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17 Weird Facts about Nikola Tesla, the Man Who Invented the 20th Century

If it weren’t for Tesla Motors, the world still wouldn’t know about the man who gave us electricity (AC).

He also predicted inventions a whole century into the future. According to BigThink,

“Tesla is (…) responsible for a variety of ahead-of-their-time inventions that have stoked the public’s fancy. We are talking about wireless technology, including wireless transmission of electricity, early cellphones, self-driving, and flying vehicles, as well as thought machines and death rays.”

Nikola Tesla is the author of more than 700 patents and innovations. Here are some of them:

  • the Tesla coil — a transformer which produces high-voltage AC electricity,
  • the first hydro-electric power plant at Niagara Falls,
  • a fluorescent light bulb,
  • a magnifying transmitter with which he could light bulbs half a mile away,
  • a remote control,
  • the first X-ray image (but the work ended up in fire),
  • the radio (papers lost in a fire),
  • the Tesla turbine, his favorite invention with 98% efficiency— intended for renewable sources of energy such as fluids, but still not commercially used,
  • the induction motor — for vacuums and blow dryers,
  • the radio-controlled boat that could sail without humans on it (he could steer it with radio signals).

He researched the field of radar, too.

He could speak 8 languages: Serbo-Croatian, Czech, German, Hungarian, French, English, Italian, and Latin. Tesla was a futurist who envisioned many devices nearly 100 years before they were made.

1. He Predicted Smartphones in 1926

In the interview he gave to John B. Kennedy, Tesla explained how wireless energy could help us have long-distance communication:

“When wireless is perfectly applied, the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this but through television and telephony, we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do this will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.”

When I read this 25 years ago, I thought: What?At the time, home PCs still had those bulky screens. We used dial-up. No one I knew had a mobile phone. What was that thing you could put in the pocket to see someone on the other side of the world? I couldn’t even grasp the concept.

Tesla also predicted Wi-Fi, planes that ride on wireless energy, an MRI camera, and new world order with women in power. He made some sketches of a death ray that could stop all future wars. But the FBI took his documents after death and denied his allegations.

Tesla’s life was hard but fulfilling. And it started with a bang.

2. His Birth Was the Symbol of Light

He was born in Croatia on July 10, 1856, during the lightning storm. In the middle of the childbirth, the midwife was wringing her hands. It didn’t look good. The thunder was a bad omen. She said the baby was going to be the child of darkness. But Tesla’s mother replied:

“No, he is going to be the child of light.“

Later, he could often see blinding light before him. It was so strong it blurred his vision. He couldn’t make out what was real and what wasn’t. As he got even older, he used that power in research. As if that thunder signified he would be a scientist and create light through the AC system.

But his father wanted a different vocation for him.

3. Thanks to Cholera, He Didn’t Become a Priest

When he was only 5, Nikola’s elder brother Dane fell from a horse and died. This was a huge shock for the whole family. They also believed Dane was smarter than sickly Nikola and didn’t have great expectations of the boy.

Dane’s death disturbed their father. Now he wanted his younger son to become an Orthodox priest like him. This way he could attend a school closer to their village. Technical school in today’s Austria was out of the question. But young Tesla loved physics and math.

At the age of 17, he graduated from high school in a nearby town and went back to the village. The very next day he contracted cholera and spent 9 months in bed. He was close to death a few times. While he was bed-ridden, he persuaded his father not to go for a priest. The desperate parent promised he’d send him to engineering studies if Nikola got healthy again. He did and used his perception for it.

4. Tesla Had Unbelievably Sharpened Senses

He was sensitive to external stimuli. Tesla claimed he could hear thunder 550 miles away. He could even hear the pocket watch ticking three rooms away from him, or a fly as it landed on the table in a thud.

When he was in college, he defined the sound of a locomotive 30 miles away from him as “deafening”. Doctors believed he suffered a nervous breakdown. No one at the time was familiar with sensory overload.

