The Untold Story of Nikola Tesla: Genius or a Great Scientist?

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Radio remote control

In 1898, Tesla demonstrated a radio-controlled boat, which he hoped to sell as a guided torpedo to global navies.

In 1898, Tesla demonstrated a boat using a coherer-based radio control, which he dubbed “telautomaton,” to the public during an electrical exhibition at Madison Square Garden. He attempted to sell his idea to the US military as a type of radio-controlled torpedo, but they showed little interest. Remote radio control remained a novelty until World War I and afterward, when several countries used it in military programs. Tesla further showcased his “Teleautomatics” during an address to the Commercial Club in Chicago on May 13, 1899, en route to Colorado Springs.

Wireless power

Tesla sitting in front of a spiral coil used in his wireless power experiments at his East Houston St. laboratory

From the 1890s through 1906, Tesla dedicated a significant amount of his time and fortune to developing wireless transmission of electrical power. This work was an expansion of his previous demonstrations in wireless lighting, utilizing coils to transmit power. Tesla envisioned this technology as a means to transmit large amounts of power globally and as a method for worldwide communications, as he had mentioned in his earlier lectures.

At the time Tesla was developing his ideas, there was no practical method to wirelessly transmit communication signals over long distances, let alone substantial amounts of power. Tesla had studied radio waves extensively and concluded that part of Heinrich Hertz’s existing research on them was incorrect. Furthermore, this new form of radiation was widely believed to be a short-distance phenomenon, seemingly ineffective beyond a mile. Tesla observed that even if the prevailing theories on radio waves were accurate, they were inadequate for his purposes. He believed that this form of “invisible light” would diminish over distance, similar to any other type of radiation, and travel in straight lines into space, becoming “hopelessly lost.”

By the mid-1890s, Tesla was exploring the idea of conducting electricity over long distances through the Earth or the atmosphere. He began experimenting with this concept, including setting up a large resonance transformer magnifying transmitter in his East Houston Street lab. Drawing from a common idea of the time that the Earth’s atmosphere was conductive, Tesla proposed a system involving balloons to suspend transmitting and receiving electrodes at altitudes above 30,000 feet (9,100 meters). He believed that the lower atmospheric pressure at such heights would enable him to send high voltages (millions of volts) over long distances.

Colorado Springs

Tesla’s Colorado Springs laboratory

To further study the conductive nature of low-pressure air, Tesla set up an experimental station at a high altitude in Colorado Springs in 1899. There, he could safely operate much larger coils than in the cramped confines of his New York lab. An associate arranged for the El Paso Electric Light Company to supply alternating current free of charge. To fund his experiments, Tesla convinced John Jacob Astor IV to invest $100,000 ($3,662,400 in today’s dollars), making Astor the majority shareholder in the Nikola Tesla Company. Astor believed he was primarily investing in a new wireless lighting system, but Tesla used the money to fund his Colorado Springs experiments. Upon his arrival, Tesla told reporters that he planned to conduct wireless telegraphy experiments, transmitting signals from Pikes Peak to Paris.

multiple-exposure picture of Tesla sitting next to his “magnifying transmitter” generating millions of volts. The 7-meter (23 ft) long arcs were not part of the normal operation, but only produced for effect by rapidly cycling the power switch.

Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only license CC BY 4.0

There, he conducted experiments with a large coil operating in the megavolt range, producing artificial lightning and thunder with discharges up to 135 feet (41 m) in length. At one point, he inadvertently burned out the generator in El Paso, causing a power outage. His observations of the electronic noise from lightning strikes led him to (incorrectly) conclude that the entire Earth could be used to conduct electrical energy.

During his time at the laboratory, Tesla observed unusual signals from his receiver, which he speculated to be communications from another planet. He mentioned them in a letter to a reporter in December 1899 and to the Red Cross Society in December 1900. Reporters sensationalized the story, jumping to the conclusion that Tesla was hearing signals from Mars. He elaborated on the signals in a February 9, 1901, Collier’s Weekly article entitled “Talking With Planets,” stating it had not been immediately apparent to him that he was hearing “intelligently controlled signals.” Tesla suggested the signals could have come from Mars, Venus, or other planets. It has been hypothesized that he may have intercepted Guglielmo Marconi’s European experiments in July 1899—Marconi may have transmitted the letter S (dot/dot/dot) in a naval demonstration, the same three impulses Tesla hinted at hearing in Colorado—or signals from another experimenter in wireless transmission.

