Tesla, the electrical engineer
An electric socket. We see this strange object ont he wall every day. We do not need to be an electrical engineer to know it provides us with electric current. But what kind of current? And whom can we thank for the convienence of a continuous supply of electricity.
The story begins in July 1856, when the brilliant inventor, engineer and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla was born, whom we can thank for the continuous electrical supply of our civilization based on alternating current. Many people think that he is the real father of the modern electricity era. He invented the three-phase electric power, alternating motors, wireless energy transmission theory, energy-saving lighting, remote control, radio and, last but not least, solar power plants and other renewable energy sources. His work contributed greatly to the Second Industrial Revolution and markedly defined our present economic and social life.
The young electrical engineer
Tesla’s engineering interest was inherited from his mother, who invented smaller household structures as well. Already in his childhood, it was obvious that he had unique abilities, since he was able to memorize whole books, with the help of his visual memory. His father was an orthodox priest, who would have liked to see his son in reverend, but Tesla, for everybody’s sake, insisted to the engineering course. At the age of 19, he began his mechanical engineering studies at the Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, then studied in Prague in the 1870s. Then he moved to Budapest to work as chief engineer in the development of the Puskás Tivadar’s telephone exchange in 1881.
Shortly thereafter, he invented a speakerphone, which was actually the first loudspeaker. Already at this time he had dealt with the theory of the alternating current engine. Since the European opportunities were really narrow for him, and after several years of trying he couldn’t patent his engineering inventions, at the age of 28 he decided to take a chance at Edison, the inventor of the light bulb in America.
He arrived in the United States in 1884, with a suitcase and a testimonial from Puskás Tivadar. At this time, Edison was a worldwide known inventor and business magnet whose direct current had been standardized throughout the United States. Tesla began working with him as an electrical engineer, and developed Edison’s DC motors and machines until Tesla found out that Edison’s $ 50,000 proposal for his work was only the part of the American humor. So, because of his humiliation, Tesla quitted and decided to sell his AC dynamo and engine to the Westinghouse Company . So the War of the Currents had begun (for more details).
Tesla received $ 220,000 for patent rights. He had enabled the Westinghouse Company to build a water-powered power plant for the Niagara Falls, thus solving the power supply in New York. It was the first US hydroelectric power station in the United States, which had become world- famous. From here on, alternating current had spread steadily throughout the world til this system had become the main pillar of the supply of electricity.
Apart from the alternating current, Tesla discovered many other inventions during his career (including dynamo and induction motors), fundamentally changing the science of electrical engineering. He was also a pioneer in the exploration of radar technology, X-ray technology, remote control and rotating magnetic field.
The disgraced Tesla
Possessed by the theory of wireless energy transmission, around 1900, Tesla began to implement his most daring idea: to build a wireless communication system to provide free flow of information and energy supply. If his plan had succeeded, today we would certainly have a completely different social and economic image. But he couldn’t achieve his goals, and because of the lack of investors, Tesla was forced to report bankruptcy.
His death and his legacy
After the breakdown of his nervous system, Tesla finally returned to his job, mainly as a consultant. But as time went by, his ideas became increasingly whimsical. He became introverted, and his strangeness was even more emphasized by his obsession of the central park pigeons.
The poor, hermit Tesla eventually died on January 7, 1943, at the age of 86 in New York, where he lived for nearly 60 years. But his legacy is indisputable and epoch-making. Even if he did not realize this in his life (as Marconi received Nobel Prize for Tesla’s discovery, but after Tesla’s death, the judges found unarguable proof that the original inventor of the radio was not Marconi, but Tesla).