Nikola Tesla
By: Annie Nocenti | Categories: HiLo Heroes


NIKOLA TESLA (1856-1943) should be a hero to environmentalists, progressives and pacifists everywhere. Famous for developing AC (alternating current) and infamous for his battles with Thomas Edison, a proponent of DC (direct current), Tesla is also known for developing the first radio transmitter. His list of patents, inventions, experiments and musings reads like a prop list for a science fiction series: ion-propelled aircraft, an anti-gravity machine, wireless transmission of electricity, the Tesla Coil, a machine to induce sleep, another to collapse buildings with sonar, Telautomatics (robotics), and teleportation, to name a few. For the most part it also reads like a laundry list of things we take for granted: the radio, electricity, the spark plug, remote control, robotics, radar, the x-ray, the rotary motor, wireless communication — all of this though he was gone by 1943. Despite these achievements, his bizarre personality, his refusal to conform, and his wild theoretical claims were almost enough to relegate him historically to the category of “mad scientist.” Even his mental disorder was ahead of its time: most likely he suffered from a severe case of what has since become known as “OCD,” obsessive-compulsive disorder. And yet, part of his genius was self-reflective: “The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly,” he said. “One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane.” Prone to prescient predictions, Tesla claimed “When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain.” He predicted that people would communicate instantly by simple vest-pocket equipment, and believed that if energy transmission and communication circled the globe, peace would be the result. “[That] which would be most helpful in the establishment of universal peaceful relations is the complete annihilation of distance.”

ALSO BORN THIS DATE: Tura Satana.

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Annie Nocenti is a journalist and screenwriter. She shot two films in Baluchistan, taught film in Haiti, and currently does bootcamp filmmaking workshops.