Tesla had an agreement with the editor of The Century Magazine to produce an article on his findings. The magazine sent a photographer to Colorado to document the work being done there. The article, titled “The Problem of Increasing Human Energy,” appeared in the June 1900 edition of the magazine. In it, Tesla explained the superiority of the wireless system he envisioned. However, the article was more of a lengthy philosophical treatise than an understandable scientific description of his work. It was illustrated with what would become iconic images of Tesla and his Colorado Springs experiments.


Main article: Wardenclyffe Tower

Tesla’s Wardenclyffe plant on Long Island in 1904. From this facility, Tesla hoped to demonstrate wireless transmission of electrical energy across the Atlantic.

Tesla made the rounds in New York, trying to find investors for what he believed would be a viable system of wireless transmission. He wined and dined potential backers at the Waldorf-Astoria’s Palm Garden (the hotel where he was living at the time), The Players Club, and Delmonico’s. In March 1901, he secured $150,000 ($5,493,600 in today’s dollars) from J. P. Morgan in exchange for a 51% share of any generated wireless patents. With this funding, Tesla began planning the Wardenclyffe Tower facility to be built in Shoreham, New York, 100 miles (161 km) east of the city on the North Shore of Long Island.

By July 1901, Nikola Tesla had expanded his ambitious plans to construct a more powerful transmitter to surpass Marconi’s emerging radio-based communication system, which Tesla believed was inspired by his innovations. Eager to advance his vision of wireless transmission, Tesla approached J. P. Morgan, seeking additional funding to realize his larger-scale system. However, Morgan declined to provide further financial support for Tesla’s endeavors.

In December 1901, Guglielmo Marconi achieved a significant breakthrough by successfully transmitting the letter S from England to Newfoundland, marking a milestone in wireless communication. This achievement effectively positioned Marconi ahead of Tesla in the race to achieve such long-distance transmissions.

Following Marconi’s success, Tesla persisted in his efforts to secure backing for his grander plans. Just a month after Marconi’s accomplishment, Tesla proposed an even more ambitious concept to Morgan: a global system to transmit messages and power by controlling “vibrations throughout the globe”. Over the subsequent five years, Tesla wrote over 50 letters to Morgan, passionately pleading for and demanding additional funding to complete the construction of his ambitious Wardenclyffe project.

Despite facing financial challenges, Tesla continued to pursue his dream. He dedicated another nine months in 1902 to the project, during which the tower at Wardenclyffe was erected to its full height of 187 feet (57 m). In June 1902, Tesla relocated his laboratory operations from Houston Street in New York City to Wardenclyffe, where he focused intensely on advancing his pioneering work in wireless transmission.

By July 1901, Nikola Tesla had expanded his ambitious plans to construct a more powerful transmitter to surpass Marconi’s emerging radio-based communication system, which Tesla believed was inspired by his innovations. Eager to advance his vision of wireless transmission, Tesla approached J. P. Morgan, seeking additional funding to realize his larger-scale system. However, Morgan declined to provide further financial support for Tesla’s endeavors.

In December 1901, Guglielmo Marconi achieved a significant breakthrough by successfully transmitting the letter S from England to Newfoundland, marking a milestone in wireless communication. This achievement effectively positioned Marconi ahead of Tesla in the race to achieve such long-distance transmissions.

Following Marconi’s success, Tesla persisted in his efforts to secure backing for his grander plans. Just a month after Marconi’s accomplishment, Tesla proposed an even more ambitious concept to Morgan: a global system to transmit messages and power by controlling “vibrations throughout the globe”. Over the subsequent five years, Tesla wrote over 50 letters to Morgan, passionately pleading for and demanding additional funding to complete the construction of his ambitious Wardenclyffe project.

Despite facing financial challenges, Tesla continued to pursue his dream. He dedicated another nine months in 1902 to the project, during which the tower at Wardenclyffe was erected to its full height of 187 feet (57 m). In June 1902, Tesla relocated his laboratory operations from Houston Street in New York City to Wardenclyffe, where he focused intensely on advancing his pioneering work in wireless transmission.

Later years

After Wardenclyffe closed, Tesla persisted in seeking funding, continuing to correspond with J.P. Morgan’s son, Jack, in hopes of resurrecting his ambitious projects. Following J.P. Morgan’s passing, Tesla remained undeterred, reaching out to his successor to secure further financial backing for his visionary endeavors. In 1906, Tesla established offices at 165 Broadway in Manhattan, where he endeavored to raise capital by refining and promoting his existing patents.

