Nikola Tesla was born in 1856 in what is now Croatia. Like most geniuses, Tesla was mathematically gifted and had an excellent memory. He attended engineering school despite his father’s wishes for him to become a priest. Although he dropped out, Tesla was fascinated by some of the concepts he learned in school– specifically alternating currents.
Alternating Current (AC) vs. Direct Current (DC)
At the time, direct current was the primary form of electricity used around the world. Although it was known that alternating current was a powerful form of energy, engineers couldn’t figure out how to build a decent AC motor. Tesla had high hopes of changing this. In May 1888, Tesla patented a motor that ran on alternating current. However, Thomas Edison was threatened by Tesla’s work, as he held control of his direct current for long-distance power distribution.
Success as an Inventor
In July 1888, Tesla sold his patent for AC-powered motors to George Westinghouse Electric Corporation. With Westinghouse on his side, Tesla proved to the world that AC was the superior current. Tesla and Westinghouse won the competition against Edison to supply electricity to the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Soon after, more businessmen realized the power of the AC system and Westinghouse won a contract to build the generators for a new power plant at Niagara Falls. Like a mad scientist, Tesla kept experimenting with new systems, and created other inventions such as the Tesla Coil which was fundamental to the success of wireless communication.