10 of the Most Important Inventions of Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla was a genius inventor who created some groundbreaking inventions. Tesla also collaborated with many big names and companies in history.
Because some of his ideas were considered far out there at the time, Tesla is often featured in science fiction television shows and movies. Here we shine a light on some of his most notable works and explore some other commonly asked questions about the man and his life.
What was Nikola Tesla's education?
Nikola Tesla's education began when he was a young boy in Smiljan, Croatia; then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At a young age, he showed remarkable imagination and creativity and also had some talent as a poet.
He would spend his pre-university days at the Realschule, Karlsdadt, later renamed Johann-Rudolph-Glauber Realschule Karlstadt. After completing his studies there, Tesla decided to pursue a career in engineering.
To this end, Tesla attended the Technical University at Graz, Austria, and the University of Prague. At Graz, Tesla studied mathematics and physics and later studied philosophy at the Unversity of Prague.
While at Graz, he was first introduced to the Gramme dynamo that operated as an electrical generator and, when reversed, could also act as an electrical motor.
This experience influenced him deeply and, so it is said, encouraged him to first conceive of a way to use alternating current advantageously. In the early-1880s, while working at the Central Telephone Exchange in Budapest, Tesla built on his thinking by visualizing the principle of the rotating magnetic field and developed plans for an induction motor that would ultimately become the first-ever utilization of AC.
He would later move to Paris to work on direct current powerplants with the Continental Edison Company. Soon after, he would emigrate to the United States at the age of 28.
When was Nikola Tesla's death and how did he die?
Tesla's final years were filled with controversy and an apparent decline in his sanity. He would spend his last decade living alone in the Hotel New Yorker and working on new inventions even as his health and mental condition deteriorated.
Between 1933 and 1943, Tesla occupied a suite in rooms 3327 and 3328 at the Hotel New Yorker and he would rarely receive guests. He also ate an exclusively vegetarian diet and had his meals prepared for him personally by the hotel's chef.
Tesla also apparently developed a fixation with the number three and would obsessively wash his hands and body after developing a form of mysophobia (germophobia). In fact, when the hotel staff was permitted to enter his room, they were asked to remain at least three feet away from him.
On the 8th of January 1943, Tesla's body was found in his hotel room. It was later discovered that he had died at approximately 10:45 pm on the 7th of January 1943.
The visiting physician quickly qualified the cause of death to be coronary thrombosis. A disorder normally caused by a build of cholesterol and fats in the blood vessel walls, primary causes for it are high LDL cholesterol diet, smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and hypertension.
But this is not the entire story. Tesla also experienced a serious accident a few years before his death that may have contributed to his ultimate demise. In the autumn of 1937, Tesla left his hotel for his regular commute to the local cathedral and library. While crossing the street, he was hit by a taxicab and thrown to the ground.
This accident severely damaged his back and broke several ribs. He never consulted a doctor and apparently learned to cope with his injuries on his own.
How many patents did Nikola Tesla have?
Tesla was one of the most prolific and innovative engineers and inventors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As previously mentioned, his illustrious inventive endeavors began in the early-1880s while he was working at the Central Telegraph Office in Budapest.
However, there is little, if any, information about attempts to file any patents for his work at this time. Tesla's first-ever confirmed patent, for the electric arc lamp, was filed after his arrival in the United States, in March of 1884.
The vast majority of his patents were filed after he left Edison's employ and founded his own company, Tesla Electric Light and Manufacturing. Up until 1928, Tesla appears to have protected many of his inventions with patents all across the world.
During this period, his first patent was the US patent no. 334,823 for a commutator for dynamo-electric machines, and according to the Tesla Foundation, his last was the last US patent no. 1,655,114 for an apparatus for aerial transport.
According to U.S. patent records, Tesla held around 112 registered U.S. patents for his work. It is known that Tesla filed a number of patents in other countries, but some of these records are harder to definitively quantify with certainty today.
It is believed that Nikola Tesla held somewhere in the order of 196 patents for his tech, across 26 countries worldwide. Of the non-US patents, the largest number appears to have been filed in Great Britain, with 30 patents granted.
Tesla also held about 10 patents in France, 27 in Belgium, 21 in Germany, 19 in Italy, and 15 in Austria. He also appears to have filed a handful of patents in a number of other countries, including Spain, Belgium, Brazil, and Italy.
The Tesla Foundation has estimated that Tesla held a total of over 300 patents across five continents. However, it must be born in mind that many of these patents were for the same inventions rather than unique developments.
Interestingly, according to an analysis of his patents, his most protected invention was his pump and turbine (US patents 1,061,142 and 1,061,206). For these, he was granted 23 patents in 22 countries.
Of all his patents, 54 were granted in the United States. 1889 appears to have been his most prolific year, with a total fo 39 patents filed relating to his polyphase system.
Tesla also either did not file patent protection for a number of other inventions he came up with throughout his career. A prime example being his application of high-frequency current for medical purposes.