Throughout the following years, Tesla relocated his operations several times in pursuit of financial stability and support for his inventions. He occupied space at the Metropolitan Life Tower from 1910 to 1914, leveraging the prestigious address to attract investors and collaborators. Despite his efforts, financial constraints forced him to vacate a short-term rental at the Woolworth Building after a few months.

By 1915, Tesla settled into office space at 8 West 40th Street, where he persevered until 1925. This period marked a challenging phase for Tesla, as he faced mounting financial difficulties. With many of his patents had expired, he struggled to sustain his inventive pursuits and generate breakthroughs amid financial hardship.

Tesla’s move to 8 West 40th Street coincided with a period of personal and professional adversity. Despite his ongoing efforts to secure funding and develop new technologies, he found himself on the brink of bankruptcy. Hindered by financial setbacks and the pressures of advancing age, Tesla’s later years were defined by the enduring struggle to maintain his inventive spirit amid financial adversity.

Bladeless turbine

Main article: Tesla turbine

Tesla’s bladeless turbine design

On his 50th birthday in 1906, Nikola Tesla unveiled a remarkable invention: a 200-horsepower (150 kilowatts) bladeless turbine capable of reaching 16,000 revolutions per minute (rpm). This innovative turbine design marked a significant advancement in Tesla’s quest to revolutionize power generation and mechanical engineering.

From 1910 to 1911, Tesla conducted extensive testing of his bladeless turbine engines at the Waterside Power Station in New York. These tests ranged in scale from 100 to 5,000 horsepower, showcasing the versatility and potential of his invention in various industrial applications.

Throughout his career, Tesla collaborated with several companies to further develop his turbine technology. From 1919 to 1922, he worked closely with Allis-Chalmers in Milwaukee, where he partnered with Hans Dahlstrand, the company’s chief engineer at the time. Together, they endeavored to refine the Tesla turbine and address engineering challenges that hindered its practical implementation.

Despite their efforts, technical complexities prevented the Tesla turbine from becoming a commercially viable device during Tesla’s lifetime. However, Tesla did license the turbine concept to a precision instrument company, which adapted it for use in luxury car speedometers and other specialized instruments. This adaptation demonstrated the versatility of Tesla’s ideas beyond their original scope, highlighting their potential in diverse technological applications.

Tesla’s bladeless turbine remains a testament to his visionary approach to engineering and innovation. Although it faced challenges in achieving widespread adoption, its influence and legacy endure in the realm of mechanical and fluid dynamics engineering, inspiring ongoing exploration and development in turbine technology.

Wireless lawsuits

During World War I, geopolitical tensions led to strategic disruptions in transatlantic communications. The British, aiming to control the information flow between the United States and Germany, took decisive action. They severed the transatlantic telegraph cable connecting the US directly to Germany and sought to curtail German wireless communication with the US by involving legal maneuvers.

The US Marconi Company initiated a lawsuit against the German radio company Telefunken, alleging patent infringement as part of the British strategy. In response, Telefunken enlisted the expertise of physicists Jonathan Zenneck and Karl Ferdinand Braun for their defense. Concurrently, Telefunken hired Nikola Tesla as a witness, paying him $1,000 per month for two years. Tesla’s role was pivotal in the legal proceedings, which eventually stalled and became irrelevant when the United States entered World War I against Germany in 1917.

In 1915, Tesla himself took legal action against the Marconi Company, claiming infringement of his wireless tuning patents. Marconi’s initial radio patent had been granted in the US in 1897, but subsequent attempts to patent improvements in radio transmission faced rejection due to conflicts with existing patents, including Tesla’s wireless power tuning patents from 1897. Tesla’s 1915 lawsuit against Marconi did not progress significantly, but it highlighted the ongoing disputes over radio technology patents.

In a related legal development, the Marconi Company later attempted to sue the US government over World War I patent infringements. A pivotal Supreme Court decision in 1943 restored the prior patents of Oliver Lodge, John Stone, and Tesla, acknowledging their contributions to radio technology. The court clarified that this decision did not undermine Marconi’s claim as the first to achieve radio transmission, but it questioned the validity of Marconi’s claims of certain patented improvements. As a result, the Marconi Company could not assert infringement on those specific patents.

These legal battles underscored the complex interplay of national interests, technological innovation, and patent rights during a period of global conflict, shaping the trajectory of radio communication and the recognition of pioneering inventors like Tesla in the field.

