Nikola Tesla was undoubtedly one of the greatest minds of the 19th and 20th centuries, but he isn't as well known as others - like Albert Einstein - and Tesla's "arch enemy" Thomas Edison. Today though, is Nikola Tesla day. Quite right too.
Born in Serbia, he was an American citizen for 52 of his 86 years. Tesla originally moved there to work for Edison, but that didn't work out for alleged reasons of unpaid wages.
They were then both involved in "the War of Currents", which Tesla eventually won - his Alternating Current beating Edison's Direct Current - as it was more practical for large quantities of energy. These are all things you may know, but Tesla was an extremely intriguing and complex man.
Here's some interesting bits you need to know about him
1. He created the remote control. Tesla made the first remote control in 1898. It was deemed useless by some and by others, completely unaware that radio waves existed, as magic.
2. He worked towards free electricity for the whole world. He hoped his 187 foot Wardenclyffe Tower would supply the world with free wireless electricity. It was never completed, and eventually demolished in 1917 in fear of Germany spies intercepting signals during WW1.
3. He was a man of many, many languages. Tesla was able to speak eight languages fluently - Serbo-Croatian, Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin. Impressive!
4. Tesla had an eidetic memory. It allowed him to memorise complete books. He didn't typically make drawings by hand, instead visualising an invention in his mind in extreme detail - even in three dimensions - before moving to the construction stage.
5. He had blinding visions. Tesla suffered from a peculiar condition, where he would be blinded by a bright light very often accompanied by visions. The visions were often linked to a word or idea he had come across, and other times they would help him find a solution to a problem he had encountered. It was literally a stroke of genius.
6. He may have had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. A number of things obsessed Tesla, especially heading into his later life. He was absolutely fixated by the number three, walking around the block three times before entering a building, washing his hands three times in a row (or by a larger number divisible by three if necessary), and requiring 18 napkins on the table during meals - again a number divisible by three.
7. He really believed rest was for the wicked. Tesla said he never slept for more than two hours, even working for 84 hours in his laboratory on one occasion. He did admit to "dozing" at times, to "recharge his batteries".
8. He was celibate his whole life. Tesla never married, and remained celibate, claiming it was helpful to his scientific abilities. Towards the end of his life, though, he admitted: "Sometimes I feel that by not marrying, I made too great a sacrifice to my work..."
9. Actually, there was that pigeon. Tesla is reported as saying, "I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them, for years. But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings, that was different. It was a female. I had only to wish and call her, and she would come flying to me. I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life."
10. Tesla detested pearls. He hated them so much, that he wouldn't talk to women wearing them. It's even reported that he sent his secretary home because she was wearing some. Talk about a hostile work environment.
11. He developed the idea for smart phone technology, in 1901. He even described it to his business partner and funder, J.P Morgan, but apparently not well enough. He said it was a new means of instant communication that involved gathering stock quotes and telegram messages, funneling them to his laboratory, where he would encode them and assign them each a new frequency. That frequency would be broadcast to a device that would fit in your hand. Morgan didn't go for it.
12. He created a mast that shot lightning. Tesla constructed a 142 foot high metal mast in Colorado Springs. He was able to shoot 100 foot long man-made lightning from it.
13. He was born during a lightning storm. Tesla was born around midnight, between July 9 and July 10, 1856, during a fierce lightning storm. According to family legend, midway through the birth, the midwife wrung her hands and declared the lightning a bad omen. This child will be a child of darkness, she said, to which his mother replied: "No. He will be a child of light."
14. Tesla was very bad at business. He lost financial backing from J.P. Morgan, who felt they couldn't benefit financially from Tesla's wireless electricity concept. Tesla sold his assets to make up for dual foreclosures on Wardenclyffe.
15. He claimed to have invented a death ray. It was called the "Teleforce" and said it would "send concentrated beams of particles through the free air, of such tremendous energy that they will bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy aeroplanes at a distance of 200 miles from a defending nation's border and will cause armies to drop dead in their tracks."