Nikola Tesla, the greatest inventor the world has ever known and may ever know, was born on this day 160 years ago. Eight score, as Lincoln might say. Double the four score of the Gettysburg Address. Tesla should be in the same pantheon as Einstein and Edison. Every July 10th I will take a moment to remember Tesla, for one of the great injustices of history is that he has been forgotten.
Today people hearing the Tesla name think of the electric car company which maintains profitability by wantonly bilking the environmentalist welfare state. Nikola Tesla deserves better, deserves more. Much better. Much more. Thomas Edison is remembered as the greatest inventor, but Tesla worked for Edison early in his career and made Edison look like a dolt. Tesla invented the polyphase alternating current electrical system that powers the entire world today, including the electric generators and motors which translate work into useful electric power and electrical power into useful work. Tesla also invented radio. He also promulgated some of the theory underlying “unidentified flying objects,” human built aircraft which use electromagnetic fields and forces to levitate and propel themselves.
I worked on commercial power turbines for a time, and knew an expert in the history of our modern power system. This individual had intimate knowledge of every historical figure involved in the creation of electromagnetic theory and electrical power. If you got him going on this topic, he could bore you for days. I asked him how the development of electrical power systems would have proceeded if someone had traveled back in time and put a bullet in Tesla’s head. He said that the modern power system we have would still have been invented, but this would probably have taken another fifty years. This individual pointed out that our electrical system is the work of many individuals, not just Tesla, an assessment Tesla would have agreed with. There are many people today who give Tesla too much credit and overstate his achievements, but I am not one of them. If Nikola Tesla had never lived, the electrical system that is the backbone of our modern world would have taken an additional fifty years to develop. This means we would have a technological level today equivalent to that which prevailed in 1966. No cell phones, no computers, no microwave ovens, no world wide web. This is a sobering thought.
When you flick a switch today, turning an electrical device on or off, take a moment, think of Nikola Tesla, and thank him.