Nobel Prize rumors

On November 6, 1915, a report from Reuters in London caused a stir by announcing that the Nobel Prize in Physics for that year had been awarded jointly to Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. This news quickly circulated, sparking discussions and expectations among their supporters and the public alike. However, by November 15, a subsequent Reuters report from Stockholm clarified that the actual recipients of the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics were William Henry Bragg and Lawrence Bragg, honored “for their services in the analysis of crystal structure using X-rays.”

The initial confusion led to speculation and unsubstantiated rumors surrounding Tesla and Edison and their purported rejection of the Nobel Prize. Some claimed that either Tesla or Edison had declined the award, which the Nobel Foundation dismissed as ridiculous. According to the Foundation, recipients could only decline a Nobel Prize after it had been officially awarded to them.

Despite the clarification, subsequent biographers of Tesla have suggested that Edison and Tesla were originally intended as recipients of the Nobel Prize in 1915. They speculated that animosity between the two inventors played a role: each allegedly sought to downplay the other’s achievements and opposed the idea of sharing the prestigious award. There were even rumors that a wealthy Edison might have refused the prize to prevent Tesla from receiving the substantial prize money of $20,000 that accompanied the Nobel Prize at the time.

In the aftermath of these events, neither Tesla nor Edison went on to win a Nobel Prize in their lifetimes. Edison did receive one of the 38 bids for the prize in 1915, while Tesla similarly received one of the 38 bids in 1937. Despite their immense contributions to science and technology, their rivalry and the circumstances surrounding the 1915 Nobel Prize remain subjects of historical intrigue and speculation.

Second banquet meeting of the Institute of Radio Engineers, 23 April 1915. Tesla is seen standing in the center.

Tesla embarked on various ventures to commercialize devices centered around the production and application of ozone. One notable effort was through the Tesla Ozone Company, established in 1900, which marketed a device patented in 1896. This device was based on Tesla’s famous Tesla coil and was designed to generate ozone by bubbling it through different types of oils. The resulting ozone-oil mixture was promoted as a therapeutic gel, aiming to capitalize on the purported health benefits of ozone.

In addition to his ozone therapy device, Tesla also explored the potential of ozone as a room sanitizer for hospitals. This variation of his invention sought to utilize ozone’s disinfectant properties to create a cleaner and healthier environment in medical settings.

Beyond ozone-related innovations, Tesla delved into more unconventional ideas, including theories about the effects of electricity on the human brain. In 1912, he proposed an ambitious plan aimed at enhancing intelligence by saturating schoolrooms with “infinitesimal electric waves vibrating at high frequency.” Tesla envisioned wiring the walls of a classroom to create what he described as a stimulating electromagnetic field or “bath.” According to Tesla, this electromagnetic environment would have beneficial effects on students, making dull students more alert and bright.

Tesla’s proposal caught the attention of William H. Maxwell, the superintendent of New York City schools at the time, who provisionally approved the plan. Maxwell’s support reflected the openness of the era to novel scientific ideas and experimentation in education, despite the unconventional nature of Tesla’s proposal.

While Tesla’s ventures into ozone therapy and electromagnetic fields for education did not achieve widespread adoption or lasting success, they underscore his visionary approach to applying electricity and electromagnetic principles in unconventional ways beyond his more renowned achievements in electrical engineering and wireless technology.

Before World War I, Tesla sought overseas investors. After the war started, Tesla lost the funding he was receiving from his patents in European countries.

In the August 1917 edition of the magazine Electrical Experimenter, Nikola Tesla put forward a visionary concept suggesting the use of electricity to detect submarines. He proposed employing an “electric ray” of exceptionally high frequency, with the signal’s reflection viewed on a fluorescent screen—a concept reminiscent in some ways of modern radar technology. However, Tesla’s assumption that high-frequency radio waves could penetrate water was ultimately incorrect.

Despite this technical oversight, Tesla’s broader speculation about the necessity of a very strong high-frequency signal was noted to be prescient by Émile Girardeau, a figure involved in the development of France’s radar systems in the 1930s. Reflecting in 1953, Girardeau acknowledged that while Tesla did not have the means to realize his ideas at the time, he had correctly anticipated some fundamental requirements for effective radar technology.

In 1928, Tesla was granted U.S. patent 1,655,114 for an unconventional biplane design capable of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL). His design involved the gradual tilting of the aircraft through manipulation of its elevator devices during flight until it assumed a conventional flying position. Tesla envisioned this aircraft as a practical solution that could potentially be sold for less than $1,000, although the design was ultimately deemed impractical and did not see further development.