5. He Also Had Incredible Photographic Memory and Vivid Imagination

When he was a child, he used imagination to calm himself down at night after bad dreams. When he grew up, he could visualize in three dimensions.

He could remember precisely whole books and pictures after only several minutes of watching. He claimed he had the power called “cerebral engineering“. He was able to visualize the whole invention in his head and test the alternatives without writing them down. He envisioned his electric motor in a walk. He was in a park in Budapest and recited Goethe’s Faust. Suddenly he had this image of a rotating magnetic field. He immediately drew its diagrams in the sand.

He saw this own mind as “the unfathomable mystery”.

6. He Was driven to Mysticism

Some believe the death of his brother Dane was such a huge shock for small Nikola it influenced his behavior and tendency to mysticism.

In the years after Dane’s death, Nikola had vivid visions of fire in the air around him. As he became a teenager, he learned how to control them. But later in life, he fed his strange condition even further. He claimed he could communicate with the pigeons he was feeding in New York City.

And he did a few other strange activities, as well.

7. He Dug Ditches After Edison’s Job

Tesla came from Europe to the USA in 1884. He had a letter of recommendation to work for Thomas Edison. Several hundred workers were employed in the company. Tesla met Edison only a couple of times. One night he stayed up late to fix a generator. Edison realized how good the young guy was.

But the young engineer worked for Edison for only 6 months. Maybe it was because Edison promised to pay him $50,000 (today’s $12,000,000) to design 24 types of standard machines. Tesla worked nonstop to find the solution. He did it, but Edison said it was a practical joke and never paid him the bonus.

Very soon Tesla left the company. While he was looking for the backers to support his AC research, he dug ditches for $2 an hour to sustain himself. But he was already looking into the future.

8. He Was a Renewable Energy Activist 120 Years Ago

In 1900, in the periodical The Century, he wrote an article “The Problem of Increasing Human Energy, with Special References to the Harnessing of the Sun’s Energy”. Tesla discussed how to capture the power of the sun and the wind. People were spending the earth’s resources too fast and poorly. For coal, they used only 2 percent of its energy:

“The man who should stop this senseless waste would be a great benefactor of humanity.”

He talked with passion about science and became friends with a fan of technology, Mark Twain.

9. He Almost Made Twain Poop His Pants

Twain and Tesla loved each other. The writer was fascinated with technology and often spent time in the scientist’s lab.

Tesla wanted to find the most efficient electricity, so he constructed a machine that simulated earthquakes. It was a high-frequency oscillator. After every experiment, the machine would shake his building in Manhattan, as well as the surrounding buildings.

One day Tesla invited Twain to his office. The writer was known to have digestive problems. Tesla asked Twain to stand in the middle of the oscillator when it was on. The writer managed to be there for as long as 90 seconds, but then he ran to the toilet.

10. They Thought He Was Crazy

There is a chance Tesla was on the Autism spectrum. According to Professor Michael Fitzgerald and Brendan O’Brien, co-authors of the book How Asperger Talents Changed the World, Tesla would be diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome today.

He suffered from obsessive-compulsive syndrome, which shattered his reputation. He hated round objects, jewelry, as well as to touch someone’s hair.

Tesla had an enormous focus on work. He claimed only 2 hours of sleep were enough for him. He was either insomniac, or his body didn’t need more sleep. He’d work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Then he had dinner at 8.10 sharp and continued to work until 3 a.m. However, despite his lack of sleep and a lot of work, he lived until 87.

He was obsessed with the number 3, as well as the numbers that can be divided with 3. He would wash his hands 3 times in a row. He’d go around his building 3 times before he got in. He would use 18 handkerchiefs to wipe the dining table and cutlery before every meal. Because he suffered from cholera as a teenager, he was also afraid of germs.

11. He Had Strange Eating Habits

He wore white gloves to dinner every evening.

Before he’d put a bite into his mouth, he’d calculate the volume of food on the fork.Otherwise, he wouldn’t feel any pleasure while eating. He’d also calculate the volume of a cup and a plate. Because of these strange habits, he preferred to eat alone. Later in life, he became a vegetarian. He would have only milk, bread, honey, and vegetable juices.

