The Spark that Illuminated America
When one thinks of electricity and light, one of the first things to come to mind is usually the name Thomas Edison. One man’s name goes unheard though. A man, just as influential as Thomas Edison, perhaps more so, in the electrification of America, was the great innovator, Nikola Tesla. Nikola Tesla is a historical figure that goes unnoticed, with many of his contributions forgotten, lost in time. Tesla was a man of equal caliber to the great Thomas Edison, but because of poor marketing and because his ideas were so far ahead of his time, Nikola Tesla became obscure and went unknown. Even though Tesla died penniless and alone, he was one of the greatest innovators of the last century, playing a key role in the scientific movement that transformed America through science, bringing the country into the technological age.
It is still not known whether Nikola Tesla was born on the 9th or the 10th of July in 1856 in Smilijan, Croatia, for he was born right around the stroke of midnight, but right from the start, it was clear that Tesla would be destined for great things. As the legend goes, Nikola Tesla was born during a great lightning storm. Tesla’s father, Reverend Milutin Tesla, was a religious man, coming from a long line of scholars and clergymen, believed that the storm was a sign that young Tesla would one day spread the light of the gospel. Tesla’s mother, Djouka Tesla, believed that he would be a child of light and that he would be successful in his life. Although never formally educated, Djouka Tesla was a very bright and capable woman, and it was to her that Nikola Tesla later attributed his inventive abilities.
As a young child, Nikola Tesla showed great potential and inventiveness. At the age of four, Tesla designed a small, crude waterwheel for the brook near his home. With help from his brother Dane, Tesla built his little invention and it worked. It was a unique design though, it was a paddle-less waterwheel, and later in his career, this little invention would become the base for another one of Tesla’s inventions, the “smooth disk turbine.’ Tesla continued showing his creativity and intellect throughout his childhood, but during those early years, Tesla was also had his share of problems. He would constantly run into misfortunes, like being locked in a church or falling into a tub of hot milk. Tesla also had many phobias including germaphobia, most of which stayed with him throughout his entire life. Tesla’s father hoped that life would straighten out his son and eventually cause him to become a minister. Tesla never wanted to be a religious man, and only after becoming deathly ill shortly before going to college was Tesla able to convince his father that he wanted to become a man of science.
Tesla went on to study science at the Austrian Polytechnic Institute in Graz in 1875. During his freshman year at the college, Tesla lived among his books. He had an insatiable hunger for knowledge and a strong determination to make his parents proud, and as a result, he ended up taking nine intense courses in that first year. New to the world of higher education, Tesla wanted to learn as much as he could, to take in as much knowledge as possible. He felt a need to expose himself to as many areas of science as he could manage. Through intense work, and countless hours of study and solitude, Tesla passed each of his nine classes with highest honors, a mindboggling feat of scholarship. Returning his second year, Tesla was urged by his teachers to choose a more reasonable amount of classes, so he tailored his courses to fit his time and he concentrate his energies and interest. He only enrolled in three courses that year, physics mathematics, and mechanics. The other students around him held Tesla in high esteem, but secretly, they all ridiculed his for his idiosyncrasies...