Nikola Tesla: The patron saint of geeks?
Posted by Xeno on September 11, 2012
Fans have rallied to buy the lab of inventor and electricity pioneer Nikola Tesla to turn it into a museum. But why do so few people appreciate the importance of Tesla’s work?
Lots of people don’t know who Nikola Tesla was.
He’s less famous than Einstein. He’s less famous than Leonardo. He’s arguably less famous than Stephen Hawking.
Most gallingly for his fans, he’s considerably less famous than his arch-rival Thomas Edison.
But his work helped deliver the power for the device on which you are reading this. His invention of the induction motor that would work with alternating current (AC) was a milestone in modern electrical systems.
Mark Twain, whom he later befriended, described his invention as “the most valuable patent since the telephone”.
Tesla was on the winning side in the War of the Currents – the battle between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison to establish whether AC or direct current (DC) would be used for electricity transmission. But as far as posterity goes, time has not been kind to Tesla.
Born in what is now Croatia to Serbian parents, he moved to New York in 1884 and developed radio controlled vehicles, wireless energy and the first hydro-electric plant at Niagara Falls. But he was an eccentric. He believed celibacy spurred on the brain, thought he had communicated with extraterrestrials, and fell in love with a pigeon.
Over recent decades he has drifted into relative obscurity, while Edison is lauded as one of the world’s greatest inventors.
But his memory is kept alive by legions of “geeks” and science historians. A Tesla museum on the site of his former laboratory is being planned after a crowdfunding project orchestrated by The Oatmeal cartoon site. It raised more than its target of $850,000 – which will be matched by the New York state authorities – in the first week. The total is now well over $1m. …