Tesla, Nikola (1856–1943)

Nikola Tesla was a brilliant but enigmatic Croatian-born (of Serbian parents) American electrical engineer and inventor. He studied at Gratz and Paris, and in 1885 joined Thomas Edison at Menlo Park, but later left for New York to work on his own. Tesla's discovery of the rotating magnetic field permitted his construction of the first AC induction motor (c. 1888). Since it is easier to transmit AC than DC over long distances, this invention was of great importance. He also developed arc lighting and the Tesla coil, a device fro producing high-frequency currents.


Nikola Tesla


Tesla was the first to attempt to communicate with neighboring worlds using radio waves. In the 9 February 1901, issue of Collier's Weekly, he published his "Talking with the Planets," in which he claimed he had detected an artificial signal from Mars, or possibly Venus, using high-voltage equipment he had set up at Colorado Springs, Colorado. He also predicted that interplanetary communication would "become the dominating idea of the century that has just begun." He went on, "with an expenditure not exceeding two thousand horsepower, signals can be transmitted to a planet such as Mars with as much exactness and certitude as we now send messages by wire from New York to Philadelphia." The local newspaper expressed its delight at Tesla's breakthrough: "If there be people on Mars, they certainly showed most excellent taste in choosing Colorado Springs as the particular point ... with which to open communication." However, the scientific community responded more skeptically. Former director of the Lick Observatory, Edward S. Holden, commented: "It is a rule of sound philosophizing to examine all probable causes for an unexplained phenomenon before invoking improbable ones. Every experimenter will say that it is 'almost' certain that Mr. Tesla has made an error ..." Two decades later, the idea of interplanetary communication was revived by Marconi.