Remembering Nikola Tesla

Today Thomas Edison is recognized around the world as a prolific inventor and the father of the electrical industry.  Less recognized is Nikola Tesla, a Serbian American born on July 10, 1856, who played an equally important role in the evolution of electronics.

Over his lifetime, Tesla obtained almost 300 patents for his inventions.  He pioneered early X-ray imaging.  In 1893 he theorized the possibility of wireless communications.  In 1898 he demonstrated the world’s first remote-controlled device, a radio-controlled boat.  (Witnesses attributed the boat’s operation to magic, telepathy or a hidden trained monkey.)

Tesla’s pioneering work with alternating electrical current systems was one of his biggest contributions.  He licensed his AC patents to George Westinghouse, helping to fuel the infamous “war of currents” in the 1890s.  While Edison advocated direct current systems, Westinghouse argued that alternating current was safer, more reliable and more efficient.  Westinghouse won the war, and alternating current ultimately became the worldwide electrical standard.  But Tesla was a victim of bad business practices, losing lucrative royalties and rights as the electrical industry took off.  He died alone, impoverished and in relative obscurity in 1943.

In his later years, Tesla’s obsession with developing a “death ray” (a “superweapon that would put an end to all war”) earned him a reputation as a mad scientist.  While he claimed that the device had been built and demonstrated, he never put his plans in writing and the device was never found.  After Tesla’s death, all of his papers and belongings were seized by the U.S. government, fueling conspiracy theories that continue to this day.

In 1960, the General Conference on Weights and Measures designated the term “tesla” for the measure of magnetic field strength.

Today, wireless communications are pervasive all over the world.  Agilent is a world leader in wireless communications test and measurement technologies for both R&D and manufacturing.  In August 2014, Agilent’s electronic measurement business will become an operationally independent company, Keysight Technologies, Inc.

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