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Exploring Electrical Technology. Nikola Tesla: Extraordinary Inventor 1856-1943. Nikola Tesla*: Early Life. Intense discipline Subjected himself to it voluntarily Explained as an effort to console his parents for the loss of his brother Daniel Intended for the clergy by his father

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exploring electrical technology

Exploring Electrical Technology

Nikola Tesla:

Extraordinary Inventor


nikola tesla early life
Nikola Tesla*: Early Life
  • Intense discipline
    • Subjected himself to it voluntarily
    • Explained as an effort to console his parents for the loss of his brother Daniel
  • Intended for the clergy by his father
    • Against Nikola’s wish to be an engineer
    • Prepared with exercises to strengthen his: memory, reason and critical senses

*Biographical notes & quotes from Maragaret Cheney’s Tesla:Man Out Of Time. Dorset Press: New York. 1981.

nikola tesla s early life
Nikola Tesla’s Early Life
  • Manual dexterity
    • Motivated by his mother
    • Made most of the clothing and furnishings of the home by hand
  • Peculiar affliction
    • Visual appearance of images with flashes of light causing him great anxiety and discomfort
    • Relieved by exercising his imagination
tesla s imagination
Tesla’s Imagination
  • Exercised actively until age 17, when his thoughts turned seriously toward invention
  • By then, he could visualize objects of his invention by passing the usual steps of models, drawings and experiments
tesla s imagination1
Tesla’s Imagination

“ ‘My method is different,’ he wrote. ‘I do not rush into actual work. When I get an idea I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements and operate the device in my mind. It is absolutely immaterial to me whether I run my turbine in my thought or test it in my shop. I even note if it is out of balance’ ” (qtd. In Cheney 12).

“Thus he claimed he was able to perfect a conception without touching anything. Only when all the faults had been corrected in his brain, did he put the device into concrete form….Despite such claims, Tesla did in fact often make small sketches of inventions in whole or in part. Later in life his methods of research came to resemble more closely the empirical approach of Edison” (Cheney 12).

tesla s early life
Tesla’s Early Life
  • Formal school
    • Seemed an enjoyable, stimulating experience
    • Saw his first mechanical models, and enjoyed operating them
    • Dreamed of things he would later do in USA
    • At age 10, became fascinated by the physics demonstrations of his teachers
nikola tesla s early life1
Nikola Tesla’s Early Life
  • High school
    • Illnesses beset him
    • Yet, interest in electricity began to grow
    • Longed for investigation & experimentation as a career
    • During one of his serious illnesses, his father in a moment of compassion, gave up his compulsion to claim him for the clergy
tesla s preparation for an engineering career
Tesla’s Preparation for an Engineering Career
  • In 1875, entered Austrian Polytechnical School in Graz
    • Studied physics, mathematics & mechanics
    • After only one year, passed 9 exams easily
  • During his 2nd year at Graz: began to toy with the idea of an alternative to DC electrical machines
tesla s preparation for an engineering career1
Tesla’s Preparation for an Engineering Career

“The man responsible for introducing Tesla to the fascinations of electrical machinery was a German, one Professor Poeschl, who taught theoretical and experimental physics. Although he had ‘enormous feet and hands like the paws of a bear,’ Tesla found his experiments inspiring. When one day there arrived from Paris a direct-current apparatus called a Gramme Machine that could be used both as a motor and a dynamo, Tesla examined the machine intently, feeling a strange excitement. It had a wire-wound armature with a commutator. While operating, it sparked badly, and Tesla brashly suggested to Professor Poeschl that the design might be improved by dispensing with the commutator and by switching to alternating current” (Cheney 18).

