Part of the Computing fundamentals glossary:

Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American scientist, electrical engineer, and inventor whose research laid much of the groundwork for modern electrical and communication systems. Very prolific, but relatively little-known in his time and even today, Tesla held 700 patents and was responsible for an impressive list of accomplishments, including the alternating-current (AC) electrical system, radio, the Tesla coil transformer, wireless transmission, and fluorescent lighting.

Tesla was born in Smiljan, Croatia on July 10, 1856 (sometimes given as July 9 or July 9/10). His father was an orthodox priest and a writer and poet; his mother was a homemaker who invented implements, including a mechanical eggbeater, to help with her chores. As a schoolboy, Tesla was able to perform complicated calculations so rapidly that he was frequently accused of cheating. He trained as an engineer at the attended the Technical University at Graz, Austria, and the University of Prague. After emigrating to the United States in 1884, Tesla originally found work with Thomas Edison. However, the two scientists were not compatible, and Tesla soon established his own laboratory. Known variously as a genius, a visionary, a philosopher, and an eccentric, Tesla would frequently intuit some unsuspected scientific truth and only subsequently employ scientific means to prove his hypothesis.

Despite Tesla's enormous contributions to modern technology, he remains little known outside the realm of science. According to Margaret Cheney, author of Tesla : Man Out Of Time, there are a number of reasons for the inventor's relative obscurity. For one thing, Tesla never had an affiliation with any organization. Furthermore, because his research was so groundbreaking, Tesla's contemporaries often failed to understand his work.

The main reason that many people have never heard of him, however, is that other scientists are often given credit for Tesla's accomplishments. Thomas Edison is generally credited with Tesla's work with alternating current and Marconi is almost inevitably credited as the inventor of radio. In fact, Edison never worked with alternating current, considering it competition for his work with direct current (DC). Furthermore, although Marconi was granted a patent for radio in 1904, the circumstances under which it was granted are somewhat murky, as Tesla had received a radio patent in 1900. In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court restored Tesla's status as the inventor by upholding the priority of the 1900 patent.

Unfortunately, the Court's ruling came a few months too late to rectify the matter for Tesla. Nikola Tesla died in New York city on January 7, 1943. At his funeral, three Nobel Prize recipients delivered a tribute to Tesla (who never received the prize) as "one of the outstanding intellects of the world who paved the way for many of the technological developments of modern times."

The standard unit of magnetic flux density was named the tesla as a tribute to Tesla's accomplishments.

This was last updated in March 2009
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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