Change Makers: The Story of Nikola Tesla
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Change Makers: The Story of Nikola Tesla

The line between genius and madness is a blurry one. This, I think is the best way of describing the personality that Nikola Tesla was. He was a Serbian American inventor who took the world by surprise with his inventions that were decades ahead of their time. I think, perhaps, this is the reason he was called ‘the man who invented the twentieth century.’ 

Early Days

The story of Tesla begins on 10 July, 1856 when he was born into a Serb family. Growing up, it was clear that he was a smart boy and destined for greatness. He had an eidetic memory and was very bright as a student. He could even perform integral calculus in his head. He finished his four year term in just three years! 

Big Break

Tesla moved to New York City in 1884. He received his first big break when he was hired by Thomas Edison to work for him. Starting as a simple engineer, he went on to solve complex problems. 

He even managed to redesign the entire company’s direct current generators, for which Edison had offered him $50,000. But after the job was done, Edison claimed that he was only joking and thus, due to this misunderstanding, Tesla resigned. 

Years of Ordeal

After leaving Edison’s company, Tesla started his own company. But as fate would have it, he was forced out of his own company which left him broke. A man with such mental capabilities as him, had to work menial jobs like electrical repair jobs and ditch digging, for a salary as low as $2 per day. 

It really shows the struggle that great men throughout history have had to go through to become what they did. Today’s generation can take a lesson from this which wants everything served to them on a silver platter. Not everyone is like this though but we see people wanting an overnight success which is rare in itself and seldom lasting. 


Tesla made a solid comeback by establishing another company called Tesla Electric Company in April 1887 with two other people. Here, he developed the induction motor that ran on an alternating current (AC). 

Tesla’s patents on this AC motor officially put him on the map and got him noticed by George Westinghouse. The later then asked Tesla to work for him as a consultant for one year for a handsome fee of $2000 per month. ($52,700 in today’s dollars). 

From $8/month to $2000/month, is what you call a very successful comeback. This also put him on one side of the ‘war of the currents’, where the battle for deciding between AC and DC as the mainstream power system for America was being decided. 


1. X-Ray

Though a lot of people had started work on X-rays, it was Nikola Tesla who researched the entire gamut. He played a vital role in pushing the technology forward that is so commonly used in today’s medical field. 

2. Wireless Energy Transfer

It is no secret that Nikola Tesla had devised a way to wirelessly transmit electricity over long distances. He had done it earlier with cables using AC but was already looking to ‘cut the cord’, 123 years ago! 

He dreamed that the fundamentals and the foundations of the technology he had created, would allow us to shoot power into the atmosphere, from where our electric devices could pull the power. Just like how we receive cell reception today, we would be able to receive electricity. Just imagine never having to charge your various gadgets! 

If only the technology had not been suppressed by the corporate slug such as Rockefeller and J P Morgan, who were also his financial backers, we would all be living in a world we only imagine in our heads as the “future”. 

3. Radio

The invention of Radio is often credited to Guglielmo Marconi, who is also widely regarded as the Father of Radio. But it is only now that the people are becoming aware of the fact that it was actually Nikola Tesla who had invented the technology. Even the Supreme Court credited Tesla’s patent on Radio to precede that of Marconi’s. 

Infact, when Nikola Tesla demonstrated a radio-controlled boat to the public, in 1898, they made outrageous claims about the technology saying things like it was magic or telepathy or even that the boat was being operated by a monkey! Such was Tesla’s mind. Ahead of it’s own time. 

4. Electric Motor

The electric motor, though seemingly common and a no-brainer today, is perhaps his most effective and important invention. It was used in industrial machines, in home appliances, water pumps, power tools and even in disk drives!

But there was one area where its application was practically killed. And that was the use of electric motors in cars. Such was the control of the ‘elite’ that the use of electric motor in cars is only now becoming mainstream thanks in part to Elon Musk and his aptly named company, Tesla. 

This had the potential to get the world rid of fossil fuels almost a century ago! Just ponder upon that for a minute. 

5. Death Ray

Tesla inherited a hatred of war from his father and after the World War I, he was looking for ways to end all wars once and for all. For this purpose, he invented something popularly called a Death Ray. It was reportedly in the 1930s that he managed to achieve this. 

The device could generate an intense targeted beam of energy, much like what is shown in the Star Wars movies, that could be used to obliterate enemy warplanes, ground armies, or anything in its path. It is also rumoured that he tested this technology on a patch of land covered with trees. 

The results were pretty devastating. So much energy was released from the weapon that all the trees in that area were literally uprooted. He had plans to make this available to every country in the world so that no country could attack each other, thus, ending any wars in the future. 

Interestingly, the plans for the death ray were never found after his death. Some believe that the US military has this technology in its possession.

6. Robotics

Tesla thought not in terms of decades but in centuries. He believed that we are just automated beings that respond to external stimuli. This thought resulted in the concept of robotics. Machines that could move around and respond to external stimuli much like humans. 

But he also believed that these machines should have certain limitations to them. He envisioned a future where there was a race of robots that would perform menial labour jobs for the human race. 

Final Years

Tesla’s final years were as uneventful as his early years were active. He lived alone in a hotel called the New Yorker Hotel. The rent of the hotel was paid by Westinghouse Electric Company, for the remainder of his life. He used to feed pigeons which seemed the only thing left that provided happiness to him. 

He was broke and in debt. For all his accomplishments in life, he should have been living a millionaire’s life. But he was a rebel at heart and crossed the wrong people continually. He used to say, “I don’t care that they stole my idea. I care that they don’t have any of their own.” 

He died on 7 January 1943, at the age of 86, in his hotel room. 

Final Thoughts

Nikola Tesla was a revolutionary figure who left his mark in history. He had 300 patents to his name out of which only 278 have been recovered. But isn’t it baffling that a man of his stature is mysteriously missing from the academic books? 

I for one, didn’t read a single chapter on him in school because there were none!  With so much contribution in different fields, there’s no question that, Nikola Tesla is the man who single-handedly invented the 20th century.

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” - Nikola Tesla


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