Keith Wilson - Electrical engineer
We’ve written about Nikola Tesla before in Electrical Tester, but this enigmatic figure, who some regard as the true father of today’s electrical technology, continues to hold a strange fascination, not least for those who work in the electrical sector. We are, therefore, presenting some of the lesser-known facts about this doughty pioneer.
Nikola Tesla is famous for his inventions as well as his quirks, typical for a genius of his stature. He was born during a lightning storm, and the rest of his life was just as extraordinary. He pursued science relentlessly and envisaged a world where scientific research improved and enriched peoples’ lives for generations to come.
Tesla is famous for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current electricity system, but there is much more that meets the eye for this eccentric figure! So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the top five lesser-known facts, myths and trivia about the great man.
1. Tesla might well have been the actual inventor of the radio
A somewhat disputed and controversial fact, Tesla is believed to have created one of the first practical applications for radio waves, which had been predicted by Heinrich Hertz. His invention involved a remote-controlled boat with an antenna. Tesla was able to change its direction by transmitting radio waves to the boat, where they were translated into mechanical movements of its rudder. This invention coincided with Marconi’s wireless transmissions over the Atlantic, leaving many in doubt about who discovered radio waves first.
2. He foresaw the ecological decline of the planet
A keen observer of the world around him, Tesla understood early on that consumer society was on the up and that humans were using the Earth’s resources at an alarming rate. And, as agriculture and farming are the greatest pollutants and destroyers of natural habitats today, Tesla was right in assuming that a vegetarian diet would be far less burdening for mother Earth: “There is no doubt that some plant food, such as oatmeal, is more economical than meat, and superior to it in regard to both mechanical and mental performance. Such food, moreover, taxes our digestive organs decidedly less, and, in making us more contented and sociable, produces an amount of good difficult to estimate.”
3. He would have been diagnosed with OCD by today’s standards
It is widely held that Tesla suffered from a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). He hated touching things that appeared to be dirty (even hair!), which may be linked to the health scares he experienced in his youth when he was bed-bound with cholera.
He also hated jewellery, pearls and anything round! As a dapper young man himself, Tesla had very rigid aesthetic beliefs and somehow round items did not fit in his vision of beauty and being well dressed. An anecdote says that he was so appalled by pearl jewellery that he refused to speak to women wearing it. He even sent his secretary home once for the same reason!
Later in life he developed an obsession with the number three, which meant that he would circle a building three times before entering it.
4. The US Government still keeps some of his inventions classified
In the days of Oculus Rift and artificial intelligence, what could Tesla have possibly invented that is so significant it has to be kept away from the public, decades after his death? After his passing in 1943, the Office of Alien Property seized many of his documents and experiments and, to this day, they remain classified. Which begs the question of what exciting new inventions has the world lost out on in the last seventy years?
5. He was a humanist and supported gender equality
Throughout his life, Tesla was simply uninterested in capitalising on his inventions and unlike Edison, wasn’t too troubled by the business aspect of scientific discoveries. He believed in doing good things for mankind and improving people’s lives above all else.
He also considered gender equality to be a force for good in the world, and foresaw the increasing importance of women in the workforce and society.
He postulated that: “the female sex [is] endowed with no less than men. But the female mind has demonstrated a capacity for all the mental acquirements and achievements of men, and as generations ensue, that capacity will be expanded; the average woman will be as well educated as the average man, and then better educated, (…) Woman will ignore precedent and startle civilization with their progress.”