Although he had to contend with plenty of “static” in the 19th and early part of the 20th Century, inventor Nikola Tesla is now lauded as the historical hero who, in the 1880’s, plugged the world into alternating current (AC). Tesla by trade was a technically and mystically astute electrical and mechanical engineer with unlimited genius and more than 700 inventions thrown into a convoluted life story worthy of any modern science fiction blockbuster. His inventions quite literally changed the course of history and helped usher in The Second Industrial Revolution.
Born in the Austrian Empire in 1856 (now known as Croatia) he immigrated to America in 1884 with nothing in his pocket but a letter of recommendation. After Thomas Edison hired him, Tesla worked diligently to redesign Edison’s inefficient DC generators, but he was barely compensated for his effort and his time. After subsequently resigning from Edison’s company, Tesla found employment as a manual laborer digging ditches while perfecting his AC polyphase system. Years later at the time of his death, Edison admitted that his biggest mistake was “trying to develop direct current, rather than the vastly superior alternating current system that Tesla had put within his grasp.”
It’s impossible to comprehend the apparently unlimited genius of this 19th Century mechanical maverick. Along with massive contributions to AC generation, Tesla also fathered the transformer, the radio — and most significant to modern electric vehicle production — the brushless AC motor. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “The Tesla Roadster uses an AC motor descended directly from Tesla’s original 1882 design which he said came to him in a vision.” Tesla also created the Tesla turbine along with the well-known Tesla coil while discovering and working with rotating magnetic fields.
As I glance at the outrageously beautiful red Tesla roadster bearing his name — the one that sits parked at the ready in my garage –I am flooded with gratitude for that stubborn, eccentric “mad” scientist of another time. It occurs to me: All of us who now drive, hope to drive or who advocate for future electric cars owe Nikola Tesla — big time. And as I continue to contemplate the marvel and the miracle of electric automobiles, I wonder — would any of us actually be driving highway-capable electric cars today if Tesla had not lived the brilliant, rebellious, insanely creative life that created the prototype for the AC motors that hum at the heart of modern electric cars?
Nikola Tesla died of heart failure in 1943 at age 86. He was found — as he had lived — alone, penniless, unheralded and unappreciated in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel.
Posted by Linda Nicholes
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons