12 Surprising Things Not Many People Know About Nikola Tesla

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.

Photo: Wellcome Images / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 4.0

  • Tesla Wanted To Use Niagara Falls To Power The World

    There are statues of Nikola Tesla on both the American and Canadian sides of Niagara Falls, which strikes many visitors as strange. They were erected in recognition of Tesla’s breakthroughs in electricity and his building of the world’s first hydro-electric power plant nearby, but they’re monuments to the great inspiration that Tesla received from the breathtaking natural wonder. Upon seeing the mighty Falls for the first time, Tesla noted that he wanted to put a giant wheel under them and use it to power the world.

  • Tesla Died Penniless
    Photo: TIME Magazine / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Tesla Died Penniless

    Despite his brilliant mind and seemingly limitless innovation, Tesla died penniless and alone like so many other misunderstood geniuses. Tesla actually spent the majority of his life in financial difficulty, in part due to his humanist view of the world. He invented things to make the world a better place and to improve quality of life, and wasn’t all that interested in accruing wealth while he did so. Unfortunately, financial realities often limited Tesla’s experimentation, especially when compared to his contemporaries like Thomas Edison. When Tesla passed away, he was barely scraping by.

  • Some Of Tesla’s Inventions Are Still Classified By The US Government, Including A Death Beam
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Some Of Tesla’s Inventions Are Still Classified By The US Government, Including A Death Beam

    Many of Tesla’s inventions are widely known, even if they were never actually put into practice. Much of the work from later in his life, when he was working on things like “death beams,” is held by the US government and still highly classified. Tesla died in America during World War II, which allowed the government to seize his property despite the fact he was an American citizen. Speculation is rampant as to what the US might be doing with some of Tesla’s materials, and death beams are the most frequent topic of discussion for obvious reasons.

  • Telsa Is Rumored To Have Created An Earthquake Machine

    Several of Tesla’s inventions were never put into practice, which means the world needs to take him at his word as to their applications. Such is the case with his infamous “earthquake machine,” which he claimed would use a system of pistons, springs, and a central rod to send vibrations through objects and literally shake them apart. With a large enough version, this supposed invention could feasibly cause real earthquakes, and seems like something Lex Luthor might create. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on one’s point of view, the Mythbusters tried to make a working version and found it to be highly infeasible.

  • Tesla Conceived Of WiFi-Powered Smartphones In 1901
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    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
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    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.