Nikola Tesla is one of the most prolific and important inventors in American history, though that fact is largely overlooked in the history books. We all know about Edison, but many don’t know that Tesla beat out Edison in the “war of the currents.” We all know about Marconi, but many don’t know that Tesla actually invented radio first. While many of Tesla’s innovations seem to be attributed to others in our memories, Tesla at least has gotten several stamps of approval.
Postage stamps, that is. A Serbian, born in 1856 in the tiny town of Smiljan of the then Austrian Empire (now part of Croatia), Tesla moved around Europe before coming to New York in 1884 and becoming an American citizen. All of these places claim Tesla as a “favorite son” and over the years have honored him with postage stamps.
Since the area he was born in is now Croatia, that country decided to issue a stamp in 1993, just two years after declaring its independence from Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia itself, when it still existed, also honored Tesla with several stamps.
Serbia, where Telsa’s parents were born and to which Tesla identified, split off from Yugoslavia in 2006 and formed an independent republic. That same year Serbia issued at least three versions of postage stamps depicting Nikola Tesla and his inventions, which include alternating current motors and transformers, and the famous Wardenclyffe tower.
Ah, but Tesla had become an American citizen. Mostly forgotten among the great luminaries of science in the United States, Tesla had to share his fame with other scientists. In 1983 the US post office issued a set of four 20-cent stamps depicting American Inventors Nikola Tesla, Charles Steinmetz, Edwin Armstrong, and Philo T. Farnsworth, each with one of their inventions. The Tesla stamp shows his AC induction motor.
Tesla’s break-through induction motor was featured at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, aka the Chicago World’s Fair. The twenty-nine cent stamps say 1892 because the Exposition honored the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ 1492 “discovery” of America even though the Exposition was actually a year later in order to avoid conflicting with the presidential election (in which Cleveland won his second non-consecutive term as President, which is a story in itself).
A few other countries have also gotten into the act to honor Tesla, as can be seen in these postage stamps by the South Pacific country of Palau and the African countries of Mali and Ghana.
So it seems Nikola Tesla hasn’t been completely forgotten after all. At the very least he is remembered enough to warrant postage stamps in his honor. Recently Tesla has gotten a lot more attention and has been featured in movies, TV shows, comic strips, and books like my own coming out in a few months.
Please let me know in the comments if you are aware of any additional postage stamps honoring Tesla as I plan to catalog them for posterity.
More on Tesla: Wizard of Electricity.