The Serbian engineer, who moved to the U.S. at age 35, is considered one of the most important and most overlooked inventors of all time -- as he lost the spotlight again and again in the 19th century to the flashier Thomas Edison. Indeed, his rivalry with Edison morphed into one of the most epic battles of all time.
Like so many brillant artists and inventors Tesla didn't gain real acclaim until after his death at age 86: Many modern science and history enthusiasts have developed a fondness for him. The man behind the online comic The Oatmeal even raised money to buy the long-forgotten land where Tesla's laboratory once stood and build a Tesla museum there. He ended up raising more than $1.3 million for the museum.
In honor of Tesla's birthday, we've rounded up some the most important things that you may not realize Tesla invented.
1. The Remote Control
Tesla first demonstrated the remote control in 1898, when he showed off a radio-controlled boat in Madison Square Garden. Tesla reportedly hoped that remote-controlled weapons would someday be used by the government.
Tesla's remote-controlled boat is considered to be one of the first robots. Tesla has been called "the father of robotics," so you can thank and/or blame him for pretty much everything from R2D2 to Google's self-driving cars.
3. Electric Motors
Ever wonder where the electric car company Tesla got it's name? Nikola Tesla invented the AC motor in 1888. The Tesla Roadster's motor is a direct descendant of Nikola Tesla's original invention. Tesla was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for that invention in 1975.
4. The Radio
Tesla's invention of the radio was hotly debated in in early 20th century. Italian scientist Guglielmo Marconi claimed to have invented the radio, but he actually used technology that Tesla patented to make his first radio transmission in 1901. After much debate, the U.S. Supreme court eventually ruled in Tesla's favor, recognizing him as the radio's inventor in 1943. Unfortunately, this occurred months after Tesla's death.
5. Neon Lighting
Tesla actually created some of the first neon and fluorescent lighting. The neon lights that he exhibited in 1893 look remarkably similar to the ones we see today.
6. Wireless Power Concept
Wireless power or wireless energy transmission is the transmission of electrical energy from a power source to an electrical load without man-made conductors. Wireless transmission is useful in cases where interconnecting wires are inconvenient, hazardous, or impossible. The problem of wireless power transmission differs from that of wireless telecommunications, such as radio. In the latter, the proportion of energy received becomes critical only if it is too low for the signal to be distinguished from the background noise. With wireless power, efficiency is the more significant parameter. A large part of the energy sent out by the generating plant must arrive at the receiver or receivers to make the system economical. The most common form of wireless power transmission is carried out using direct induction followed by resonant magnetic induction. Other methods under consideration are electromagnetic radiation in the form of microwaves or lasers and electrical conduction through natural media.
- 1891: Tesla demonstrates wireless energy transmission by means of electrostatic induction using a high-tension induction coil before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers at Columbia College.
- 1893: Tesla demonstrates the wireless illumination of phosphorescent lamps of his design at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
- 1893: Tesla publicly demonstrates wireless power and proposes the wireless transmission of signals before a meeting of the National Electric Light Association in St. Louis.
- 1894: Tesla lights incandescent lamps wirelessly at the 35 South Fifth Avenue laboratory in New York City by means of "electro-dynamic induction" or resonant inductive coupling.
- 1896: Tesla demonstrates wireless transmission over a distance of about 48 kilometres (30 mi).
- 1897: Tesla files his first patent application dealing specifically with wireless transmission.
- 1899: Tesla continues wireless power transmission research in Colorado Springs and writes, "the inferiority of the induction method would appear immense as compared with the disturbed charge of ground and air method."
- 1902: Nikola Tesla vs. Reginald Fessenden – U.S. Patent Interference No. 21,701, System of Signaling (wireless); wireless power transmission, time and frequency domain spread spectrum telecommunications, electronic logic gates in general.
- 1916: Tesla states, "In my [disturbed charge of ground and air] system, you should free yourself of the idea that there is [electromagnetic] radiation, that energy is radiated. It is not radiated; it is conserved."