Throughout his career, Tesla’s inventive spirit and forward-thinking ideas continued to push the boundaries of technological innovation, even when some of his concepts were ahead of the available means to realize them. His contributions and visionary insights into various fields, including radar and aviation, left a lasting impact on the trajectory of scientific and engineering advancements in the 20th century.

Tesla had a further office at 350 Madison Ave but by 1928 he no longer had a laboratory or funding.

Living circumstances

Tesla lived at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City starting in 1900, where he accumulated a significant unpaid bill. Eventually, in 1922, he relocated to the St. Regis Hotel, marking the beginning of a pattern where he moved to different hotels every few years, often leaving debts behind.

During his stays in these hotels, Tesla developed a daily routine of walking to the park to feed pigeons. Initially, he fed them through the window of his hotel room, gradually becoming deeply involved in their care. He took on the role of a caretaker, nursing injured birds back to health.

Tesla spoke fondly of a particular injured white pigeon that visited him daily. He devoted considerable resources, totaling over $2,000 (equivalent to approximately $36,410 in 2023), towards caring for this bird. This included designing a special device to ensure the pigeon’s comfort while she recovered from a broken wing and leg.

Reflecting on his commitment to the pigeon’s care, Tesla remarked:

“I have been visited by a certain injured white pigeon daily. I spent over $2,000 to care for the bird, including a device I built to support her comfortably while her broken wing and leg healed.”

Tesla’s compassionate gesture towards the pigeons reflected a softer side to his intense scientific pursuits, illustrating his deep connection with nature and animals amidst his groundbreaking technological endeavors.

“I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them for years. But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings; that one was different. It was a female. I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me. I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.”

Tesla’s unpaid bills, coupled with complaints about the presence of pigeons and the mess they created, ultimately led to his eviction from the St. Regis Hotel in 1923. This pattern of financial difficulties and living arrangements persisted over the years, resulting in Tesla being forced to leave the Hotel Pennsylvania in 1930 and the Hotel Governor Clinton in 1934. At various points, he also took up residence at the Hotel Marguery, further illustrating his nomadic lifestyle during those years. Tesla’s eccentricities and financial struggles contributed to his transient existence, moving from one hotel to another while grappling with financial challenges and the upkeep of his unconventional habits.

In 1934, Tesla relocated to the Hotel New Yorker. Around this time, Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company initiated monthly payments of $125 to him, an amount equivalent to approximately $2,850 in today’s currency, in addition to covering his rent. The circumstances surrounding how this financial support came about vary in different accounts. Some sources suggest that Westinghouse was motivated by concerns over potential negative publicity stemming from Tesla’s impoverished living conditions, possibly after receiving warnings about the matter. To navigate Tesla’s reluctance to accept charity directly, the payments were framed as a “consulting fee.” According to Tesla biographer Marc Seifer, these payments could be seen as an “unspecified settlement.” Regardless of the exact arrangement, Westinghouse continued to provide financial support to Tesla for the remainder of his life, ensuring he had a measure of stability during his final years at the Hotel New Yorker.

Birthday press conferences

Tesla on Time magazine commemorating his 75th birthday

In 1931, a young journalist named Kenneth M. Swezey organized a grand celebration for Nikola Tesla’s 75th birthday. This event marked a significant moment in Tesla’s later life, drawing congratulations from eminent figures in science and engineering, including Albert Einstein. The occasion was further highlighted when Tesla graced the cover of Time magazine, with the caption “All the world’s his power house,” recognizing his pioneering contributions to electrical power generation.

Impressed by the success of his 75th birthday celebration, Tesla decided to make it an annual tradition. Each year, he hosted a lavish gathering where he treated guests to an elaborate spread of food and drink, often featuring dishes of his creation. These events became opportunities for Tesla to showcase his inventions, share stories from his adventurous past, discuss contemporary events, and occasionally present perplexing claims and futuristic ideas.

At the 1932 birthday party, Tesla captivated attendees with a bold assertion: he claimed to have invented a motor powered by cosmic rays. This concept reflected his enduring fascination with harnessing natural forces for technological innovation.

The following year, in 1933, at the age of 77, Tesla made headlines again during his birthday celebration. He informed reporters that after 35 years of dedicated work, he was on the brink of unveiling proof of a revolutionary new form of energy. Describing it as a theory of energy in direct opposition to Einsteinian physics, Tesla asserted that this energy source could be tapped using a device that would be economically viable and endure for up to 500 years.

During the same event, Tesla also disclosed ongoing projects that showcased his wide-ranging interests and visionary thinking. He spoke about his endeavors to develop a method for transmitting individualized private radio wavelengths, breakthroughs in metallurgy, and a technique for photographing the retina to record thoughts—a concept that hinted at his deep interest in the intersection of technology and human cognition.

