The fascinating life of Nikola Tesla, the man who electrified our world and fell in love with a pigeon

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Public domain

Without Nikola Tesla, many of the conveniences of modern life wouldn’t be possible.

The Serbian-American engineer and physicist had over 300 patents worldwide, and his inventions helped pave the way for alternating current (AC), electric motors, radios, fluorescent lights, lasers, and remote control, among many other things.

But he was also highly eccentric – from his bizarre sleeping and eating habits to his love of pigeons.

Here’s a glimpse into the fabulous life of one of history’s most fascinating geniuses.


Nikola Tesla was born on July 10, 1856 in Smiljan in the Austo-Hungarian Empire (modern-day Croatia).

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Statue of Tesla near his rebuilt birth house, Croatia
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Fizped/Wikimedia Commons

His father, Milutin Tesla, was a Serbian Orthodox Priest and his mother, Djuka Mandic, was an inventor of household appliances.

Source: Tesla Society


In college, Tesla was first interested in studying physics and mathematics, but he soon became interested in electricity.

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Public domain

He attended the Realschule, Karlstadt in 1873, the Polytechnic Institute in Graz, Austria and the University of Prague. He took a job as an electrical engineer at a telephone company in Budapest in 1881.

Source: Tesla Society


He had the idea for the induction motor while walking in a park with a friend.

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Ctac/Wikimedia Commons

Later, while he was in Strasbourg, France in 1883, he built a prototype of the induction motor (an AC motor powered by electromagnetic induction) and tested it successfully. Since he couldn’t get anyone in Europe interested in it, Tesla came to the United States to work for Thomas Edison in New York.

Source: Tesla Society


Tesla’s childhood dream was to harness the power of Niagara Falls.

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Wikimedia Commons

In 1895, he designed the first hydroelectric power plant in the Falls, which sealed in the victory of alternating current. A statue was later erected on Goat Island in Tesla’s honor.

Source: Tesla Society


For all his brilliance, Tesla was pretty eccentric — starting with his very strange diet…

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Andrew Magill/Flickr Creative Commons

Tesla gave up eating meat, and at one point, stopped eating solid foods. He drank bowls of warm milk and a potion made from vegetables like artichokes and celery, and ate honey.

Source: “The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla – Biography of a Genius


…to his sleep habits. He claimed he never slept for more than 2 hours at a time.

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Wikimedia Commons

However, his did admit to dozing off sometimes to “recharge his batteries.” According to one report, he once worked for 84 hours without sleeping.

Source: “Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla


Tesla discovered a principle of physics that forms the basis for nearly all devices that use AC power.

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Wikimedia Commons

In February 1882, Tesla discovered the rotating magnetic field, which he used to construct the AC induction motor and polyphase system for the generation, transmission, distribution and use of electric power.

Source: Tesla Society


He fought a ‘war’ with Thomas Edison over the best form of electrical current.

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Thomas Edison
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Public domain

While he was working in Edison’s lab in New Jersey, he began to butt heads with Edison over the best form of electrical current.

Edison favored direct current or DC (which flows in one direction), while Tesla favored alternating current or AC (which changes direction periodically). This led to the “war of the currents,” which Tesla would win because of AC’s greater efficiency.

Source: Tesla Society


He worked closely with industrialist and inventor George Westinghouse, and their partnership helped establish electricity across America.

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Wikimedia Commons

Tesla wrote a classic paper in which he introduced the concept of his motors and electrical systems called “A New System of Alternating Current Motors and Transformers,” in 1888. It caught the attention of industrialist and inventor George Westinghouse, and they ended up partnering up to work on bringing electricity to the rest of the country.

Source: Tesla Society


He invented the Tesla coil, a device that is widely used today in radios, TV sets, and other electronics.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tesla-coil-discharge.jpg

In 1891, Tesla developed an induction coil that produced high-frequency alternating currents, now known as the Tesla coil. He used it in experiments to produce electric lighting, X-rays, and wireless power, and it became the basis of radio and TV Today, the coils are mostly used in educational displays and entertainment.

Source: PBS.org


He patented the basic system of radio in 1896.

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Public domain

The invention of radio is often credited to Guglielmo Marconi, who made the first transatlantic radio transmission in 1901. But Tesla developed patents for the basic elements of a radio transmitter that were later used by Marconi, and which they fought about in court.

Source: Earlyradiohistory.us


Through his life, Tesla never married, but he once claimed he fell in love with a pigeon.

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Kevin Payravi/Wikimedia Commons

Tesla used to take walks to the park to feed the pigeons. He developed an unusual relationship with a white pigeon which used to visit him every day.

“I loved that pigeon as a man loves a women, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life,” Tesla once said.

Source: Tesla Society and Tesla Universe