Nikola Tesla, the Entrepreneur Who Gave up Everything to see His Dream Come True
The story of Nikola Tesla
Migrating in search of opportunities
In June 1884, a young inventor of Serbian origin came to New York from the city of Paris in search of an opportunity to work with Thomas Alva Edison, one of the most successful and recognized inventors in America at the time.
This young inventor was Nikola Tesla, who came to the United States at the age of 28 with nothing more than 4 cents in American currency, a book of poetry, and a letter of recommendation that said:
“I know two great men, and you are one of them. The other is the young bearer of this letter. “
The letter was written for Thomas Edison by Charles Batchelor, Tesla’s previous boss at the continental Edison Company, where he worked in Paris.
Realizing the tremendous inventiveness of the young man, Batchelor did not hesitate to recommend that he emigrate to the growing North American economy of the late nineteenth century.
Thanks to the letter of recommendation, Tesla got a job as an electrical engineer at Edison Machine Works, helping solve some of the company’s problems. However, the challenging ideas of Tesla and the professional jealousy of his new boss, made this working relationship short-lived.
During the time that Tesla worked for Edison, he repeatedly proved to be a brilliant person. In 1884, for example, the dynamos that Edison’s company had installed on the SS Oregon were damaged; which delayed the ship’s departure from New York. Tesla volunteered to repair, working through the night, getting the dynamos working again, receiving Edison’s congratulations the next morning.
Another of the highlights of this stage in Tesla’s life was the occasion when Edison asked him to help him improve the performance of the direct current generators that his company had designed, offering him a bonus of $50 thousand ( equivalent to more than a million dollars today) if he succeeded. The young man, motivated and eager to show his talent, got down to work and redesigned the generators making them much more efficient. When Tesla went to see Edison collect his reward, he said: “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor , “ making him understand that the bonus was just a joke and thus breaking his word.
Giving up what prevented you from working on your ideas
Despite his obvious talent and ability, many of Tesla’s ideas went against Edison’s ideas and vision, so there was never a perfect harmony between the two.
Filled with frustration when seeing that his ideas and talents were not valued, he decided to quit his job and his salary to venture to start his own company.
Full of motivation because he would finally have the freedom to focus on developing his projects, but with very little money to do so, Tesla was forced to work temporarily digging trenches for Edison’s company; So he raised some more money to take the next step in his career.
In 1886, Tesla founded its own company, the Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing. However, the early investors disagreed with his plans for the development of an alternating current motor and eventually relieved him of his position with the company.
Devastated by this failure, Tesla worked as a laborer in New York from 1886 to 1887 to support himself and raise capital for his next project.
In 1887, he built a brushless induction motor, powered by alternating current, and presented it the following year to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. In the same year, he developed the principle of his Tesla coil and began working with George Westinghouse at Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company, showing him his ideas on polyphase systems, which could allow the transmission of alternating current over long distances.
War of the Currents: Edison vs Tesla
At that time, the demand for electrical energy was growing in the United States, but the technology used to provide the service was Edison’s direct current, which had the support of JP Morgan. Tesla, for his part, considered that direct current was too inefficient and expensive, so together with Westinghouse, they raised the challenge of supplying the entire country with alternating current.
Tesla’s alternating current quickly proved to be far superior to Edison’s standard direct current system. Not only could alternating current produce significantly higher voltages, but it could also transmit that electrical energy over long distances and at a much lower cost than direct current.
Edison, guided by the fear of seeing the empire he was building fall, launched a smear campaign against the alternating current, electrocuting animals and people in public using alternating current generators made by the Westinghouse company, to show how dangerous the technology proposed by his rival was.
The confrontation between the electricity companies to dominate the market and a fall in the economy that took place at that time would bring negative consequences for both competitors; However, Edison’s company had the money and power of JP Morgan, so it was able to stand up without a problem; while the Westinghouse company was left on the brink of bankruptcy and with little chance of survival.
Given the difficult economic situation that the company was going through, George Westinghouse summoned Tesla to propose to reduce or temporarily rescind its royalties to allow the company to float again.
To Westinghouse’s surprise, Tesla broke the original contract on the spot and waived its royalties entirely, saving Westinghouse Electric from bankruptcy. For Tesla, the impact that his invention would bring to humanity was much more important than all the money he could earn from his patents.
Without the cost of paying royalties to Tesla, the Westinghouse company was able to attract new investors to continue its operations.
A world lit by Tesla’s alternating current
Thanks to a couple of strategic moves by Westinghouse, his company was awarded the contract to light up the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, one of the most important events on the planet. The event had more than 27 million attendees who witnessed the lighting of more than 200 thousand electric bulbs in front of their eyes. The fair was the perfect showcase for the entire world to witness the benefits of Tesla’s alternating current.
Following the fair, Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company’s won the bid to power the Niagara Falls Power Station, the most ambitious electric power generation project of the time. Thanks to this victory, Tesla’s alternating current became the standard and began to spread throughout the world.
Today, Tesla’s alternating current continues to illuminate the entire world and his legacy is invaluable. Tesla’s contributions to humanity are more momentous than many think. In total, more than 300 registered patents are attributed to him throughout his life. His inventions and discoveries were the basis of great developments of his time and of later times; and he is considered as the “father of the second industrial revolution”, thanks to his influence in areas such as electromagnetism, radiofrequency, and telecommunications, among others.
The last years of Tesla’s life were spent in absolute loneliness and poverty because all the money he had earned was invested inexpensive projects that were unsuccessful.
Thus ended the life of an of his dreams: he emigrated away from his family in search of great opportunities, he quit his job to be able to work on his projects, and completely quit several of their patents so that their inventions could benefit humanity.
It is worth asking ourselves: How much are we willing to sacrifice for our dreams? What are we doing today that is more important than money? What is the legacy we want to leave in this world?
Nikola Tesla died in 1943 at the age of 86 in a hotel room in New York, but his story would transcend and inspire new generations of entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Larry Page, who claim to be great fans of Tesla and his achievements.
In the words of Tesla himself:
‘The scientist does not have an immediate result as his object. He does not expect his advanced ideas to be easily accepted. You must lay the foundations for those who are to come and point the way. “
Great words from a genius with ideas well ahead of his time, but who dedicated his life to building a better world.
The material was taken for educational purposes from the following productions:
– The men who built America: https://www.history.com/shows/men-who-built-america
– American Genius: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4079214/