Tesla’s annual birthday celebrations not only served as occasions for scientific and technological discourse but also underscored his unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of innovation well into his later years. These events further solidified Tesla’s reputation as a visionary inventor whose ideas continued to captivate and intrigue the public and the scientific community alike.

Newspaper representation of the thought camera Tesla described at his 1933 birthday party

In 1932, during his annual birthday celebration, Nikola Tesla made a bold declaration that captured the attention of reporters and the public alike: he claimed to have invented a motor powered by cosmic rays. This assertion reflected Tesla’s ongoing fascination with harnessing natural phenomena for technological innovation.

The following year, at the age of 77, during his 1933 birthday event, Tesla made headlines once again. He revealed to reporters that after 35 years of relentless research and experimentation, he was on the verge of unveiling proof of a groundbreaking new form of energy. According to Tesla, this energy theory stood in stark contrast to Einsteinian physics and held the potential to revolutionize power generation. He asserted that the apparatus required to tap into this energy would be cost-effective to operate and could endure for an impressive 500 years.

In addition to his revelations about energy, Tesla also discussed several other ambitious projects he was pursuing. He spoke about his efforts to develop a method for transmitting individualized private radio wavelengths, indicating his ongoing interest in advancing communication technologies. Tesla also hinted at breakthroughs in metallurgy and described a pioneering technique he was exploring: the ability to photograph the retina to record human thoughts—an idea that underscored his fascination with the intersection of technology and human cognition.

At the subsequent celebration in 1934, Tesla once again seized the spotlight with another audacious claim. He announced to reporters that he had conceived a revolutionary superweapon he termed “teleforce,” but which became more popularly known as his “death ray.” Tesla portrayed this invention as a defensive weapon capable of ending all wars. He envisioned “teleforce” being deployed along a country’s border, where it could effectively repel ground-based infantry or aircraft attacks.

The concept of Tesla’s death ray gained further attention when, in 1940, the New York Times reported that the weapon could have a range of 250 miles (400 km) and estimated its development cost at US$2 million (equivalent to $43.5 million in 2023). However, Tesla never disclosed detailed plans or mechanisms of the device during his lifetime.

Decades later, in 1984, detailed documents related to Tesla’s “teleforce” emerged from the Nikola Tesla Museum archive in Belgrade. These documents, titled “The New Art of Projecting Concentrated Non-dispersive Energy through the Natural Media,” described an innovative apparatus involving an open-ended vacuum tube with a gas jet seal to eject particles. The method involved charging tungsten or mercury slugs to millions of volts and directing them in streams using electrostatic repulsion.

Throughout his later years, Tesla endeavored to garner interest from various countries, including the US War Department, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia, in his ambitious invention. While Tesla’s death ray remained a controversial and enigmatic concept, it underscored his relentless pursuit of groundbreaking technologies aimed at advancing science and safeguarding humanity.

In 1935, Nikola Tesla celebrated his 79th birthday with a gathering that captivated the media and public alike, as he delved into a variety of remarkable claims and inventions. Among his assertions, Tesla boldly stated that he had discovered the cosmic ray back in 1896, positioning himself at the forefront of understanding these high-energy particles from outer space.

Tesla also asserted that he had invented a method to produce direct current through electromagnetic induction, a significant achievement in the realm of electrical engineering. He discussed his mechanical oscillator with great enthusiasm, describing it as a device poised to revolutionize the industry and earn him a staggering $100 million within a mere two years.

One of the most sensational claims Tesla made during the event was related to his mechanical oscillator’s power. He recounted an incident from 1898 when a version of his oscillator allegedly caused an earthquake in his laboratory located at 46 East Houston Street in Lower Manhattan. According to Tesla, the vibrations were so intense that they shook not only his lab but also neighboring streets.

Tesla went on to suggest that his oscillator had the potential to demolish structures as substantial as the Empire State Building with just 5 pounds (2.3 kg) of air pressure—a claim that underscored the magnitude of his inventions in the public eye.

Moreover, Tesla proposed using his oscillators to transmit vibrations into the ground, a concept he termed “telegeodynamics.” He asserted that this technology could operate effectively over any distance and serve diverse purposes such as communication or locating underground mineral deposits.

In 1937, Tesla’s prominence and achievements were further recognized during an event held at the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel New Yorker. On this occasion, he was honored with the Order of the White Lion by the Czechoslovak ambassador and received a medal from the Yugoslav ambassador, highlighting his international stature.

