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12 Surprising Things Not Many People Know About Nikola Tesla

Updated June 14, 2019 157.9k views12 items

In the age of the Internet, Nikola Tesla has enjoyed a posthumous surge in popularity like no deceased scientist before him. Whether its speculating about rumored Tesla inventions, driving the brand of electric car with his name on it, or taking his side in the Nikola Tesla/Thomas Edison rivalry, science nerds just love to geek out about Tesla. After all, the man could (allegedly) master lightning and generate earthquakes, so what’s not to love?

Tesla was born in Austria on July 10, 1856, although he moved to the United States in his late 20s and spent most of his life there. A somewhat secretive man, many of Tesla’s inventions are only known through his descriptions of them, and most of his notes have been lost to time or confiscated by the US Government. In short, there’s as much mystery as substance to Tesla’s story, and that only serves to make him even more intriguing.

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  • Tesla Conceived Of WiFi-Powered Smartphones In 1901

    Nikola Tesla couldn’t have predicted his becoming a posthumous internet icon, but he might have predicted the devices with which people praise him on social media. Speaking to business partner JP Morgan, Tesla described a new method of instant communication that could send information via encoded frequencies and then broadcast them to a receiver small enough to fit in your hand. In one fell swoop, Tesla had conceived of WiFi and smartphones, even if he would never put this idea into practice. He was never able to figure out quite how to do it, but his theorizing in this area also led him to conceive of things like radar, X-rays, and that infamous death beam.

  • Tesla Had An Eidetic Memory

    Tesla was said to possess a photographic memory, but it appears that an eidetic memory would be a more appropriate description. He was said to be able to memorize entire books after having read them only once, a skill that no doubt made him the envy of fellow researchers and college students everywhere. Due to this amazing memory, Tesla could conceive of inventions entirely in his head, and would keep stockpiles of these “blueprints” sitting in his brain until he could commit them to paper.

  • Tesla Once Made Mark Twain Poop His Pants

    There is a potentially apocryphal tale of Nikola Tesla and his personal friend, Mark Twain, that is too amusing not to include on any list of Tesla tales. When Tesla made his claims of inventing an earthquake machine, technically known as a high-frequency oscillator, Twain came over to see it. Knowing that Twain had recently been experiencing some digestive issues, Tesla had him stand on a platform about the oscillator, and then turned it on. If the legend is true, Twain pooped in his white suit instantly and bolted for the bathroom.

  • Tesla Was Born During A Violent Lightning Storm

    Nikola Tesla was born in a manner befitting of a mad scientist. He was brought into this world in the middle of the night, during a particularly violent lightning storm. A family legend tells that the midwife assisting in the birth claimed that the lightning was bad luck and meant dark things for young Nikola, but his mother replied with, “No. He will be a child of light.” She had no idea how right she would be. With his eventual innovations in electricity, Tesla was born into lightning and then became its master, like some sort of meteorological Batman.