“ ‘Mr. Tesla may accomplish great things,’ the German scholar retorted heavily, ‘both he will never do this. It would be equivalent to converting a steadily pulling force, like that of gravity, into a rotary effort. It is a perpetual motion machine, an impossible idea’ ” (qtd. in Cheney 18, 19).

tesla s life takes a turn
Tesla’s Life Takes a Turn
  • His irregular lifestyle including gambling got him kicked out of school
  • The rest of his education fell into his own hands (by the school of “hard knocks”)
  • By January 1881, Tesla found a job with the Central Telegraph Office (CTO) of the Hungarian Government
tesla s work hindered by health problem
Tesla’s Work Hindered by Health Problem
  • While working in the CTO in 1881
    • Became afflicted by a bizarre condition
    • Doctors called it a nervous breakdown
    • Rather than breaking down, his senses of hearing, sight and touch became hyperactive.
    • Pulse fluctuated wildly from normal to 260bpm
    • Twitched & trembled uncontrollably, so a doctor treated him, then pronounced his ailment unique and incurable.
tesla s recovery
Tesla’s Recovery
  • Finds help from a friend: Anital Szigety
    • a master mechanic and athlete himself
    • Joined Tesla for long walks that convinced him of the importance of regular exercise
  • After his recovery, envisioned the solution to the deficient DC machines
  • Drew diagram in the dust for Szigety; six years later presented same professionally to the AIEE, in all its stunning simplicity
tesla s new motor
Tesla’s New Motor
  • Based on idea of a rotating magnetic field
  • Produced by two or more AC currents out of phase with each other
  • Effectively created a magnetic whirlwind
  • Eliminated need for the split-ring commutator, or even brushes as a necessity to make contact
  • Tesla refuted early mentor Prof. Poeschl
tesla with edison s co
Tesla With Edison’s Co.
  • Lacked finances to develop his idea
  • Friends referred him for job with Edison’s telephone subsidiary in Paris, in 1882
  • On his arrival, anxious to sell his ideas on enormous potential benefits of AC
  • Edison would not listen to such ideas
  • Tesla told to troubleshoot power plants
tesla s own ideas
Tesla’s Own Ideas
  • While working on power plants in Alsace
    • Built his 1st AC induction motor
    • Proved to himself that his idea worked
    • Though successful in troubleshooting, decided to resign this job when he failed to receive a bonus he thought he deserved
  • Plant manager urged Tesla off to America, where grass and currency were “greener”
tesla s ticket to america
Tesla’s Ticket to America
  • Recommended by Charles Batchelor
    • An English Engineer who worked with Edison while improving Bell’s telephone
    • Thought he knew Edison well enough to write glowing letter introducing Tesla
  • Other than the letter, Tesla had only a few coins, poems and calculations with him
  • At age 28, Tesla as an inventor, may have been one of the world’s best kept secrets
tesla s encounter with edison
Tesla’s Encounter With Edison
  • Crossed the Atlantic in 1884, same year statue of Liberty given by France to USA
  • One of 16 million Europeans & Asians to immigrate, feeding America’s industr’l rev.
  • Edison had just promised a non-existent engineer to a shipping company to fix dynamos powering lights on S.S. Oregon when the unsuspecting Tesla arrived
tesla s encounter with edison1
Tesla’s Encounter With Edison

“Edison had no sooner promised his nonexistent engineer to the shipping company and cradled the telephone receiver that June day than a breathless boy dashed into the shop to report trouble at Ann and Nassau streets. A junction box that had been wired by one of the inventor’s inexperienced electricians was leaking . The boy vividly described how a ragman and his horse had been catapulted into the air and then had disappeared down the street at an unbelievable clip.

Edison bellowed for his foreman: ‘Get a gang of men, if you can find any. Cut off the current and fix that leak.’

He glanced up and became aware of a tall dark presence hovering just inside his office.

‘Help you, mister?’

Tesla introduced himself, speaking in careful accented English and a little louder than usual, for he knew of Edison’s hearing problem” (Cheney 30).

tesla s encounter with edison2
Tesla’s Encounter With Edison

“ ‘I have this letter from Mr. Batchelor, sir.’

‘Batchelor, eh? What’s wrong in Paris?’

