Nikola Tesla

December 14, 2006

Photo of The Prestige,  David Bowie

Seeing David Bowie playing Nikola Tesla in The Prestige reminded me what an interesting character Tesla was. Outside of the scientific community his great rival, Thomas Edison is probably better known though a quick study of his work shows what a genius Tesla was – particularly in the fields of electricity and magnetism. He carried out experiments in alternating current generation, wireless telegraphy, x-rays, radio, lighting and many others. Although Guglielmo Marconi was awarded the Nobel Prize for the invention of radio, Tesla’s patent for the invention of the radio was subsequently upheld.

He even experimented with lightning and wireless power transmission similar to the fictional version in The Prestige (though without the magic element used in the film!)

Tesla died a pauper and in debt at 86 having been a millionaire at 40, largely because he was poor businessmen and failed to secure his rights over his royalties. By comparison, Edison seems to have patented everything that moved and has managed to leave his name etched on the popular consciousness far more than Tesla. A lesson for all in the importance of controlling your copyright.

In a small way, Nikola Tesla has at least had a small recognition of his genius. The Tesla is the SI unit of magnetic flux, while as far as I know there is no scientific unit called the Edison!

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