Nikola Tesla

(redirected from Biography of Nikola Tesla)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.

Tesla, Nikola

(tĕs`lə), 1856–1943, American electrician and inventor, b. Croatia (then an Austrian province). An ethnic Serb, he immigrated to the United States in 1884, worked for a short period for Edison, and became a naturalized American citizen (1891). A pioneer in the field of high-voltage electricity, he made many discoveries and inventions of great value to the development of radio transmission and to the field of electricity. These include a system of arc lighting, the Tesla induction motor and system of alternating-current transmission, the Tesla coil, generators of high-frequency currents, a transformer to increase oscillating currents to high potentials, a system of wireless communication, and a system of transmitting electric power without wires. He produced the first power system at Niagara Falls, N.Y. There is a museum dedicated to his work in Belgrade, Serbia.


See biographies by H. B. Walters (1961), J. J. O'Neill (1968, repr. 1986), I. Hunt and W. W. Draper (1986); J. J. O'Neil (1986), and B. H. Johnston (1989).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Tesla, Nikola


Born July 10, 1856, in Smiljan, formerly in Austria-Hungary, now in Yugoslavia; died Jan. 7, 1943, in New York. Inventor in electrical and radio engineering. Of Serbian nationality.

Tesla studied at the Technische Hochschule in Graz and, from 1875 to 1880, at the University of Prague. He worked as a telephone company engineer in Budapest until 1882 and was an engineer for the Continental Edison Company in Paris from 1882 to 1884. After emigrating to the USA in 1884, he worked first at Edison’s laboratory and then for the Westinghouse Electric Company.

In 1888, independently of and slightly earlier than G. Ferraris, Tesla offered a rigorous scientific description of the nature of the rotating magnetic field. That same year he obtained his most important patents relating to polyphase electric machines, including the induction motor, and the polyphase AC system for power transmission. A number of industrial electric power installations using the two-phase system, which Tesla regarded as the most economical, were put into operation in the USA. These installations included a hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls, which was completed in 1895 and was the largest such plant at that time.

In 1889, Tesla began the study of high-frequency and high-voltage currents. He invented the first models of high-frequency electromechanical machinery, including inductor generators, and a high-frequency transformer (the Tesla coil, 1891), thus laying the basis for the development of a new branch of electrical engineering concerned with high frequencies.

From 1896 to 1904, Tesla worked on the wireless transmission of signals; for example, in 1899 he directed the construction of a 200-kilowatt radio station in Colorado. His work on wireless transmission had a significant influence on the development of radio engineering. During this period he also designed a number of radio-controlled self-propelled mechanisms, which he called teleautomatons. In 1898, for example, he built a teleautomatic boat.

After 1900, Tesla obtained many patents for inventions in various areas of technology; these inventions included an electric meter, a frequency meter, and a number of advances in radio equipment and steam turbines. In 1917 he proposed the principle of operation of a device for the radio detection of submarines.


Lectures, Patents, Articles. Belgrade, 1956.


Tsverava, G. K. Nikola Tesla: 1856–1943. Leningrad, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Tesla, Nikola

(1856–1943) electrical engineer, inventor; born in Smiljan Lika, Croatia. Educated in Austria and Czechoslovakia, he worked as an electrical engineer in Paris before coming to the U.S.A. (1884) to seek support for one of his inventions. He went to work for Thomas Edison but resigned in 1885 and set up his own laboratory. Never good at personal relations or business, he was forced out of his firm, but he started another in 1887 and finally succeeded with his original invention, an electro-magnetic motor that would be the basis of most alternating-current machinery. He sold the patents to Westinghouse in 1888, but after working with that company for a year, he quit and thereafter worked on his own. He continued to produce some important inventions involving high-frequency electricity—the Tesla coil, a resonant air-core transformer, being one such—and his alternating-current system illuminated the Chicago World's Fair (1893) and led to the construction of the Niagara Falls hydroelectric generating plant (1896). His reputation among both scientists and the public was now at its peak but he became increasingly more reclusive and eccentric. He continued to come up with new inventions, including one for wireless transmission of electricity and one for radio controlled craft; he also anticipated pulsed radar, harnessing solar power, and radio communication with other planets, but his eccentricities prevented him from getting either a fair hearing or profits. Although he could well have used the money, in 1912 he refused the Nobel Prize in physics because he claimed that corecipient Thomas Edison was not a true scientist. He spent his final years feeding and housing pigeons and living mainly off an annual honorarium from his homeland. The tesla, a unit of magnetic flow density, is named after him.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.