Nikola Tesla was a Serbian American scientist who is renowned for his enormous contribution to physics, especially to the field of alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. Tesla was an ethnic Serb who was born on 10th July 1856 in present day Croatia. He was very attached to his mother and is said to have inherited his photographic memory and creative abilities from her. After moving to the United States in 1884, Nikola Tesla worked for the famous American inventor Thomas Edison but he was cheated by Edison and so he quit his job. Though he was able to achieve financial success in his mid-career, Tesla ultimately died in poverty. Apart from being famous for his scientific contributions, Tesla is also known for his peculiarities like his obsession with the number 3. Know more about the family, life, peculiarities, career and death of Nikola Tesla through these 10 interesting facts.


#1 He was greatly inspired by his mother

Nikola Tesla in 1879
Nikola Tesla, aged 23, c. 1879

Nikola Tesla’s mother Djuka Mandic was a traditional housewife. Tesla remembered her inventing and constructing all kinds of tools and devices; and weaving the finest designs from thread. She worked from break of dawn till late at night taking care of everything. Tesla credited his photographic memory and creative abilities to his mother’s genetics and influence. Djuka Mandic died in April of 1892. Her last words to Tesla were “You’ve arrived, Nidžo, my pride.” Tesla fell ill after the incident, spending some time in Gospic and the village of Tomingaj in present day Croatia, where she was born.

#2 He was a fugitive from the Army

In 1874 Tesla avoided being drafted into 3 years of compulsory service in the Army. He went to his maternal place of Tomingaj near Gracac to recover from Cholera and avoid the army draft. He later stated in his autobiography referring to this time: “My father insisted that I spend a year in healthful physical outdoor exercises to which I reluctantly consented. For most of this term I roamed in the mountains, loaded with a hunter’s outfit and a bundle of books, and this contact with nature made me stronger in body as well as in mind.”

#3 He arrived in New York with 4 cents in his pocket

In 1884 after a stint with Continental Edison Company in Paris, Tesla got an opportunity to go to the United States and work in the Edison Machine Works. With the help of his uncles Peter and Pajo, Tesla left for the United States but his journey was not so pleasant. He was robbed and his ticket was stolen along with his belongings. At a point along the way a mutiny broke out on the ship and he was nearly thrown overboard. It is said he arrived in New York with just 4 cents in his pocket.

Edison Machine Works
Edison Machine Works – Where Nikola Tesla worked in 1884


#4 Nikola Tesla was cheated by Thomas Edison

Tesla worked at Edison’s Manhattan headquarters for close to a year in 1884-85, impressing one and all with his diligence and creativity. It is said that he improved more than 20 machines replacing original Edison designs. Edison once promised Tesla a sum of $50,000 for improving the design of his DC dynamos. In a few months Tesla improved the machine making it far more efficient. Expecting the reward Tesla asked Edison for the money. Edison replied, “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humour” and hiked Tesla’s weekly pay from $18 to $25. Tesla soon quit the job.

Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison


#5 He was ousted from his own company and did manual labor for $2 a day

In 1885 Tesla was approached by some investors to develop an improved arc lighting system. This led to the formation of the Tesla Electric Light Company in New Jersey. Tesla set out to work on the project and soon invented his own unique arc lamp. However, after he accomplished what the investors wanted him to do, he was ousted out of the company and was left with nothing but worthless stock certificates. Tesla would later refer to this incident as the “hardest blow” which would force him to work as a ditch digger for $2 a day. He would later write “My high education in various branches of science, mechanics and literature seemed to me like a mockery.”


#6 He forgo his royalties when his investor was in financial crisis

George Westinghouse
George Westinghouse – Partner of Nikola Tesla

In 1888, George Westinghouse of Westinghouse Electric negotiated a licensing deal with Tesla for his polyphaser induction motor. This was the time of the “war of the currents” in America when three big firms, Westinghouse, Edison and Thompson-Houston, were competing fiercely in the capital-intensive business of providing electric power. The deal gave Tesla $60,000 in cash and stock along with $2.5 for per ac horsepower produced by each motor. Tesla was also hired for $2000 per month as a consultant in the company. In 1890, however a financial crisis hit the market and Westinghouse Electric was hit. This forced Westinghouse to explain his financial situation to Tesla who in a rare instance agreed to release the company from the royalty clause. Some years later Westinghouse eventually purchased Tesla’s patent for a lump sum payment of $216,000 as part of a patent-sharing agreement with his other two competitors.

#7 Tesla’s New York lab burnt to ashes in 1895

On 13th March 1895, a fire broke out in the basement of Tesla’s office on 5th Avenue (Now West Broadway) in New York. The fire was so intense that it totally engulfed his 4th floor lab which crashed to the 2nd floor. Tesla’s loss was estimated at $50,000 but more importantly he had to lose his research papers, notes, ongoing project models, photographs and scientific data.

#8 He had a photographic memory and claimed that he had visions

From his early childhood Tesla experienced flashes of light or some kind of visions. These visions would sometimes take on a character or a nonphysical existence. At other times, they would be followed by inspiration and solutions to problems he was experiencing. Perhaps this was related to his photographic memory as he rarely created sketches and drawings. Instead, he was able to visualize his inventions to the minutest detail in his mind.

Nikola Tesla in 1890
Nikola Tesla, c. 1890


#9 He was obsessed with the number 3 and had many peculiar habits

Tesla’s obsession with the number 3 is now widely known giving rise to many interesting theories. It is known that before entering a building he would often feel the urge to walk around the block three times. There were many such rituals related to the number 3 that he followed. After recovering from Cholera in his young age, he also developed a phobia for germs. He polished his dining implements with 18 napkins (multiple of 3). He worked every day from 9 to 6 taking dinner at exactly 8:10 p.m., at Delmonico’s restaurant and later the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He always dined alone except on some rare occasions. He claimed to sleep only 2 hours along with some occasional naps. He also curled his toes one hundred times for each foot every night, saying that it stimulated his brain cells. He was afraid of pearls, disliked jewellery and did not like to touch hair.

Nikola Tesla on Time Magazine
Nikola Tesla on Time Magazine, 1931


#10 Nikola Tesla died in poverty

The financial decline of Tesla started as he became older. He lived in the Waldorf Astoria in New York for many years running up a large bill. In 1922 he had to move to St. Regis Hotel, thereby starting a trend of moving to a new hotel every few years and leaving behind unpaid bills. With time, most of his patents ran out and he struggled to develop a market friendly invention. In the 1920s Tesla was effectively bankrupt and he was often helped out of unsavoury situations with his reputation and with the help of his few friends. In 1934, Tesla moved to Hotel New Yorker, and Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company began paying him $125 per month as well as paying his rent. In an unspecified settlement the Company would pay these expenses until his death on 7th January 1943 in room 3327 of New Yorker Hotel.

Nikola Tesla's death report
News report of Nikola Tesla’s death


Nikola Tesla’s Superweapon

In 1934 at his anniversary party Tesla claimed to have designed a superweapon that would later be referred as the “death ray”. He liked to call it “Teleforce” and described its power in the following words: “Many thousands of horsepower can thus be transmitted by a stream thinner than a hair, so that nothing can resist. The nozzle would send concentrated beams of particles through the free air, of such tremendous energy that they will bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 200 miles from a defending nation’s border and will cause armies to drop dead in their tracks.” His other claims included a motor that ran on cosmic rays, “Telegeodynamics” and discovery of a new form of energy.


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