Nikola Tesla: The Forgotten Inventor

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Joshua Leo and Anne Muir look at the man who invented the 20th Century: Nikola Tesla.

Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight.  I’m Joshua Leo.

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And I’m Anne Muir.  Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

On the 7th of January 1943, an old man died. He was in a room at the New Yorker Hotel.  The man had lived alone in this hotel room for the past ten years. Outside, the city of New York was full of lights. These lights were the result of an idea the old man had had many years before. This man was once famous for his idea. But many people had forgotten about the old man. No one seemed to care. The man died alone and with very little money. He was the great inventor Nikola Tesla.

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Voice 2 

Tesla was an extremely intelligent man. He had many new scientific ideas – ideas that would change the world. One writer called Tesla “The Man Who Invented the Twentieth Century.” However, many people do not know the name Nikola Tesla. Why is this? Today’s Spotlight is on the life and work of Nikola Tesla.

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Nikola Tesla was born on the 10th of July 1856. He was from what is now the country of Croatia. His father was a priest. His mother was an inventor. She invented and made tools for her house work.

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From a very young age, Tesla was interested in electricity. At this time, scientists had discovered electricity. However, they were still trying to understand how to best use it. As a young boy, Tesla had a dream or goal. He knew about the great waterfall, Niagara Falls, in the United States. At Niagara Falls, a large river flows over a cliff. It drops more than 50 meters! Tesla wanted to turn this great waterfall into electricity. This was not a normal dream for a young boy. But Tesla was not a normal boy!

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls; Image by Jeff Leonhardt from Pixabay
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Tesla was a very good student. He was particularly good at mathematics and language learning. In fact, Tesla knew six languages! Tesla studied at many different universities. However, he did not have the money to finish his studies.

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In 1881, one of the first telephone exchanges opened in Europe. It was in Budapest. Tesla moved there and got a job. It was here that Tesla first thought of the idea that would become his greatest invention. It was the alternating current or AC induction motor.

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In 1884, Tesla moved to the United States of America. He went to work for Thomas Edison. Edison was also a great inventor. He too was experimenting with how to best transport the power of electricity. But Tesla worked for Edison for less than a year. Tesla was sure his AC motor was the best way to capture and transport the power of electricity. However, Edison thought his way of using direct current or DC was better. Edison thought that AC was not safe. He did all he could to stop Tesla from developing his idea.

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However, a wealthy investor and engineer named George Westinghouse decided to support Tesla. Westinghouse helped Tesla get patents. These official papers kept other people from copying Tesla’s many ideas. Soon, the scientific community accepted Tesla’s way of using AC to capture and transport electricity. It was more powerful than DC and it was proved safe.

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In 1895, Tesla achieved his childhood dream. He designed the first hydroelectric power plant using the energy of the Niagara Falls.  And he did it using the AC motor. This achievement ended Tesla’s long battle with Edison. Tesla had won. Today, AC is the way electricity is transported all over the world. In fact, without it, you would not be able to listen to this programme.

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After the success of AC, Tesla became well-known. He travelled and spoke to many scientists about his inventions and ideas. Tesla also liked to demonstrate his ideas for crowds of people. He built a large laboratory where he did amazing things with lights and electricity. He would produce large lightning bolts, like the bright lights in a storm. And he used electricity to produce light without any wires.

A Tesla coil producing electricity
A Tesla coil producing electricity; Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay
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Tesla was a very interesting man. He was over six feet tall and was very good looking. He had many famous friends, including the great American writer Mark Twain. He liked to wear nice clothes. He also enjoyed eating food at the best restaurants.

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But many people thought Tesla was a little bit strange. He always counted things. He also liked to put things in order. For example, he would organize a group of glasses by size before he drank from them. Tesla also had an unusual interest in pigeons. Tesla loved these large birds which are common in New York.

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In March of 1895, Tesla’s laboratory burned down. He had to start much of his research all over again. Tesla continued to invent and think of new ideas. But he was less successful and famous.