He abstained from beverages, tobacco, and ladies.

12. He Stayed Away from Women

Tesla was a handsome man with dark hair and blue eyes. He was 6ft 2’’ tall and slim, with a refined taste and good manners. Women loved him. But he remained in celibacy. He believed sex disturbs a man at his work:

“I can’t think of many great inventions behind which are married men“.

He didn’t like women’s accessories either.

13. They Said He Hated Pearls and Jewelry

Allegedly, at one reception his friends introduced him to a beautiful girl. She was smart and entertaining, but she was wearing pearl earrings. He could hardly talk with her. He couldn’t even look at her face.

When his secretary wore pearls, he sent her home for the day.

According to W. Bernard Carlson, the author of Tesla: The Inventor of the Electrical Age, believes this antagonism was due to his style of aesthetics:

“He believed that in order to be successful, one needed to look successful.”

We can’t be sure about it. But we know his success didn’t rely on awards.

14. He Never Got the Nobel Prize

In 1937 Tesla was nominated for the Nobel Prize. But he got only 1 vote from 38.

In 1909 scientists Marconi and Braun received a Nobel Prize for radio. But in 1943, a few months after Tesla’s death, the Supreme Court restored the priority of Tesla’s radio patent he had submitted earlier.

Several people were given credits for the inventions he made but he seemed undisturbed by it. He was sorry the others didn’t have great ideas themselves.

15. He Was Driven by Creativity More Than Profit

His biggest love was science:

“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success. Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.

His second love was a dove.

16. He Adored Pigeons

Tesla would often go to Central Park to feed them. He’d bring the wounded ones back to his apartment. After a while, the hotel residents complained about the noise and smell.

Before death, he lived in the New Yorker hotel on the 33rd floor, in apartment number 3327. He spent his free time with pigeons instead of people. He was particularly fond of one white dove. One day, as he was lying in bed and thinking, she flew into the room. He claimed she had dazzling blinding light in her eyes. He continued to take care of her when she got sick. He spent $2,000 on the pigeon. He even built a device to support her while her wing and leg healed.

“I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them for years. But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings; that one was different. It was a female. I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me. I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose for my life.”

Tesla was a loner, but he deserved a better death.

17. He Died Penniless and Unknown

The older he got, the less money he earned. From Waldorf Astoria in New York City, he moved to St. Regis because of a huge bill he made. They evicted him from St. Regis as well because of the bill and the mess he made with pigeons. Then he moved to several poorer hotels, always leaving his bills behind.

His former employer Westinghouse started paying for his rent and $125 a month as a “consulting fee“. The company was probably concerned the poor scientist was bad for their reputation. They continued with the practice until the end of his life. Tesla also received a modest Serbian pension until death.

He died alone on Orthodox Christmas, at the age of 86 in Hotel New Yorker. A maid found him two days later when she ignored the sign “Do not disturb“ and entered the room. The doctor ruled a heart attack as the cause of death.

Tesla’s funeral was in New York City on 10 January 1943. His nephew Sava Kosanović managed to ship his entire estate in 80 trunks together with Tesla’s ashes in 1952 to Serbia. The ashes are displayed in Belgrade in the Nikola Tesla Museum. All Tesla’s estate will soon be transferred to another location downtown.

Conclusion

“He was an inventor genius who conceived the things that were ahead of his time but are still used today.“ — Harish Krishnaswamy, Asst Professor of Electrical Engineering at Columbia University

Tesla was a mysterious man who could see far into the future. Although deprivileged, he died with a passion for science that changed the 20th century.

He was always honored in the Balkans, the region where he came from. Hell, the nationalities of former Yugoslavia are still fighting if he was a Serb, a Croat, or a Bosnian. Still, only a few years ago the world started to appreciate what he did for mankind. But he wouldn’t mind it.

“Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine.” — Nikola Tesla

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