Print of Nikola Tesla (Library of Congress)
Nikola Tesla was born on July 10, 1856, to a Serbian family in Smiljan near Gospić, Lika, now Croatia. He was the fourth child of Djouka Tesla and Milutin Tesla, a man working for the ministry. It was said Tesla was born ‘at the stroke of midnight.’ It was also said the midwife who delivered Tesla remarked, “He’ll be a child of the storm,” to which his mother replied, “No, of light.”
Tesla lived a normal Serbian childhood and began studies in 1861. In 1873, after moving on his own to Gospić, he contracted cholera and was bedridden for nine months. His father promised Tesla could go to engineering school. Tesla eventually recovered.
"...he was enrolled in 1875 at the Austrian Polytechnic School in Graz. During his first year he had a fellowship from the Military Frontier Authority and hence had no financial worries." (Cheney 39). He made high grades and never missed a lecture. The second year, he lost his scholarship and supposedly started gambling. The third year, Tesla stopped attending lectures and dropped out.
On December 30, 1882, Tesla began his journey on turning the world around. He became obsessed with solving the problem on how to use alternating current. Tesla was supposedly in Varosliget City Park in Budapest when the idea came to him in a vision. He proceeded to draw the idea for a motor with a stick in the sand.
On June 6, 1884, Tesla traveled across the Atlantic aboard the Saturnia to the US and arrived on American soil.
What I had left was beautiful, artistic and fascinating in every way; what I saw here was machined, rough and unattractive. It [America] is a century behind Europe in civilization."
- Nikola Tesla
He came with only four cents, some mathematical equations, and a letter of introduction from Charles Batchelor, one of Thomas Edison's business associates in Europe. Tesla walked into Edison's office, handing him his letter, reading, "My Dear Edison: I know two great men and you are one of them. The other is this young man!" Tesla began working for him.
"And so this young man was working for the world’s greatest inventor. And he had with him an alternating current device which would become the hydroelectric power system, a clean energy system today that still runs a form of perpetual motion because it’s running on the waterfalls. So you never run out of fuel. So that’s what he had in his pocket and he brings it to Edison, and Edison doesn’t understand it because it’s very complicated. And so Edison using direct current says I don’t want to hear about alternating current ...and I don’t want to hear about alternating current. So Tesla says, I’ll redesign your direct current machines and make them more efficient and I can make them about 20% more efficient. Edison says, if you can do that, there’s $50,000 in it for you. So Tesla goes ahead and does it; he doesn’t really get 20% maybe he gets 12 or 11 percent and so he tries to get the money..."
Once Tesla showed Edison his improved work and asked for the money Edison stated, “Oh Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor.” Wounded, Tesla resigns.
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