Nikola Tesla (July 10, 1856 – January 7,1943 ~Happy belated birthday!) was a Serbian-American inventor, physicist, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, and futurist. That is quite the resume.
He was an important contributor to the use of commercial electricity, and is best known for developing the modern alternating current (AC) electrical supply system. His many revolutionary developments in the field of electromagnetism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were based on the theories of electromagnetic technology discovered by Michael Faraday. Tesla’s patents and theoretical work also formed the basis of wireless communication and the radio. (So, be thankful that he invented or you wouldn’t have a wireless phone.)
Born to Serbian parents in the village of Smiljan (now part of Gospić, present day Croatia), Tesla was a subject of the Austrian Empire by birth and later became an American citizen. Because of his 1894 demonstration of short range wireless communication through radio and his eventual victory in the “War of Currents“, he was widely respected as one of the greatest electrical engineers who worked in America. He pioneered modern electrical engineering and many of his discoveries were of groundbreaking importance. In the United States during this time, Tesla’s fame rivaled that of any other inventor or scientist in history or popular culture. Tesla demonstrated wireless energy transfer to power electronic devices in 1891, and aspired to intercontinental wireless transmission of industrial power in his unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower project.
Towards the end of his life in the 1930s, Tesla became reclusive, living alone in a New York City hotel room and only appearing occasionally to make unusual statements to the press. Because of his pronouncements and the nature of his work over the years Tesla gained a reputation in popular culture as the archetypal “mad scientist”. He died penniless and in debt in January, 1943.
Tesla’s work fell into relative obscurity after his death but since the 1990s his reputation has experienced a popular culture comeback. In 2005 he was listed amongst the top 100 nominees in the TV show “The Greatest American“, an open access popularity poll conducted by AOL and The Discovery Channel.
Nikola Tesla has appeared in popular culture as a character in books, films, radio, TV, music, live theatre, comics and video games. The lack of recognition received by Tesla during his own lifetime has made him a tragic and inspirational character well suited to dramatic fiction. The impact of the technologies invented by Tesla is a recurring theme in several types of science fiction.