The match for each, of course, is Tesla. Most people have heard his name, but few know much about his place in modern science and technology. Although an outstanding student, Tesla eventually withdrew from polytechnic school and ended up working for the Continental Edison Company, where he focused on electrical lighting and motors. Wishing to meet Edison himself, Tesla immigrated to the U.S. 50,000 if he could solve a series of engineering problems Edison鈥檚 company faced. Having achieved the feat, Tesla said he was then told that the offer had just been a joke, and he left the company after six months. Tesla then developed a relationship with two businessmen that led to the founding of Tesla Electric Light and Manufacturing. He filed a number of electrical patents, which he assigned to the company. When his partners decided that they wanted to focus strictly on supplying electricity, they took the company鈥檚 intellectual property and founded another firm, leaving Tesla with nothing.
2 a day, tortured by the sense that his great talent and education were going to waste. In 1887, Tesla met two investors who agreed to back the formation of the Tesla Electric Company. He set up a laboratory in Manhattan, where he developed the alternating current induction motor, which solved a number of technical problems that had bedeviled other designs. When Tesla demonstrated his device at an engineering meeting, the Westinghouse Company made arrangements to license the technology, providing an upfront payment and royalties on each horsepower generated. The so-called 鈥淲ar of the Currents鈥?was raging in the late 1880s. Thomas Edison promoted direct current, asserting that it was safer than AC. George Westinghouse backed AC, since it could transmit power over long distances. Because the two were undercutting each other鈥檚 prices, Westinghouse lacked capital. He explained the difficulty and asked Tesla to sell his patents to him for a single lump sum, to which Tesla agreed, forgoing what would have been a vast fortune had he held on to them. With the World鈥檚 Columbian Exposition of 1893 looming in Chicago, Westinghouse asked Tesla to help supply power; they鈥檇 have a huge platform for demonstrating the merits of AC.
Tesla helped the fair illuminate more light bulbs than could be found in the entire city of Chicago, and wowed audiences with a variety of wonders, including an electric light that required no wires. Later Tesla also helped Westinghouse win a contract to generate electrical power at Niagara Falls, helping to build the first large-scale AC power plant in the world. Tesla encountered many obstacles. In 1895, his Manhattan laboratory was devastated by a fire, which destroyed his notes and prototypes. At Madison Square Garden in 1898, he demonstrated wireless control of a boat, a stunt that many branded a hoax. Soon after he turned his attention to the wireless transmission of electric power. He believed that his system could not only distribute electricity around the globe but also provide for worldwide wireless communication. Seeking to test his ideas, Tesla built a laboratory in Colorado Springs. There he once drew so much power that he caused a regional power outage.
He also detected signals that he claimed emanated from an extraterrestrial source. In 1901 Tesla persuaded J.P. Morgan to invest in the construction of a tower on Long Island that he believed would vindicate his plan to electrify the world. Yet Tesla鈥檚 dream did not materialize, and Morgan soon withdrew funding. In 1909, Marconi received the Nobel Prize for the development of radio. In 1915, Tesla unsuccessfully sued Marconi, claiming infringement on his patents. That same year, it was rumored that Edison and Tesla would share the Nobel Prize, but it didn鈥檛 happen. Unsubstantiated speculation suggested their mutual animosity was the cause. However, Tesla did receive numerous honors and awards over his life, including, ironically, the American Institute of Electrical Engineers Edison Medal. Tesla was a remarkable person. He said that he had a photographic memory, which helped him memorize whole books and speak eight languages. He also claimed that many of his best ideas came to him in a flash, and that he saw detailed pictures of many of his inventions in his mind before he ever set about constructing prototypes. As a result, he didn鈥檛 initially prepare drawings and plans for many of his devices.