all heard of inventors we thought were quacks. You can decide for
yourself if this inventor was a quack… or if he was a genius who was
years ahead of his time.
He claimed to be able to create a
man-made earthquake. He considered himself to be a pioneer in radio,
and he once believed that he was up for a Nobel Prize in physics.
His work attracted financial backing (a
sign of a successful inventor) from the likes of George Westinghouse
and J.P. Morgan. He was awarded the prestigious Edison Medal in
1917. Despite winning this award, he never received the proper
recognition or respect during his lifetime, which is one reason why
so few people know much about this man.
He claimed to have invented a better
system of electrical current than Thomas Edison. In fact, he even
worked for Edison for a year, in 1884. However, Edison would later
electrocute animals with this man's technology in an attempt to
prove its harmful effects.
Maybe we can get a better idea of the
type of person he was by what others said about him:
Who is this mystery inventor? Was he a
successful inventor, or was he a "mad scientist"?
His name was Nikola Tesla. He wasn't a
mad scientist, although he was the inspiration for the mad scientist
in Max Fleischer's Superman cartoons. And he definitely wasn't a
quack. He was a genius, pure and simple, a man whose ideas were
years ahead of his time. This explains why most people didn't
understand his ideas in the late 1800s and why most people have
never heard of him since.
Tesla's two greatest accomplishments
were in the areas of electricity and radio.
He generated the alternating current
power that we all use. It is Tesla's AC rather than Edison's DC that
gives us electrical power over long distances. He designed the first
hydroelectric power plant with his AC current in Niagara Falls in
[to top of second column in
As a radio pioneer, Tesla had done more
in the development of radio than the man who is regarded as the
"father of radio," Guglielmo Marconi. In fact, Marconi used 17 of
Tesla's radio patents in his work. As a result, many of Marconi's
applications were turned down. Ironically, it was also Marconi, not
Tesla, who won a Nobel Prize in 1909.
As for the other claims in this story…
Tesla claimed to be able to create a
man-made earthquake because… he actually did create a man-made
earthquake! In 1898, using a device he created that was about the
size of an alarm clock, he found the exact frequency required to
cause the earth to rumble -- the kind of experiment that you might
see in a sci-fi movie -- and shook Manhattan. Realizing that his
experiment was getting out of hand, he stopped it just as the police
came running through his door. It was later captured in an article
in the New York American entitled, "Tesla's Controlled Earthquakes."
Tesla also once believed that he was up
for a Nobel Prize in physics because the press had reported that he
and his main rival would share a Nobel Prize but that the rival
refused to accept the award with him. Who was the rival? It was his
former boss, Thomas Edison, whom he worked for in 1884. The Nobel
Foundation does not back up this claim, though.
MRIs are measured in Tesla units, and
the Nikola Tesla Award is named for him as well. Tesla's image is on
a dollar bill in his native Croatia. Tesla also patented the first
speedometer for cars.
dozens of notebooks of his findings, many of which hadn't yet been
put into practice by the time he died. These notebooks were
mysteriously taken from his home on the day he died. Tesla lived the
last 30 years of his life alone. He never married and, despite his
many successes, he died broke in 1943.
is the author of "Invention Mysteries -- The Little-Known Stories
Behind Well-Known Inventions." He can be reached at
© Copyright Paul Niemann 2004