July 10, 1856: Nikola Tesla is born.

This Serbian-American inventor arrived in the United States in 1884, working first for Thomas Edison, with whom he would soon develop a very poor relationship. In 1885, Edison promised Tesla $50,000 if he could redesign and improve his DC generators. Tesla accomplished what was asked of him, but Edison, when confronted with the promise, supposedly replied: “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor." Enraged, Tesla quit. In the late 80s, they butted heads once more in the War of the Currents, during which Edison actively attempted to discredit Tesla’s (admittedly more efficient) alternating current electricity distribution system. Tesla won out in the end, and it was his system that lit up the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair over Edison’s. Both scientists were potential laureates for the Nobel Prize in 1915, but neither ever won - possibly because neither would accept the prize if the other won first.

At the turn of the century, Tesla continued with his electrical experiments, even attempting to build a facility that would not only function as a wireless telecommunications tower, but transmit electricity for all without the need for wires. That project collapsed, however, as his financiers began to back out and cheaper alternatives appeared. The nature of his work became more and more eccentric as the years went by (his claims of having invented a “death ray” are a notable example), and soon, he came to resemble a sort of proto-mad scientist. Though he lived the later years of his life penniless and in debt, Tesla was a mostly-respected figure all the way until his death in 1943. In his eulogy, the mayor of New York called him “a great humanitarian, a pure scientific genius, a poet in science.

Pictured: Tesla sits in his lab in Colorado Springs.

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