesla meeting with friends
Tesla meeting with friends

For exercise, Tesla walked between 8 to 10 miles every day.  He would also tap his toes one hundred times on each foot every night, claiming that it stimulated his brain cells 58.  Tesla became somewhat obsessed with the number 3.  Upon arriving home on his daily walks, he would have to walk around his block three times before entering the hotel.  Tesla also became a vegetarian in his later years, living only on milk, bread, honey and vegetable juice 77, 82.

Miss. Charlotte Muzar was the secretary and assistant to Nikola Tesla’s nephew Ambassador Sava N. Kosanovic
Miss. Charlotte Muzar was the secretary and assistant to Nikola Tesla’s nephew Ambassador Sava N. Kosanovic

One of his secretaries, Charlotte Muzar, once recalled, “His apartment was at the end of the hall on the 33rd floor.  I knocked and he invited me to come in.  In front of me, Nikola Tesla sat on the bed.  He looked a lot weaker than on the photos taken during the visit of King Peter a few months earlier.  He was in his pajamas.  He had sparse, completely white hair parted in the middle.  His face was emaciated, he looked very skinny.  His eyes were piercingly sharp.  His bed was old-fashioned, I think made of brass.  Between us there was an old-fashioned, dining-room table, covered with papers and notes,” 81

On January 7, 1943, Nicola Tesla died alone in his room in the New Yorker Hotel at the age of 86.  His body was found two days later by maid Alice Monaghan after she had entered his room, ignoring the “do not disturb” sign Tesla had hung on his door two days earlier.  His body was examined by a coroner and the cause of death was ruled as coronary thrombosis 12.  Tesla’s remains were then taken to the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home.

One of the last pictures of Tesla in his hotel room
One of the last pictures of Tesla in his hotel room

Tesla had self-professed to have invented many bizarre electrical and mechanical contraptions that might have been considered as very dangerous.  The most hazardous being his “death-ray” device.  Due to growing concerns that his blue-prints and designs might have ended up in the wrong hands, several days after his death, the FBI seized his belongings from the Hotel New Yorker and other New York City hotels where he stayed.  All the effects were taken to the Manhattan Storage and Warehouse Company under Office of Alien Property (OAP) seal (although Tesla was a naturalized US citizen) 12.  Three days later, after everything was analyzed, the report deduced that there was nothing that would pose a hazard in unfriendly hands.  Nothing was discovered that could be used and developed.  In a box that was supposed to hold a part of Tesla’s “death-ray”, all that was found was a 45-year-old electronic resistance box 52.

Ten days later, the Mayor of New York City, Fiorello La Guardia read Tesla’s eulogy over the WNYC radio 12.  Two days afterwards, over 2,000 people were present at a state funeral for Tesla at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.  After the funeral, Tesla’s body was cremated 12.

Tesla's urn in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade , Serbia
Tesla’s urn in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade , Serbia

In 1952, because of demands from Tesla’s nephew, all his belongings were transported to Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 80 trunks marked N.T. 12  In 1957, Kosanović’s secretary Charlotte Muzar shipped Tesla’s ashes from the US to Belgrade 12.  The ashes are currently displayed in one of Tesla’s favorite shapes (a gold-plated sphere) on a marble pedestal in the Nikola Tesla Museum 83.

Although Nikola Tesla lived what would be considered a very awkward life, he was a genius who was several centuries ahead of his time.  Throughout the decades following his death, his name was forgotten.  His inventions, although being used worldwide, never bore his name.  It was his dream for everyone to receive free wireless electricity instead of having to plug their appliances in a wall outlet.  Perhaps someday in the near future, Nikola Tesla will be heralded as a hero of his time and his inventions could be used to make the world a better place to live in.1044628_557673634289786_1150142503_n



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