Everything You Need to Know About the Madness of Nikola Tesla

When you hear the name Nikola Tesla, chances are you think of the Tesla coil or the 80s metal hair band. Tesla was the first real mad scientist of the twentieth century: Not only did he invent that coil and alternating-current electricity (which you're probably using right now to read this), but he also researched death rays, time-travel, and peering at memories stored inside the human brain. Studio 360 explored the history of Tesla over the weekend, and we've got the highlights, along with some other tidbits about the madman who ate only foods whose volume he could measure precisely, and who tried to build an electrical superweapon.

  • He worked for Thomas Edison and was promised a huge bonus if he redesigned his electric motors and generators. He did so, and gave Edison several patents as an employee, but Edison never paid out. Tesla quit and developed the more efficient "alternating current" that opposed Edison's "direct current" and eventually became the standard electrical current that we still use today.
  • He was one of the first people to work with x-rays, and he invented an "X-Ray Gun" that you could use to fire x-ray beams at someone with, and it would develop on unexposed film hung behind the subject. A favorite target of this gun? Mark Twain.
  • He thought that memories and thoughts were recorded on the brain and could be watched, like a movie, through the retina.
  • He thought he could control the weather, and attempted to develop this technology. Eventually he was able to produce spectacular artificial lightning bolts.
  • He developed the first radar system.
  • He built his own wireless radio transmission tower in New York in conjunction with a German company named Telefunken, but the government tore it down in 1917 for fears that the Germans would use it to spy on the U.S.
  • He transmitted radio waves before Marconi, but was never seen as the "father of radio," even though the Supreme Court decided to uphold his radio patent over Marconi in 1943. He died before the case was heard.
  • He tried to develop anti-gravity airships, teleportation, and time travel after becoming fascinated with idea of light as both a wave and a particle. He put a lot of theoretical work into Tesla's Flying Machine, which would have been an ion-propelled airplane.
  • There is a crater on the moon named after him.
  • He believed that women would become the dominant sex in the future, and that they would rule over mankind like "Queen Bees."
  • He was developing a way to harness energy from space, and said that one day all of man's inventions would run on this energy.
  • He had plans to illuminate the world's oceans and build a massive ring around the Earth that would allow people to travel around the world in a single day.
  • He developed something late in life called Nikola Tesla's Death Ray, and had a press conference to publicize it, stating it could "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." It later became the basis for the Strategic Defense Initiative or "Star Wars" satellite defense system that is still being developed today.
  • He died alone and in massive debt in his New York hotel room in 1943 at the age of 86. Upon his death, the FBI declared all of his papers and research to be "top secret" and seized them. Eventually, some were returned to his family. Some have never been found. Cue conspiracy theories.
  • Visitors frequently request his room at The New Yorker Hotel, room 3327. Supposedly they hope for a "spark" of inspiration.
  • He was portrayed by David Bowie in the film The Prestige, although he sadly never invented the machine shown in the film, which we won't spoil for you here. Although you can check out a clip here featuring Bowie as Tesla, which we hope will inspire you to rent this excellent "science meets magic" film.