Nikola Tesla: The Master Of Lightning

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They called him ‘The Master of Lightning”. He changed the very way people look at electricity. His inventions and theories are still in use to this very day. This man had many inventions and some of them never made it off the blueprints, but the ones that did achieved wondrous feats such as replacing Edison’s DC current, creating power from water, and illuminating rooms with cordless light bulbs. He was a genius with a few odd habits and name was Nikola Tesla.

Nikola Tesla was born in Smiljan, Croatia July 10th, 1856. Nikola’s father was Milutin Tesla who was a Serbian Orthodox Priest. His mother was Djouka Mandic who was an inventor who made household appliances. He had one brother, whose name was Dane, and three sisters: Angelina, Milka, and Marica. As a child Tesla wanted to become an engineer. However, his father wanted him to him to go into the clerical profession and the army was equally determined that he should perform military service (Cheney & Uth). As a child Tesla would sometimes experience visions of scenes, people, and things so realistic that he was unsure of whether or not what he was seeing was real or imaginary. His father had a substantial library in which Tesla immersed himself in once he learned how to read. His dad was afraid that young Tesla would ruin his eyes so he took away the candles used for nighttime reading. In turn Tesla would make his own candles from scrap pieces of wax and placed rags underneath his door to prevent light from leaking out.

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When Tesla entered school at the age of 5 he did outstandingly well. One year after he entered school his family moved to the nearby city of Gospic. There he attended public school for four years. Afterward he attended the Real Gymnasium at Carlstadt in Austria for three years. At this school he cherished the chance to work with mechanical models and built several small turbines that he enjoyed operating. Tesla was particularly fond of mathematics and would often perform calculations in his head faster than the teacher could write them on the board. At first he was suspected of cheating. In 1873 Nikola Tesla graduated the gymnasium at the age of 17. At the time that Tesla graduated there was a cholera epidemic throughout the country. Even though his parents urged him not to return he did and caught the disease. His father promised Tesla that if he survived, he would be allowed to attend the Austrian Polytechnic School at Graz to study engineering. After recovering he began studying mechanical and electrical engineering at the renowned Polytechnic School (Cheney).

When Tesla was living in Prague his father passed away which forced him to think seriously about earning a living. With help from one of his uncles Tesla found a job as a draftsman with the Central Telephone Exchange of the Hungarian government. Later in 1884 Tesla arrived in New York as an immigrant with a letter of introduction and not much else. During the summer of 1884 Tesla dropped in to see Thomas Edison and handed him the letter from Charles Batchelor which when Edison opened it stated “I know two great men and your are one of them, the other is this young man.” Nikola Tesla was then hired and quickly rose up from solving minor complications to fixing some of the companies most complex issues. As time went on Tesla noticed that the dynamos could be made to work more efficiently. So he offered to give the plant an overhaul. Edison promised him $50,000 if he succeeded with the project. After Tesla completed the task he requested to be paid and Edison replied that the offer had been made in jest and that once Tesla became a full-fledged American he would appreciate an American joke. When Tesla threatened to resign Edison countered saying that he would give Tesla a $10 raise which would bring his salary up to $28 a week (Ljuba Vujovic). With that Edison warned that Tesla would have a hard time finding a job during these hard times. Tesla then resigned declaring that he would rather take his chances out on the streets. Tesla was later approached by investors who asked him to make a design for improved arc lighting. After Tesla had shown the wonders of his AC motor he was approached by George Westinghouse. Westinghouse proceeded to buy Tesla’s patents from him in the form of $5,000 cash and 150 shares of stock in the Westinghouse Corporation. Westinghouse also agreed to pay royalties of $2.50 per horsepower of electrical capacity sold, which made Tesla one of the world’s most wealthy men. Westinghouse hired Tesla shortly after. With the breakthroughs provided by Tesla’s patents a full-scale industrial war broke out between Westinghouse and Edison. As with previous competition, Edison resorted to using propaganda against Westinghouse. Edison’s company hired a professor whose name was Harold Brown who went around speaking to audiences and electrocuting old horses and dogs on stage to show how dangerous alternating current was. The professor later illegally purchased a 2,000 volt Westinghouse alternator and hoped to demonstrate the danger of alternating current at a prison execution (Lisa Aldrich). August 6th, 1890 William Kemmler was executed in the first electric chair. Witnesses reported that his spine burst into flames. The technique was dubbed “Westinghousing” just as the guillotine was named after its inventor (Marc Seifer). The next place the two inventors would challenge each other would be at the Chicago World’s Fair, or Columbian Exposition which would be history’s first all-electric fair. J.P. Morgan engineered a takeover of Edison Company, the Thompson-Houston Company, and others to form the General Electric Company. GE bid a million dollars to provide power and light for the fair. A majority of the cost came from the amount of copper wire needed to utilize DC power. Westinghouse suggested an AC system that cost half as much and would be a single “universal system” that would operate lights and motors at the same time. So in the end Westinghouse received the contract for the fair. After the fair more than %80 of all the electrical devices ordered in the US were for alternating current (Bogdan Kosanovic).

Tesla had more inventions other than the AC motor. Although some of these never left the papers, they were still amazing ideas. As a child Tesla envisioned a way to harvest the power of Niagara Falls. Well in 1893 it happened. Investors poured money into the project and the construction was extremely dangerous for the workers. In the end the dam worked and pumped electricity to all of New York. One of his more famous inventions is the Tesla Coil. The Tesla Coil was patented in 1891. It took regular 60 cycles per second household currents and stepped them up into hundreds of thousands of cycles per second. Tesla claimed to have plans for a death ray that shot charged particles at such a rate that they could take out 10,000 enemy airplanes from a distance of 250 miles.

Tesla had many odd habits. One of them was his excessive fear of germs. This causes him to have exceptional hygiene. At every hotel he stayed at the room number he resided in had to be divisible by 3. Almost everything Tesla did he did in threes. He was disgusted by jewelry. This was especially true for pearl earrings. He had a particular fondness for pigeons. He would special order the seeds that he fed to them at the park. When his favorite pigeon died he was devastated. He talked to himself as well. He would sometimes have conversations with himself in different tones of his voice (Tesla Master of Lightning).

Nikola Tesla died in his hotel suite at the age of 86 on January 7th, 1943. He died in his sleep. After he died the government took several of his documents for themselves. The morning after his death Nikola’s nephew walked into his uncle’s room to find Tesla’s body missing along with some of his technical papers.

Tesla lead an amazing life and revolutionized the electrical industry. He defeated Edison and his associates. Tesla rose to be a wealthy man and then lost it all. His breakthroughs are still used to this day. The world will never forget Tesla, the Master of electricity.

Works Cited


  1. Vujovic, Ljuba. ‘Tesla Biography.’ Tesla Memorial Society of New York. N.p., 10 June 1998. Web. 15 Aug. 2011. .
  2. Kosanovic, Bogdan R. ‘Nikola Tesla: inventor, engineer, scientist.’ neuronet. Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 Dec. 2000. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. .
  3. ‘Tesla-Master of Lightning.’ PBS, n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. .


  1. Seifer, Marc J. The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla Biography of a Genious. Segaugus, NJ: Carol Publishing Group, 1996. Print
  2. Cheney, Margaret. Tesla Man Out Of Time. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1981. Print.
  3. Aldrich, Lisa J. Nikola Tesla and the Taming of Electricity. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds Publishing, 2005.Print.
  4. Cheney, Margaret, and Robert Uth. Tesla Master Of Lightning. New York, NY: Barnes and Noble Books, 1999. Print.


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