Right out of central casting the storm arrived as Djouka Tesla went into labor. Praying for an easy delivery of her fourth child, the roar of the thunder drowned out her muffled, yet experienced, cries of pain. At precisely midnight the cries transferred from Djouka’s lips to those of the newly born Nikola. In an omen that couldn’t have been scripted more eloquently, a lightning bolt crackled from the sky and lit up the small house just as Nikola entered this world.
Startled, the midwife turned to the young mother and said “Your new son is a child of the storm.”
“No,” responded Djuka, “He is a child of the light.”
And so it seems that from the beginning Nikola Tesla was destined to electrify the world with his discoveries.
That warm July 9th into 10th of 1856 took place in Smiljan, a small village located in what was then the Austrian Empire but now is part of present day Croatia. Being born exactly at midnight led to some uncertainty as to what date his birthday should be celebrated, but in practice Tesla’s birthdays were rarely celebrated much at all, at least until his later years when he was world famous. Then his birthdays (officially July 10th) became celebrated affairs complete with press coverage. But that was much later. For now he was just the son of a Serbian Orthodox priest in a tiny country hamlet.
In contrast, his 75th birthday party was something of a marvel for Tesla, who by that time had become largely secluded in his New York hotel room. A young science fiction writer whom he had befriended, Kenneth Swezey, arranged to have famous engineers and scientists from all over the world send something to Tesla. Letters and tributes flooded in, including those from several Nobel laureates. Even a note from Albert Einstein, who congratulated Tesla on his contributions to the field of high-frequency currents. Time magazine put Nikola Tesla on the cover.
Science editor and publisher Hugo Gernsback nearly gushed his praise, writing:
“If you mean the man who really invented, in other words, originated and discovered – not merely improved what had already been invented by others – then without a shade of doubt Nikola Tesla is the world’s greatest inventor, not only in the present but in all history…His basic as well as revolutionary discoveries, for sheer audacity, have no equal in the annals of the intellectual world.”
All was good for Tesla. Unfortunately, over the remaining dozen years of his life he would become largely forgotten as others – notably Edison, Westinghouse and Marconi – got tactic credit for Tesla’s actual contributions. Tesla died in 1943 just a few months before the Supreme Court upheld his original patent and gave Tesla credit for invention of the radio (for which Marconi had received a Nobel Prize in 1909 after having “borrowed” Tesla’s ideas).
More on Tesla from the Tesla Society of USA and Canada.
In case you missed it, check out the two Tesla statues at Niagara Falls.