Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor; an electrical and mechanical engineer and futurist, he is best known for his work on the alternating current system of electricity – and resulting rivalry with Thomas Edison.

Born in 1856, Tesla wanted to become an engineer from an early age. His father, however, wanted him to join the priesthood. It was only when Tesla contracted cholera and was near death that his father, in despair, promised to send him to engineering school if he should survive. He pulled through, and went on to enrol at the Austrian Polytechnic in Graz. There, he excelled – for a while. In his first year, he attended every lecture, passed nine exams – nearly twice as many as required – and received a letter of commendation from the Dean of the technical facility. However, at the end of his second year, he lost his scholarship and became addicted to gambling; he was unprepared for his final examinations and did not graduate. 

Nevertheless, he gained work first with the Budapest Telephone Exchange and then with the Continental Edison Company in France, and in 1884 relocated to New York City, where he worked directly for Thomas Edison. In 1885, Tesla said that he could redesign the inefficient motor and generators used by the Edison Company. Edison was said to have remarked “There’s fifty thousand dollars in it for you – if you can do it.” Tesla worked for months on the project, completed it and asked for the promised payment – only to be told that Edison had been joking. He was offered a $10 a week raise instead, so Tesla refused and resigned.

 

He went on to form the Tesla Electric Company, working on improvements to the alternating current system which was directly opposed to Edison’s direct current. Thanks to his patents, George Westinghouse’s AC system was able to compete – and eventually, as far as long-distance transmission of electricity is concerned, prevail.

Tesla also did early work on x-rays – including being one of the first to highlight the dangers of the technology – and radio, including pitching a concept very like radar (which would not be invented until 1935) to the US Navy in 1917. When Marconi successfully sent the first trans-Atlantic message, Tesla is sad to have responded, “Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue. He is using seventeen of my patents.”

As well as being something of a genius, however, Tesla was also highly eccentric. Alongside the 300 patents he filed in his lifetime, he also claimed to have developed a death ray that could stop a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 200 miles, a system of transmitting electricity wirelessly, a pocket-sized device that could create a localised earthquake and a flying machine shaped like a cigar or saucer.

Although he died in relative obscurity, today Tesla is highly regarded by many young engineers who are inspired by his achievements. Here at Airedale Springs, we work with a wide range of clients and customers, many of whom are still today building on the work of Tesla and his contemporaries. For more information about our products, from wire forms to compression springs, simply contact us on 01535 643456.