Nikola Tesla: Everything You Didn't Know About The Famous Inventor

By | October 20, 2020

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Nikola Tesla (1856–1943), Serbian-American physicist sitting in his Colorado Springs laboratory with his "magnifying transmitter," 1899 (multiple exposure). (Stefano Bianchetti/Corbis via Getty Images)

For decades, Nikola Tesla was overshadowed by his frenemy, Thomas Edison, but time has vindicated this eccentric inventor. An electrifying personality, Nikola Tesla was a genius who, some say, crossed the line into madness.

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Tesla's house in Smiljan, now in Croatia, where he was born. (MayaSimFan/Wikimedia Commons)

Tesla's Early Life

Nikola Tesla was born on July 10, 1856 in the village of Smiljan in what is now Croatia. He was the fourth of five children born to Milutin, an Eastern Orthodox priest, and Duka Tesla. Despite having no education, Duka had the ability to easily memorize epic poems and build mechanical appliances for her home based on plans she visualized in her head, and she passed these gifts on to her only surviving son. (Tesla's older brother died in a horseback-riding accident, leaving him the only brother of three sisters.)

Nikola Tesla went to elementary school in his village before his family moved to the nearby town of Gospic, where he completed middle school before transferring to a high school in Karlovac. Tesla's impressive memory and ability to work out complex math problems in his head made him a great student, so much so that his teachers thought he must be cheating. During this time, Tesla became fascinated with electricity.

After he graduated from high school, Tesla returned to his family home in Smiljan but soon fell ill with cholera. He spent nine months in bed and came close to death on several occasions. During one of his brushes with death, Milutin Tesla, who had been pressuring his son to join the priesthood, promised to allow him to enroll in the best engineering school around once he pulled through his illness.