Nikola Tesla, an Inventive Namesake

By HENRY FOUNTAIN

ODD, isn’t it, that the people at Tesla Motors named their company after a man who spent years trying to invent a death ray.

They didn’t, really. Or rather, they did, but honoring the man who wanted to build a directed-energy superweapon as a way to end wars probably wasn’t what Elon Musk and his fellow entrepreneurs had in mind. Nikola Tesla, the Serbian inventor who died at 86, nearly penniless, in a New York City hotel in 1943, also conceived of the alternating-current induction motor — the basic device, now much refined, that is at the heart of every Tesla electric car.

But it’s a testament to Tesla’s far-reaching intellect that he could be remembered as well for the weapon research (despite years of on-again, off-again work, the idea never came to fruition), or for the first patent for a speedometer, or for an early version of the points-and-breaker ignition system that was a feature of cars for decades, or for electric-arc lamps, radio, wireless transmission of electricity or any number of other inventions and ideas.

Tesla, who came to the United States in 1884, is regarded as one of the greatest electrical engineers of the early 20th century. He was Thomas Edison’s great rival, he worked with George Westinghouse to develop early lighting systems and he demonstrated a radio transmitter before Guglielmo Marconi. But he also had some strange ideas, and spent much of the latter part of his life exploring subjects like time travel and what he described as a theory of gravity.

What Tesla wasn’t very good at was managing his affairs. He got into lengthy disputes with Edison and Marconi, among others, and while he made a lot of money he also lost a lot of it, too. The people at Tesla Motors presumably didn’t choose to honor him for that.

The New York Times
February 4, 2010

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Posted on February 6, 2010, in Technology. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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