‘Nothing that I know of, sir.’

‘Nonsense, there’s always something wrong in Paris.’

Edison read Batchelor’s brief note of recommendation and snorted. But he gave Tesla a penetrating look.

‘ ‘I know tow great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man!’ Hmph! That’s some recommendation. What can you do?’ ….

Quickly he began to describe the work he had done for Continental Edison in France and Germany. And then, before Edison could even respond, he moved smoothly into a description of his marvelous induction motor for alternating current, based upon his discovery of the rotating magnetic field. This was the wave of the future, he said. A smart developer could make a thousand fortunes with it” (Cheney 30, 31).

tesla s encounter with edison3
Tesla’s Encounter With Edison

‘Hold up!’ said Edison angrily. ‘Spare me that nonsense. It’s dangerous. We’re set up for direct current in America. People like it, and it’s all I’ll ever fool with. But maybe I could give you a job. Can you fix a ship’s lighting plant?’

Tesla boarded the S. S. Oregon that same day with his instruments and began to make the necessary repairs. The dynamos were in bad condition, having several short circuits and breaks. With the aid of the crew he worked through the night. At dawn the next morning the job was finished.

As he walked back along Fifth Avenue toward the Edison shop, he met his new employer and a few of his top man just going home to rest.

‘Here is our Parisian running around at night,’ commented Edison.

When Tesla said that he had just finished repairing both machines, Edison looked at him in silence, then walked away without another word. But the Serb with his acute hearing heard him remark at a little distance, ‘That is a damn good man.’….

Tesla’s skills were quickly appreciated by Edison, who gave him almost complete freedom in working on the design and operating problems of the shop. He regularly worked from 10:30 in the morning until 5:00 the following morning, a regimen that won from his new boss the grudging comment, ‘I have had many hardworking assistants, but you take the cake’ (Cheney 31).

tesla s work with edison short lived
Tesla’s Work With Edison Short Lived
  • Respect between them if mutual didn’t last
    • Personality clash doomed them from the start
    • Edison’s less than hospitable attitude toward foreigners didn’t help
  • After redesigning his dynamos as planned, Tesla approached Edison for the $50,000 bonus he thought Edison had promised
    • Edison took it as a joke, offered meager raise
    • Tesla walked out
tesla electric company formed
Tesla Electric Company Formed
  • His own reputation became known enough to attract his own investors
  • Had headquarters at Rahway, NJ
  • In 1st lab, developed more simple, reliable, safe and economical arc lamp
  • He was unfortunately eased out of this company by the ways of American commerce that were mysterious to him
tesla s rebound
Tesla’s Rebound
  • Brown helped him recover from the loss
    • By forming another company
    • Focused on the goal of developing the AC system he had conceived 5 years earlier
  • From 1887 to 1891
    • Applied for and granted a total of 40 patents on his AC systems
    • His recognition came now without delay
westinghouse merger
Westinghouse Merger
  • After purchasing the patent rights of the Gaulard & Gibbs AC distribution system, Westinghouse waited for the missing link
  • Tesla’s AC machines provided that link to make AC practical for the end user
  • Thus, Tesla joined Westinghouse in a mutually beneficial business deal
tesla s poly phase ac system
Tesla’s Poly-phase AC System
  • Initially incompatible with Westinghouse generators
    • Generators ran best at 133 cycles/sec
    • Motors ran best at 60 cycles/sec
  • After costly experiments, Westinghouse engineers took Tesla’s advice & converted the whole system to 60 cycles/sec (60 Hertz) where it remains today
other notable feats by tesla
Other Notable Feats by Tesla
  • 1891 – invented the Tesla Coil
  • 1896 – provided Buffalo with hydroelectric power from Niagara Falls
  • 1900 – discovered terrestrial standing waves (Earth as a conductor responds like a tuning fork to electrical vibrations at certain frequencies)
  • 1917 – received the Edison Medal as the highest honor of the AIEE