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Many people did not recognize that particular inventions were really Tesla’s ideas. For example, people usually think of Guglielmo Marconi as the inventor of radio. However, Marconi used many of Tesla’s ideas about long distance radio in his work. Tesla argued that Marconi was not the real inventor of radio. And after Tesla’s death, the United States courts decided that Marconi did use Tesla’s ideas. But by this time people had forgotten about the debate. Tesla also achieved important inventions in other areas. He did important work on medical x-rays, remote control and wireless technology.

Tesla as a young man
Tesla as a young man; Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay
Voice 1 

As Tesla got older, he continued to invent new ideas and theories. But he also became more and more sad. People like George Westinghouse no longer gave money to support him. Many people did not understand Tesla’s new ideas. He gave speeches about creating electrical power from the earth’s atmosphere. He also talked about ways that wireless electricity and communication could power things all over the world! Now, some people say Tesla’s ideas were ‘ahead of his time.’ To the people of his time, these ideas sounded insane. However, some of his ideas are supported by modern research and technology.

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Tesla’s last years were lonely and sad. He received many awards, but received very little money for this work. He lived alone in a hotel room. His best friends were the pigeons he loved so much. When he died in 1943, he was no longer famous. He felt forgotten. Today, not many people know the name of Nikola Tesla. But his inventions and ideas affect our lives every day!

Voice 1 

The writer of this programme was Shelagh Godwin. The producer was Luke Haley. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, ‘Nikola Tesla: The Forgotten Inventor’.

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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What is the most important invention you use every day? Do you know who invented it?

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  • This story is so sad and help me know about a famous person who i have never known before. Thank you, Spotliight

  • The story of tesla was so sad, he was great inventor, I use phone and I think is very important for me but I dont know who invented phone but I will research in google

  • Now i know who Nikola Tesla is. If his laboratory didn’t burn down, there could have been more inventions for our lives.

  • I use every day my call phone but i don’t know who is invented it . and i want to tell to him thank you

  • thank you so much
    and also very thankful to tesla a lot
    we live for the air without cost because of the God.
    i am korean.
    i would like to introduce an Korean woman
    who is very famous yutuber.
    she made a lot of things in the cyberspace.

  • Thanks a lot for your story. I knew about Nikola Tesla because I’m from Ukraine. Some historians of science think that his family roots were from Ukraine. I didn’t know about his sad last days.

  • Tesla was a great scientist, a genius, in fact. He change the way that we live today. Thanks for to tell us about his story

  • First i very thankfuly for this podcast telling us about best personne in all the Time his great and so intelligent inventor

  • the most important invention I use every day is the internet. The credit for the invention of the internet is attributed to computer scientists Vinton Cerf and Bob khan

  • The most important invention I use every day is the computer. I know that it was invented by professor John Atanasoff

  • At this moment,the invention of Nikola Tesla is famous as wiressless communication, Tesla Valve, AC electricity,… But, his name has not well known. Howerver, Tesla Motor of Elon Musk is propably respect of his name.

  • I have listened three stories: Mozart, Vincent Van Gogh, and Nicola Tesla and after all I was deeply sad and bursted into cry. Why are these talented people could not have the lives they worth having. They had devoted all their lives for their work, created amazing things to the world and changed the world, but in the end they died with less money, alone and painful. I really want to turn back time and scream out loud that Nicola Tesla is a real inventor, do not suspicious his work!! Unfortunately, thanks to the media, Thomas Edition was really famous at that time, so Tesla was forgotten! In fact, Tesla was far excellent, compared to Tesla, and Edition was such a greedy guy (read more about Edition!) From bottom of my heart, I love to Nicola Tesla, Mozart and Vincent Van Gogh so much.

  • First thing l would like to thank spotlight for this broadcast, l really enjoy. Secondly the most important invention l use it every day its the air conditioner l don’t know his name the man who invention it ,But l would thank the man who invented it , because in my country it’s very hot

  • I want to speak to you about a deathless story. I think everyone in the world, who did her or his works with a lot sound, people liked her or his more but people who really did good works. They are silent and meek. I love people who they are meek and quite like a starry night. It is a story that it happen usually.Maybe Tesla was a hard-worker and a meek and meek and meek man.

  • Thomas Edison He was just a thief who stole or bought a patent, and because of Tesla’s intelligence, he was the cause of the fire and may have been behind Tesla’s death

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