What were Nikola Tesla's top ten inventions?
So, without further ado, here are ten of Nikola Tesla's most famous inventions. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.
1. The Tesla Coil
Chances are that you have already seen this invention. It is a transformer used to produce high-voltage, low-current, high-frequency alternating-current electricity. To observers, it appears as if lightning is being shot into the air.
A Tesla coil consists of a primary coil and secondary coil, each with its own capacitor to store electrical energy. The two coils and capacitors are connected by a spark gap. A high-voltage source powers the system.
The primary coil's capacitor eventually builds up so much charge that it breaks down the air resistance in the spark gap. Then, the current flows out of the capacitor down the primary coil and creates a magnetic field.
This field collapses quickly and generates an electric current in the secondary coil. The voltage zipping through the air between the two coils creates sparks in the gap and, eventually, the charge in the secondary capacitor becomes so high that it breaks free in a spectacular burst of electric current.
The resulting high-frequency voltage can illuminate fluorescent bulbs several feet away with no wire connection.
2. The Magnifying Transmitter
Tesla had intended the Tesla Coil to be part of a wireless power system and was a mainstay of many of Tesla’s other experiments.
By running a wire connected to the resonator around his lab he permeated his lab with electromagnetic energy and was able to light a fluorescent bulb held in his hand because the voltage drop through the air was great enough to cause a sufficient current flow.
Using a magnifying transmitter, he was also reportedly able to light a field of bulbs at a distance of 1 km. The magnifying transmitter was an adaptation of the Tesla coil, only instead of discharging to the earth, the magnifying transmitter created standing waves of electrical energy, which could be harnessed by a tuned receiving circuit.
3. The Tesla Turbine
The fuel efficiency of his engine was as high as 90%, a big achievement considering this is similar to the efficiency of some modern turbines.
4. The Shadowgraph
While Rontgen has been credited with developing the first X-ray films, called shadowgraphs, there is clear evidence that Tesla was also working in this area. The problem is that Tesla lost a lot of his work due to a fire in his lab.
Tesla may well have produced the first x-ray image in the United States when he attempted to use a vacuum tube to obtain an image of Mark Twain. However, instead of Twain, the resulting image showed the screw for adjusting the camera lens.
He did later obtain shadowgraph images of the human body, shortly after Roentgen published his discovery on November 8, 1895. Tesla also described some clinical benefits of x-rays.
5. The Radio
Before his lab burned down, Tesla discovered that he could use his coils to transmit and receive powerful radio signals, tuning them to resonate at the same frequency. By early 1895, he was ready to transmit a signal 50 miles from his lab, to West Point, New York. But the fire in Tesla's lab destroyed his work.
While he was rebuilding, a young Italian experimenter named Guglielmo Marconi, who was working in England, took out the first wireless telegraphy patent.
When Marconi later set up long-distance demonstrations, he used a Tesla oscillator to transmit the signals across the English Channel.
6. The Neon Lamp
Tesla did not invent fluorescent or neon lights, but he did contribute to improving both inventions. He took the lights and created the first neon sign.
At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, he demonstrated neon light signs and how they can make unique designs and even form words. Thanks to Tesla you can identify your favorite bar.
7. The Niagara Falls Transformer House
When it came to deciding what company would build a power generator at Niagara Falls, Thomas Edison was the first choice. After reviewing Tesla’s work for Westinghouse Electric, though, the Niagara Falls commission went with Tesla’s alternating current power.
Despite doubts, Tesla’s system worked well and became a standard for hydroelectric power.
8. The Induction Motor
The first AC commutator-free three-phase induction motor was invented independently by Galileo Ferraris and Nikola Tesla. Although Ferraris presented his engine first, in 1885, it was Tesla who filed for a patent first.
George Westinghouse, who was developing an alternating current power system at that time, licensed Tesla's patents in 1888. This type of motor is commonly used in vacuums, blow dryers, and power tools, even today.
9. The Radio Controlled Boat
The Teleautomaton was the first radio-controlled boat that was designed by Tesla. After being denied a patent because the patent office didn’t think it was feasible, he proved them wrong by demonstrating the boat at the Electrical Exhibition in 1898.
10. Alternating Current
Alternating current is considered Tesla’s crowning achievement. While not the inventor of AC power, he made it easy to use widespread.
AC power allows for electricity to be sent over long distances much more efficiently. Westinghouse bought Tesla’s AC patents and used them to bid on the lighting of the Chicago World’s Fair.
They won the contract and were able to provide power at around $150,000, which is less than it would have cost to provide power using direct current.
That's a wrap, as they say.
Tesla's apparent innate skill for invention and unfathomable imagination made him one of the most prolific inventors of our age. While we have selected but a few of his many inventions, it is clear that his genius was unparalleled in his time, and perhaps ours.
And that raises an interesting question. If Tesla was born today, how different would the world be in the future?
We'll let you muse over that.