02 April 2008

Tesla- The Unknown Man Who Began the Modernization of America

Nikola Tesla invented many things essential to day-to-day modern living, including AC electricity, the fluorescent light bulb, the odometer, the hydroelectric generator and the radio. Unfortunately, the only modern ties of these inventions to Tesla are in the Patent Office because Tesla never viewed his inventions as profitable. Tesla was a revolutionary thinker, but he was unsociable and lacked the ability to complete or make profit off of most of his inventions.

Nikola Tesla grew up in a household defined by the death of Tesla's brother. In his autobiography, Tesla wrote, "In the first place I had a brother who was gifted to an extraordinary degree'…'His premature death left my parents disconsolate." (Tesla 28). Upon this tragic death, Tesla became socially withdrawn, as he would remain the rest of his life. Tesla then had no one to feel inferior toward in his family, and even a feeling that he must help his parents by compensating for the lost talent in his family. "Anything I did that was creditable merely caused my parents to feel their loss more keenly. So I grew up with little confidence in myself." (Tesla 28). At that age Tesla learned to expect no gratification or rewards for his work, which became a major problem for him when he began to enter the business world. This also taught Tesla to be independent of bosses, encouraging him to be self-sustaining. This was the beginning of a life of isolation and mental instability for Nikola Tesla.

Though Tesla did not have the backing of his parents for a career in engineering, Tesla obviously had the skills to make him an impeccable inventor. "I longed to be an engineer but my father was unflexible." (Tesla 29). Tesla not only could not make his parents proud, but they openly disapproved of his plans in life, encouraging Tesla to continue his isolation both socially and emotionally. It is curious to point out that if Tesla had listened to his father the world would be drastically different today.  Tesla also wrote, "In my boyhood I suffered from a peculiar affliction due to the appearance of objects…" (Tesla 31). "Then I observed to my delight that I could visualize with the greatest facility." (Tesla 33). Being able to control these visions meant that Tesla had gained the ability to construct plans for inventions in his mind without the need to record them until a patent was needed. This ability left no need for Tesla to work on his ideas with other engineers, even making sharing his ideas with others a nuisance. Tesla had the determination to become an inventor and the skills needed to make him thrive.           

Nikola Tesla became famous in the media during his "Battle of the Currents" with Thomas Edison, but he was very socially withdrawn in his private life. "Tesla was a great showman and a favorite of newspaper reporters who sought sensational copy" (Carlson 80). Tesla could entertain a crowd of reporters, but he never socialized privately with anyone outside of work. Tesla was forced to grow up with a fa├žade of happiness due to his parents' troubles, which he then used in the media to display confidence while speaking, even though he was often in financial trouble. "I counted the steps in my walks and calculated the cubical contents of my soup plates, coffee cups, and pieces of food- otherwise my meal was unenjoyable." (Tesla 37). Though whether Tesla had obsessive compulsive disorder was not recorded, the afflictions he had kept him away from other people. Tesla was a savant with amazing mind power, resulting in him viewing the world around him uniquely. It is curious that Tesla could conquer the visions he experienced as a child and overcame many addictions to drugs, but he was never able to overcome seemingly simple afflictions like doing actions in triplets.

Nikola Tesla was extremely smart, but he did not stand up for himself and he was a poor business man. "The manager [of the Edison Electric Light Company] had promised me fifty thousand dollars on the completion of this task but it turned out to be a practical joke. This gave me a painful shock and I resigned my position!" (Tesla 72). This was one of Tesla's first experiences in the business world, and Tesla's overwhelming trust and lack of assertiveness made him easy prey for businessman. This event demolished Tesla's trust in others, so he then began to work alone as an independent business. "Tesla had a profound idealism that only occasionally reached practical reality." (Carlson 80). Tesla had many incomplete ideas, some of which were considered neurotic exclamations to get media attention, but some of Tesla's ideas are being validated by scientists today. That may mean that, given more time and money, Tesla may have been able to prove these ideas that existed only in his head. Tesla's major flaw was that he would only prove the concept, he would never perfect a design or make money off of it, leaving Tesla to die with empty pockets and others obtaining fame from Tesla's work.

"Otis Pond, an engineer then working for Tesla, said, 'Looks as if Marconi got the jump on you.' Tesla replied, 'Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue. He is using seventeen of my patents.' " (PBS)

This quote is indicative of Tesla's mindset as an inventor, not a businessman. Tesla left his inventions to others, and, though he hinted at having invented the technology before Marconi, Tesla never did anything about the patent infringement. Most people today know nothing of Tesla because he created ideas and left the work of creating revolutionary products to others. Unfortunately, Marconi made millions of dollars off of Tesla's invention until Marconi lost his patent on the radio in the 1943 Supreme Court Case Marconi Wireless T. Company vs. the United States months after Tesla's death. Marconi began the lawsuit by suing the government for infringing on his patents; Tesla was uninvolved. If Tesla had focused on quality rather than quantity, he may have been remembered today as a wealthy man who modernized America, rather than the unknown man whose ideas began the modernization of America.


Works Cited

Carlson, W. Bernard. "Inventor of Dreams." Scientific American Mar. 2005: 79-85.

Tesla, Nikola. My Inventions. 1919. Ed. Ben Johnston. Austin: Hart Brothers, 1982. 28, 29, 31, 36, 72.

"Who Invented Radio?" PBS. 19 Oct. 2006 <http://www.pbs.org/tesla/ll/ll_whoradio.html>. 

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