Nikola Tesla was born in July, 1856, in the village of Smiljan, in the Austrian Empire. He would eventually make his way to the United States, where he would become renowned for his achievements and showmanship as an inventor and futurist, garnering an image in popular culture as an archetypal “mad scientist.”
Here is a look back at some of the most amazing and significant inventions Tesla created.
The Death Ray
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Tesla’s most infamous invention was one that existed only in theory: the Death Ray. Tesla claimed he had invented a particle beam in the 1930s, capable of generating an intense targeted beam of energy at enemy planes or vehicles. The so-called “death ray” was never constructed, however, even though Tesla showed plans for the device to various military organizations in the United States.
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Another invention Tesla demonstrated at the 1893 World’s Expo in Chicago was the wireless transmission of electricity, firing up a series of phosphorous light bulbs in a process he called electrodynamic induction. Tesla went on to theorize that such technology would make it possible to shoot power over long distances in the atmosphere, supplying distant destinations with electricity.
An Earthquake Machine
In 1893, Tesla patented a steam-powered electric generator called an oscillator. Later in life Tesla claimed one version of the oscillator was powerful enough to cause earthquakes, and did so in one case in New York City in 1898. Dubbed Tesla’s earthquake machine, the inventor also claimed he had the machine destroyed, and swore all his laboratory assistants to secrecy.
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In 1887, Tesla patented a design for an alternating-current commutatorless induction motor. Using a motor with rotating magnetic fields, the invention allowed for the efficient use of electricity to drive devices like fans, pumps, and other household tools. One of the most recent and popular uses of Tesla’s invention, over a century later, is in a car brandishing his name: Tesla Motors.
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While it’s unclear who exactly invented the first lasers, some of the earliest research on lasers was carried out by Tesla, mostly in relation to his death ray and particle weapon theories. His work would go on to inspire other researchers in the field, however, who put the devices to more peaceful uses.
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Arguably Tesla’s most significant invention was the alternating current motor and transmission system. The method of electricity transmission was demonstrated at the 1893 World’s Expo in Chicago, causing a stir as Tesla showed his design for a system of long-range energy transmission. The AC method was opposed by Thomas Edison and his business partners, however, who backed direct current (DC), sparking a public relations war between the two inventors. AC eventually won out, however, and today Tesla’s invention supplies power to every home and business in North America.
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Tesla was also involved in early research into radio transmission, which extended to his invention of the first remote controlled model boat, demonstrated in 1898. Using several batteries, radio signals controlled switches which operated the boat’s engine and controls. With this invention, Tesla predicted a future race of robots, which would be able to perform labor for humans.
The Tesla Coil
In 1891, Tesla invented one of his most famous creations: the Tesla Coil. The coil was a resonant transformer circuit, capable of producing electric currents and was used by Tesla to conduct his experiments with lighting, as well as X-ray generation and electrotherapy.
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Although German physicist Willhelm Röntgen is widely credited with the discovery of X-rays in 1895, Tesla was experimenting with the unique type of radiation independently around the same time, with his research contributing greatly to the understanding of X-rays on human flesh and producing some of the first X-ray images.