Amidst discussions at the event regarding Tesla’s infamous “death ray,” he made a resolute statement to the press: “But it is not an experiment … I have built, demonstrated and used it. Only a little time will pass before I can give it to the world.” This declaration intensified intrigue and speculation surrounding Tesla’s advanced technologies and their potential implications for global defense and security.

Throughout his later years, Nikola Tesla remained a figure of both fascination and controversy, continuously pushing the boundaries of scientific inquiry and technological innovation, while captivating the imagination of the public with his visionary ideas and extraordinary claims.


Room 3327 of the Hotel New Yorker, where Tesla died

In the fall of 1937, at the age of 81, Nikola Tesla’s nightly routine took a tragic turn. Known for his habitual late-night walks to feed the pigeons, Tesla left the Hotel New Yorker after midnight as usual. While crossing a street a few blocks from the hotel, he was struck by a moving taxicab. The impact threw Tesla to the ground, resulting in severe wrenched injuries to his back and three broken ribs. Despite the gravity of his injuries, Tesla, adhering to his lifelong aversion to medical consultation, refused to see a doctor. As a consequence, the true extent of his injuries was never fully ascertained, and Tesla never fully recovered from the accident.

Commemorative plaque, New Yorker Hotel

On January 7, 1943, at the age of 86, Nikola Tesla passed away in solitude in Room 3327 of the Hotel New Yorker. His death was discovered by maid Alice Monaghan, who entered Tesla’s room, disregarding the “do not disturb” sign that Tesla had placed on his door two days earlier. Upon examination, Assistant Medical Examiner H.W. Wembley determined that Tesla’s death was due to coronary thrombosis, a form of heart attack.

Nikola Tesla’s passing marked the end of an era for one of history’s most brilliant and enigmatic inventors. Throughout his lifetime, Tesla’s pioneering work in electricity and wireless communication laid the groundwork for numerous technological advancements that continue to shape the modern world. Despite his achievements, Tesla lived his final years in relative obscurity and solitude, a stark contrast to the impact his innovations would ultimately have on generations to come.

Two days after Nikola Tesla’s death on January 7, 1943, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) directed the Alien Property Custodian to seize Tesla’s belongings. This action was prompted by concerns over the potential national security implications of Tesla’s work and his extensive collection of notes and inventions. John G. Trump, a prominent electrical engineer and professor at M.I.T., was tasked with evaluating Tesla’s possessions as a technical aide to the National Defense Research Committee.

  • Over three days, John Trump meticulously examined Tesla’s documents and equipment. In his subsequent report, Trump concluded that there was nothing among Tesla’s belongings that posed a hazard if they fell into unfriendly hands. He noted that Tesla’s focus and efforts over the past 15 years had been primarily speculative, philosophical, and promotional in nature. Trump’s assessment clarified that while Tesla had been preoccupied with concepts related to the production and wireless transmission of power, his work did not encompass new, practical, and viable principles or methods to achieve these ambitious goals.

The FBI’s decision to seize Tesla’s effects and John Trump’s thorough investigation underscored the government’s cautious approach towards Tesla’s legacy and the potential implications of his ideas in the context of national defense and technological security.

In a box purported to contain a part of Tesla’s “death ray”, Trump found a 45-year-old multidecade resistance box.

Gilded urn with Tesla’s ashes, in his favorite geometric object, a sphere (Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade)

On January 10, 1943, a solemn moment of remembrance unfolded as New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia delivered a heartfelt eulogy written by Slovene-American author Louis Adamic over the airwaves of WNYC radio. Accompanying this tribute were poignant violin pieces—”Ave Maria” and “Tamo daleko”—played softly in the background, resonating with the mournful atmosphere enveloping the city.

Two days later, on January 12, a grand state funeral was held in honor of Nikola Tesla at the majestic Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. The solemn ceremony drew a gathering of two thousand people, reflecting the profound respect and admiration for the pioneering inventor. Following the service, Tesla’s body was transported to Ferncliff Cemetery in Ardsley, New York, where it was later cremated, marking the end of his physical journey on Earth.

The day after the funeral, another solemn service took place at Trinity Chapel, now known as the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sava, in New York City. This additional ceremony, led by prominent priests, provided further opportunity for mourning and reflection among Tesla’s admirers and the Serbian Orthodox community, underscoring the enduring impact of his legacy in both scientific and cultural realms.


