During the month of February Autoworld welcomed one of the first electric Tesla cars. In this case one of the 250 “Signature” limited versions. This Tesla Roadster was acquired new by Athlon Belgium and is presently duly located in Autoworld’s (ever growing) zone allocated to electric carsIf on the one hand all enthusiasts of electric cars know that the big boss of Tesla is called Elon Musk, it might be interesting to delve into the history of the individual who gave the car its name: Nikola Tesla.
Where does the name Tesla come from? Most of you probably know this but a booster jab might help.In 2003, Elon Musk launched the manufacture of electric cars under the name of Tesla in reference to a certain … Nikola Tesla.
Nikola Tesla was an inventor and American engineer of Serbian origin, born in 1856. He was at the origin of the discovery and development of alternating current for the transport and distribution of electricity. Among other things it is he who developed the first alternators and the first AC induction motor. He is also known for having been able to put into practice the discovery of electromagnetic radiation and for having described new methods to bring about ‘energy conversion’. Today Nikola Tesla is recognised as being one of the most creative engineers (he preferred defining himself as a ‘discoverer’) of the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
Nicknamed the ‘mad scientist’, he was over and above all a humanist and dreamed of providing free electricity to all homes thanks to the alternating current by means of wireless power transfer. We owe him hundreds of inventions! And yet he remained in relative anonymity until several decades after his death, because most of his inventions were wrongly attributed to his rival Thomas Edison (the great defender of direct current) with whom he was employed when he emigrated to the United States in 1884, and who registered many of Nikola Tesla’s patents.
The paramount difference between these two men was that “Thomas Edison wanted to make things work and sell them whereas Nikola Tesla merely wanted to understand the mysteries of electricity” (cfr historian Jill Jonnes). Having fallen on hard times after having resigned from Thomas Edison, he has his patents redeemed by agreeing to waive a clause specifying that he would receive the sum of $2,50 per horsepower of alternating current sold. Had he fought to maintain the clause he would undoubtedly have become one of the richest men of his era!
Nikola Tesla is then approached by George Westinghouse, Edison’s major competitor. Between the two of them the “War of Currents” is officially open! In 1896, the Westinghouse-Tesla alternating current is put into place in the United States but Westinghouse, heavily in debt, convinces Nikola to forgo his royalties.
Tesla gradually cuts himself off from the outside world having, in 1901, failed to carry out the first transatlantic radio communication from the Wardenclyffe tower. It is his rival Guglielmo Marconi who receives the Nobel Prize for his wireless telegraphy invention, the discovery having been made possible thanks to one of Tesla’s patents.
In 1943 Nikola Tesla dies in an hotel room in New York, heavily in debt but leaving 300 patents behind, of which the alternating current, the high frequency and the wireless telegraphy.
Today his tomb is in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, in the Nikola-Tesla museum and the Belgrade airport is called the Nikola Tesla Airport.
In 1960 his name is given to (T), the international unit of magnetic induction. Today the name Tesla is especially identified with luxury electric cars.
Yet…let us always retain a thought for this “poet of science”, as his rival Thomas Edison nicknamed him, each time we switch on a light in a room. It draws on alternating current invented by Tesla.