Nikola Tesla was one of the most famous inventors of his age, and then he was mostly forgotten, dying in near poverty. In recent years Tesla has seen a resurgence in popularity as Tesla Motors has brought the Serbian-American inventor back into the limelight. [And perhaps my book, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity, has played a small role in spreading the Tesla word to the masses.]
Previously I revealed 5 things you probably didn’t know about Nikola Tesla. In honor of his July 10th birthday, here are 5 more.
1) He was actually born on the cusp of July 9th and 10th. As I write in my book:
As though it had been ordered up by a filmmaker’s special effects department, the threatening storm arrived just as Djouka Tesla went into labor. As she prayed for an easy delivery of her fourth child, the roar of the thunder drowned out her stifled cries. Precisely at midnight the cries transferred from Djouka’s lips to those of the newly born Nikola. In an omen that could not have been scripted more prophetically, 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 Djouka, “He is a child of the light.
And so it seems that, from the beginning, Nikola Tesla was destined to electrify the world.
2) He was fond of practical jokes. Though often reclusive and introverted, Tesla was in his element when it came to showing off his inventions. He would wave wireless light sabers in front of mystified scientists, regale party-goers with feats of memory, and if he could lure unsuspecting celebrities into his laboratory, play practical jokes on them. He once even got Mark Twain to nearly pee his pants [check out the full story here].
3) The sight of pearl earrings would make him nauseous. He admitted to several idiosyncrasies, once telling a friend:
I had a violent aversion against the earrings of women but other ornaments, as bracelets, pleased me more or less according to design. The sight of a pearl would almost give me a fit but I was fascinated with the glitter of crystals or objects with sharp edges and plane surfaces. I would not touch the hair of other people except, perhaps, at the point of a revolver. I would get a fever by looking at a peach and if a piece of camphor was anywhere in the house it caused me the keenest discomfort.
4) He invented robotics. Or at least, a wireless remote controlled boat. Setting up a tank in Madison Square Garden he slid a large odd-shaped boat into the water. Asking the gathered audience to tell the boat to turn this way and that way, Tesla secretly controlled its direction via radio waves. It was 1898 and the first time anyone had shown the ability to do such “magic.” [More on robot boats here.]
5) He was a science fiction star. Perhaps more accurately, he was the inspiration for science fiction stories. It all started when Tesla was experimenting with wireless radio signals in Colorado Springs. One night he recorded what he was convinced was directed messages from some far out source in space. He later was ridiculed for this, but a close friend and publisher Hugo Gernsback decided to take advantage of the idea and often used Tesla’s experiments as a basis for science fiction stories. It’s perhaps no surprise that in recent years Tesla has gained visibility as a popular science fiction figure in computer games, movies, and books.
One final note – while Tesla and Edison were rivals in the “war of the currents,” they were generally friendly with each other and mostly veered into separate careers that rarely overlapped. Both Tesla and Edison made marks in the world, but both would agree that that they were very different men of invention. [More on that here]
But today is all about Tesla.
Happy Birthday, Nikola Tesla!
David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.
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