In 1952, under the persistence of Tesla’s nephew, Sava Kosanović, Nikola Tesla’s entire estate was packed into 80 trunks marked with his initials, “N.T.”, and shipped to Belgrade. This significant collection included Tesla’s personal belongings, documents, and scientific notes, preserving his legacy for future generations.

Five years later, in 1957, Kosanović’s secretary, Charlotte Muzar, undertook the solemn task of transporting Tesla’s ashes from the United States to Belgrade. These ashes, a poignant symbol of Tesla’s physical remains, were carefully preserved and transported with reverence to their final resting place.

Today, visitors to the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade can witness Tesla’s ashes displayed in a gold-plated sphere atop a marble pedestal. This dignified memorial serves as a focal point for honoring the life and achievements of one of history’s most brilliant inventors, ensuring that Tesla’s contributions to science and technology continue to be celebrated and remembered worldwide.

Short Introduction about Tesla

Nikola Tesla’s personal life was as complex and intriguing as his scientific endeavors. Despite his immense contributions to technology and engineering, Tesla was known for leading a somewhat solitary and ascetic lifestyle, driven primarily by his passion for invention and discovery.

Nikola Tesla stood tall at 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m) and maintained a consistent weight of 142 pounds (64 kg) for nearly four decades from 1888 until about 1926. His physical appearance left a lasting impression on those who encountered him, with newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane characterizing him as “almost the tallest, almost the thinnest and certainly the most serious man who goes to Delmonico’s regularly.”

In New York City, Tesla cut a distinguished figure, known for his elegant and stylish attire, meticulously groomed appearance, and disciplined daily routines. His meticulous grooming and sartorial choices were not just personal preferences but also tools he used to bolster his professional image and foster business relationships.

Described as having light eyes that reflected his intense focus, Tesla possessed notably large hands, with his thumbs particularly remarked upon as “remarkably big.” These physical attributes, combined with his towering stature and dignified demeanor, contributed to Tesla’s memorable presence wherever he went.

Early Life and Education: Born on July 10, 1856, in Smiljan, Croatia (then part of the Austrian Empire, now modern-day Croatia), Tesla grew up in a Serbian family. From a young age, he displayed remarkable intellectual abilities and a deep curiosity about the natural world. He was heavily influenced by his mother, Đuka Tesla, who invented household appliances and encouraged her son’s early interest in engineering and science.

Tesla attended the Technical University of Graz and later the University of Prague before leaving for the United States in 1884 to work for Thomas Edison. This move marked the beginning of his transformative career in electrical engineering.

Personal Habits and Eccentricities: Tesla was known for his meticulous routines and habits. He was a devout adherent to cleanliness and hygiene, often to the point of obsession. Reports suggest that he washed his hands frequently and avoided shaking hands with others due to his aversion to germs. His obsession with cleanliness extended to his living quarters, which he kept impeccably tidy and organized.

In terms of diet, Tesla practiced vegetarianism and avoided consuming meat, attributing his longevity and energy levels to this dietary choice. He also had a preference for specific foods like milk and honey, which he believed contributed to his overall health.

Relationships and Social Life: Despite his intense dedication to his work, Tesla was known to form strong attachments with certain individuals. He had close friendships with a few notable figures, including writer Mark Twain, with whom he shared a mutual admiration and intellectual camaraderie.

Tesla’s interactions with others were often formal and businesslike, reflecting his commitment to maintaining a professional demeanor. While he had acquaintances within New York City’s social elite, his focus on his inventions and scientific pursuits meant he seldom formed deep personal relationships or pursued romantic interests.

Financial Challenges and Living Arrangements: Throughout his life, Tesla struggled financially despite his groundbreaking inventions and patents. He often found himself in debt due to the high costs of his experiments and the failure of some of his ambitious projects, such as the Wardenclyffe Tower.

Tesla’s living arrangements were also transient. He moved frequently between hotels in New York City, where he lived for decades. His preference for solitude and his eccentricities, including his habit of feeding pigeons daily in the park, contributed to his solitary lifestyle.

Legacy and Later Years: Despite facing financial difficulties and failing health in his later years, Tesla continued to pursue new ideas and inventions. He remained dedicated to his vision of harnessing natural forces for the betterment of humanity, even as public interest in his work waned.

Nikola Tesla passed away on January 7, 1943, in New York City. His legacy as a pioneer of electrical engineering and a visionary inventor endures to this day, inspiring countless scientists, engineers, and innovators worldwide. Tesla’s personal life, marked by his devotion to scientific inquiry and his idiosyncratic habits, remains a testament to the singular genius and complexity of his character.

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