An exhibition to Nikola Tesla recently opened in Zagreb titled Tesla Mind of the Future. In it, curators partially illustrate the life of the extraordinary inventor and scientist. But why now? His one hundred fiftieth birthday was years ago. Two hundred is a long way off.
Before I went to the exhibition, I expected to see his inventions and what they looked like in reality. I didn’t get quite what I was expecting, but I did learn a lot more about him and his life.
On the ground floor of the circular museum building stands a two-ton, twelve-meter statue of Tesla. Tesla’s head reaches the upper floor. There, you can watch short films about artists and scientists explaining how Tesla inspired their work.
Divided into ten sections illustrating Tesla’s life, the main floor of the museum displays sections on the inventor’s life. The first is on his life in his country and how it shaped his hunger for science.
Among Tesla’s first great achievements was the world’s first modern hydroelectric power plant, opened in Niagara Falls in 1881. Following it’s success second power plant opened in 1895 in Tesla’s country, near Šibenik. He proved that alternating current can transmit large quantities of electricity over great distances. That kind a power could also supply a whole city with public lights similar to our modern streetlights. Tesla’s goal was to modernize Zagreb by introducing electric trams, and electric streetlamps. It happend but with a delay.
Later, the exhibition shows achievements in the time when Tesla started to work for Edison in Paris, and than in United States. When he arrived in New York, he was full of hope that his patents and visions will be accepted. Shortly after though, Edison and Tesla disagreed about electricity possibilities and Tesla quit feeling mistreated.
Once he starting working alone he become very famous and influential among fellow scientists, especially in the field of electricity. The inventor organized shows where he demonstrated his inventions. Most looked like some illusionist performance. One of his famous experiments was the “Columbus Egg” with which he wanted to prove how an egg can stand vertically. Columbo cooked an egg and put it vertically and Tesla put egg in a magnetic field. It then rotates around as magnets keep it vertical. The punchline of this shows was crative thinking and how inventions can migliorate our lifes.The elite loved him and he entered in high society.
In 1897 – 1900, Tesla started to work on a secret project in Colorado Springs, CO for the US government. There he discovered that with standing waves earth can be an electrical conductor on a certain frequency. It resulted in the first articulated signals from the universe using alternating current.
Later on, this project assured him professional success. In such an enviroment Tesla spread his ideas among influential people. Many very wealthy and powerful people finances Tesla’s research. One of them was J.P. Morgan who financed the construction of a tower Wardenclyffe on Long Island in Shoreham, NY. In exchange for his patents, Tesla started to construct a tower for wireless power transmission which would assure free energy. However, the tower deconstructed in 1917 under the excuse that it could be used by German spies. But the truth was that it was unacceptable to assure something for free in the time when everything had a price. On wireless power transmition principles today functions radio, remote controller or cell phone. Closing the tower project was Tesla’s biggest failure and beggining of downfall of his career. After that, he started to mainly work with turbines.
The saddest fact about his life is actually the most divine. Back in the days, in a time when capitalism was in full speed, nobody could imagine that such a mastermind wanted to give away a powerful service as a gift for all mankind. Tesla died alone in a New York hotel as a poor and forgotten inventor who managed to patent only 10% of his inventions. Many of his ideas were stolen but on that he famously said: “I don’t care that they stole my idea…I care that they don’t have any of their own.”
His life turned out to be so different from all that rich scenery in exhibition – a time of rising capitalism and it’s biggest symbols in the shape of skyscrapers, a time when illusionism took off, a time of rising entertainment and extroverted personalities who were often in his company.
I started to see things a bit differently, more melancholic. I felt I was watching some melodramatic story about greatness and failure…and posthumous catharsis. The Guy died 75 years ago and now we can still feel the echo of his inventions. Today in world where gadgets are taking over a larger part of everyday life, half of the population doesn’t even have a clue that Tesla imagined these things more than a century ago!