Our society is held together and functions because of one thing: electricity, more specifically, Alternating Current (AC) electricity. But, who invented it? Edison? No. Einstein? No. The lead scientists of the Manhattan project? Not even close.
Not only can none of these brilliant minds can claim not just AC electricity, but so many other marvelous inventions that we not only use, but take for granted every day. Driving to work, one listens to a radio, not a gramophone. When looking for enemy air and water craft, the military uses Radio Detection and Ranging (RADAR), not just reports from ground troops. Doctors don’t guess a patient has a broken bone; they use X-ray machines to examine the injury. These inventions are only three of the brain-children of one man, Dr.
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Nikola Tesla. Not only are his inventions and papers are notable, but also his mind itself. From his mind, he was “able to use creative visualization with an uncanny and practical intensity,” and “predicted the world could not sustain (itself) without renewable fuel sources.” In fact, the US Patent Office has 1200 patents registered in Dr. Tesla’s name and it is thought he could produce an additional 1000 or so from just his memory (Childress).
Born in Serbia in 1856 to a poor clergyman and a mother who loved to tinker with many objects around the house, she undoubtedly got him on his way to inventing. While living in Serbia, he help set up the country’s first telephone system and later made a living fixing the telephone speakers and receivers. After quite some time, Tesla went to the Polytechnic University of Gratz, in France, and it was there he saw a Direct Current (DC) electric motor (Martin). When he approached his professor about removing the brushes that were supposedly necessary to the motor’s function “‘… he [Tesla’s professor] declared it could not be done and gave me [Tesla] the honour of delivering a lecture on the subject,'” (Jonnes). When he graduated from Gratz in the top of his class, Tesla left to go to Paris, seeking employment under the Edison Electric Company’s European branch, where he furthered his studies of electrical machinery and learned of Alternating Currents potential. A few years later, Tesla left for America to seek employment under Edison.
Following a dispute over a large sum of money Edison never paid Tesla for fixing his machines, Tesla, funded by A.K. Brown from the Western Union Telegraph Company, went on to start the Tesla Electric Company. Tesla did some things considered impossible for the turn of the century. One such thing was harnessing the power of Niagara Falls. He did so by building a hydroelectric plant, which is simple enough now, but this was a marvel of the time (Olson).
Now business owners had a choice: Tesla’s inexpensive, single thin wires of AC electricity, or Edison’s costly, thick wires that need two wires to complete the circuit in order for the DC electricity to work (TeenInk). So, these lower class business owners and even entire cites started to flock toward Tesla’s new power type. Several other AC/DC battles (for which the band AC/DC was named after) ensued, one very interesting one was the Electric Chair. Not the type old people use to go up a set of stairs while sitting, the type that was used to execute prisoners. When asked by the government to make one, Edison tried to plant a figurative time-bomb by passing it over to his AC rivals, Westinghouse and Tesla.
When they accepted the challenge, Edison went out to prove how inhumane it was to electrocute a living thing with Alternating Current by electrocuting rats, dogs, and even an elephant with it, but this backfired when the government decided to use the AC power in their execution of prisoners. The site of the final battle of the current was the Chicago World’s Fair in 1899 when Tesla demonstrated not only the safety and efficiency of Alternating Current by powering and lighting the entire fair and by lighting the fair with his newest invention, the Fluorescent light (Childress). This ended the Electrical Revolution with Nikola Tesla and his AC power as the victor. In the years following this electric war, Tesla Electric Company started to delve more into research and production. One of Tesla’s biggest ambitions was to provide the whole world with free and wireless electricity.
He would attempt to accomplish this with probably the most well-known of all his inventions: the Tesla Coil. Producing high-voltage electricity at high frequencies, the Tesla Coil acted as man-made lightning, so it could be used with lightning rods to help store electricity. When all the chinks had been worked out, Tesla attempted to build a massive one- hundred- eighty- seven foot tall Tesla Coil, but he could not completely finish it for financial reasons. Tesla was able to get it running, for a short while, and he powered his fluorescent light bulbs and several pieces of machinery with it. At this point though, his investors never really agreed with the whole “free wireless electricity” thing, and they started to pull out.
Around this time, Dr. Tesla started slipping into obscurity. Being that this was all long after he had done things like perfect AC current, make an electric starter for cars, and laying the footholds for principles like RADAR, radio, and remote controls. Now, however, the brilliant madman was working on something still shrouded in mystery. One day, Tesla had bought a Pierce Arrow from an auto dealer and outfitted it with an electric motor, rather than the gas engine as was standard, not that this was uncommon, because electric cars have been around as long as electric motors have. No, the ingenious mystery was the fact that the car had no external power source.
It had a box that was composed of a few dozen resistors, a few radio tubes, and three rods that stuck out of the top. When Tesla pushed these rods in, he announced “We now have power,” and proceeded to test the car at speeds in excess of 90 mph. However, Tesla died before revealing how he had accomplished such a feat. This, oddly enough, was not the most futuristic and bizarre thing Tesla had made. At this point, Tesla lived in near total obscurity and isolation, but he did come from the shadows once or twice to reveal a weapon that would, supposedly, defy Plato and end all warfare. This weapon was a laser beam capable of vaporizing any target it hit; much more powerful than any of our modern lasers.
It was because of these, and several other things, that the FBI came after Tesla died in 1943 and confiscated all of his papers, be they doodles or schematics (TeenInk). So, what had Tesla given to us in his life? Well, he gave us electric car starters so that hand cranks were obsolete. Tesla provided a cheaper, more efficient system of electrical transmission. He also gave us radio so that the people could stay connected to the news and listen to music in their own homes. Also, the medical field was granted the basics for X-rays years before Roentgen.
Not only that, but that brilliant man had shown us a way to see our enemies before they could see us with RADAR. This is just the short list; there are countless other things he has done for the masses. And how does this modern world repay him? With ignorance at his name and “ums” from teachers when a student asks “Who made AC current?” Society repays this brilliance that has been challenged only once or twice in the years after him with eye rolls when someone tries to explain Tesla’s impact.