This is part 1 of a 2 part series on Nikola Tesla.
Imagine a world without every piece of technology that you use every day. Smartphones, t.v. remote controls, radios, x-ray machines, lasers, and even cars. Today we even have an innovative and ground breaking car company named after him. Hell, why don’t we just throw it out there…imagine we lived still in a preindustrial age- a world without electricity.
Can you believe that all of the electric offspring mentioned above, and many more, were the children of one remarkable man? And what if I told you that this man died penniless, poor beyond all belief, ostracized and forgotten even though he pioneered multiple trillion-dollar businesses. It’s true. Despite all of his genius Nikola Tesla was no businessman. And he didn’t care. He changed the world with his inventions, but his ambition ended there. He didn’t care about the money, the empires, the petty squabbles for business contracts and deals, just the work. The work has always driven Nikola Tesla.
Tesla was a sickly, eccentric boy. He was prone to sickness, even spending over 6 months in bed after being stricken with cholera. This fragility and his eccentricity would plague him all his life.
The sight of a pearl would almost give me a fit, but I was fascinated with the glitter of crystals or objects with sharp edges and plane surfaces…I would get a fever by looking at a peach and if a piece of camphor was anywhere in the house it caused me the keenest discomfort.
His father would, fearing for Nikola’s health, agreed to let Nikola go to school for engineering verses shipping him off to seminary school. But, the compromise came with a request. Nikola must take a year off in healthful outdoor exercise.
This period of world exploration would be Tesla’s first awakening. Nikola spent most of the year wandering the mountains, armed with a hunter’s outfit and a bunch of books. The time spent connecting with nature, and the workings of reality strengthened Tesla.
This period of disconnect from everything he had previously known brought him in touch with a flourish of new thoughts and ideas. We’ve talked about the Virtue of Running many times before, and Tesla is just one more example of an individual who left first to find himself and eventually change the world.
During this time he conceived of and planned many ideas, such as a system to transport letters and packages through a submarine tube across the sea and the construction of a ring around the equator that would enable travel of 1,000 miles per hour.
While he later realized these ideas were fraught with problems, it’s important to note that this was Tesla’s first true period of great invention. While he had always been a curious, rebellious child tinkering with things and ideas this period was marked by a connection to the physical world and a real attempt to control it through inventions. This idea, that reality is something to be mastered by men and used for great things, would guide Tesla all his life. (I had a veritable mania for finishing whatever I began…on one occasion I started to read the works of Voltaire, when I learned, to my dismay that there were close to one hundred large volumes in small print…It had to be done, but when I laid aside that last book I was very glad…)
Mini Jaunts of Education:
From 1880 to 1884 Tesla left his home country of modern day Croatia and ventured through several other European countries. The mini jaunts brought him in touch with formal education, work experience and new ideas.
First he spent time in Prague, studying at the University there and spending time analyzing the inner workings of electric motors. Shortly after, he went to Budapest and accepted a position working in the Central Telegraph Office of the Hungarian government. Working his way through the ranks he was eventually offered a position in Paris.
Paris was an eye-opening experience for Tesla, as there was always something interesting and fascinating to grab his attention. His life was filled with morning baths in a bathing house on the Seine, long walks to and from work and growing through the challenges offered to him at work.
During this time Tesla was convinced he could create a new motor, better than any constructed before. But, his conviction was laughed at throughout Europe and Tesla found it impossible to secure an investor. Not willing to give up on his dreams, Tesla followed the advice of a good friend and left for the only place where his dreams could be realized: The United States.