Nikola Tesla: The Untold Story of "The Man Who Invented the 20th Century"

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【Summary】In this exciting new series, journalist, ghostwriter and photographer Anthony C. LoBaido explorers the myths, facts, achievements and future possibilities regarding the genius and wizardry of the late Serbian-American scientist Nikola Tesla.

Original Anthony    Sep 26, 2016 7:30 PM PT
Nikola Tesla: The Untold Story of "The Man Who Invented the 20th Century
Anthony C. LoBaido

By Anthony C. LoBaido

SILICON VALLEY, California -- Nikola Tesla has been called "The Man Who Invented the 20th Century." Millions around the world know the story of the Tesla Auto Manufacturing Company located in Silicon Valley. This area of the nation is cosmopolitan in its composition. The best and the brightest from all over the world come to Silicon Valley to further their careers. It is here "the elite" are busy inventing the 21st and 22nd Centuries. In a city called "Fremont," one can travel along the Interstate 880 and pass Tesla's headquarters. Silicon Valley seems to be an appropriate place for Tesla for many obvious reasons — including the pleasant weather, an amazing pool of talent to recruit from, and the whole Silicon Valley techno-ethos.

That said, Tesla's amazing scientific work took place far away in Colorado and near the Nork Fork of Long Island. Exactly who was this incredible man and what was the secret of his genius? These are intriguing questions that demand erudite, serious answers. While many Americans might know about Tesla Motors, few know the untold story of its namesake and progenitor, Nikola. He could be described as a scientist, mechanical engineer, physicist, pioneer, inventor and visionary. And while everyone knows the name Thomas Edison, it was Tesla who beat out Edison for the right to use "AC" instead of "DC" current. By AC we refer to "Alternating Current." DC refers to "Direct Current." (This will be further addressed below.)

Tesla worked for Edison after moving to the U.S., but this marriage of convenience did not last. Tesla spent a long time simply digging ditches with a shovel after he and Edison parted ways. He earned US$ 2 per day. However, that type of manual labor is well known to liberate the mind while strengthening the body. As such, it should come as no surprise that Telsa emerged from a year of digging ditches to create some of the most incredible technologies known to mankind. The hardest time for Tesla was during the winter of 1886 – 1887. Regarding the digging of all of those trenches, Tesla says, "My high education in various branches of science, mechanics and literature seemed to me like a mockery."


Tesla spent a dark time in his life during which he was furiously digging ditches for
Thomas Edison's underground cables
(Photograph by Anthony C. LoBaido)
(Trench also dug by Anthony C. LoBaido)

Forget Marconi and his radio. Tesla also trumps him as well. The History Channel produced a documentary on Tesla and it can be viewed here.  Just after World War I, in 1919, Telsa began to hit his stride. He mastered the waters of Niagara Falls for electrical purposes. He created a way to bring electricity to America and the world. Remote control was a key breakthrough. Guided missiles were another. Wireless communication was his specialty. X-Rays, SDI or "Star Wars," neon and fluorescent lights too. History is now finally "catching up" with this incredible man.

With only his dreams for company, Tesla arrived in America on a mission to change the world.
America grew rapidly between the end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865 and World War I. Marconi, Edison and George Westinghouse were all contemporaries of Tesla. J.P. Morgan was one of Tesla's financiers. Tesla's ideas and inventions created corporations worth billions of dollars. Money slipped through his hands however, and he never became "set for life." He invested his own money in his own inventions. He died alone and penniless in a tiny New York apartment.

Tesla saw into the future in a way others could not. As such, it should come as no surprise that films like "The Prestige" starring Hugh Jackman feature Tesla in a central role. It seems that even Hollywood has decided to stand up and take full notice of this truly incredible man.

Hailing from Croatia, Tesla could have become a soldier or an orthodox priest. Those were the two main choices available to men of his ilk. His scholarly father wanted his son to become a priest. On the night he was born, their region was shaken by a terrible lightning storm. This was an omen. Tesla reflects Howard Hughes (of aviation fame) in terms of his eccentric behaviors.

Strangely, this whole larger than life story could easily have never transpired. Tesla almost died of cholera while preparing to enter the seminary. While on his deathbed, at the age of 17, he came back to life, like Lazarus, when his father agreed he could study his beloved science at university instead of going into the seminary.

Tesla's youth is filled with some of the strangest anecdotes. These include problems with his academic studies. He enjoyed playing billiards and cards, and at one point he was addicted to gambling. He also had a nervous breakdown. Despite all of that, he rallied to begin teaching, designing and diagraming his inventions and seeking to establish various patents.

In 1880, he worked in Hungary at a telegraph office. He then began to experience strange headaches from listening to train whistles. In respite, he took long walks. On one of those walks he drew a diagram of a "whirling field of energy." Magnetic attraction and repulsion was being refined in his mind. Alternating Current was being born in effect.

He came to New York on June 6th, 1884. He had four cents to his name. The first scientific issue he would tackle related to the Direct Current problem. With DC, one cannot change the voltage. If you wanted to transmit electricity over a large distance, you'd need copper wiring thicker than your arm. Edison wanted to build a power station every mile or so to deal with this problem. This idea was obviously not feasible. And it would lead Tesla and Edison into direct competition.

While working for Edison, Tesla claims he was promised US$ 50,000 for solving a problem that had been given to him. When he did indeed solve this same problem and went to Edison for payment, Edison mocked him and laughed at poor Tesla. Edison claimed he had been merely joking about the money. Tesla and Edison soon parted ways after that.

In the ensuing years, Tesla was paid US$ 50,000 per month to work as a consultant by George Westinghouse. How all of this came about is an interesting story we'll explore in Part II …

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