Saturday July 04, 2015
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02-146 Nikola Tesla - Forgotten Electrical Pioneer

Saturday Jul 04, 2015

Lead: While Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse are remembered for their contributions to the development of electrical power, one of their collaborators has been largely forgotten.

Intro: A Moment In Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Nikola Tesla was born in Croatia, today part of the former Yugoslavia. His father was an Orthodox priest and his family of Serbian ancestry. Possessed of a fertile and creative mind and a dreamer's outlook, Tesla was educated at the University of Prague. As a student he conceived of a way to use alternating current in electrical generation. After immigrating to the United States in 1884, Tesla first found employment with Thomas Edison but the two men did not get along. Their temperaments and research methods were not compatible and this led to Tesla's departure after only a few months of association.

Edison's system of direct current had several drawbacks. Direct electrical current flows, like water in a pipe, always in one direction. This meant, among other things, that the expensive cost of the wire used to transmit the current put the system out of the reach of many smaller communities.

George Westinghouse, who had revolutionized rail travel through his invention of the air brake, was struggling to market a different more cost-effective form of power generation, alternating current. Tesla left Edison and soon was at work with George Westinghouse. The latter bought the patent rights for Tesla's system of dynamos, transformers and motors and, making use of these and other inventions, mounted the challenge to Thomas Edison's direct current system that eventually proved successful.

Meanwhile, Tesla had established his own laboratory and began to give free reign to his inventive imagination. The Tesla Coil, today widely used in radio and television transmission, was invented in 1891, and he improvised an early form of remote control. His groundbreaking experiments in the transmission of electrical signals through the air paved the way for others in the development of radio and wireless telegraphy, but his eccentric personal views brought him much derision. After his death in 1943, the scientific community recognized his genius. One of Nikola Tesla's final experiments was a particle beam death ray that, he said, could be used to destroy airplanes in flight many miles away. Something like this system was realized in the 1980s space-based weapons system called Star Wars by some.

Nikola Tesla would probably have wondered what took people so long.

The producer of A Moment In Time is Steve Clark. At the University of Richmondís School of Professional and Continuing Studies, Iím Dan Roberts.


Kollatz, Harry, Jr. "Tesla: The Coil, Scientist and his Wife," Richmond (May, 1994), 59-76.

Leupp, Francis Ellington. George Westinghouse: His Life and Achievements. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1918.

Millard, A.J. Edison and the Business of Innovation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.

Copyright 2015 by Dan Roberts Enterprises, Inc.


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