12 Surprising Things Not Many People Know About Nikola Tesla

In the age of the , 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, 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.

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

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

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 , 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

Nikola Tesla couldn’t have predicted his becoming a posthumous internet icon, but he might have predicted the devices with which 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.

Tesla Had An Intense Aversion To Pearls

Most geniuses have their quirks and eccentricities, and Nikola Tesla was certainly no exception. He had an intense and unexplainable aversion to pearls, to the point that he would refuse to speak to any woman who was wearing them. On one occasion, one of his secretaries came in with a new set of pearls, and he made her go home. Tesla was obsessed with aesthetics, but this particular eccentricity seems to go a bit beyond that.

Tesla Claimed He Received Visions That Inspired His Inventions

Nikola Tesla’s brilliant mind conceived of countless amazing inventions, but he claims that much of his inspiration came in the form of unexplainable visions that left him with fully formed ideas and designs. These images would often be accompanied by bright lights and flashes, and Tesla was able to use his eidetic memory to commit these “visions” to paper. This may have been a result of Tesla’s unique mental abilities and his innate talent for spatial conception, but he believed them to be somewhat supernatural.

Tesla Firmly Believed In Aliens

That Nikola Tesla believed in aliens isn’t that surprising, even if such a belief was a little ahead of his time. However, Tesla also believed to have received messages from alien beings. While working on his pioneering innovations in radio, Tesla said he received “signals” that he could not trace the source of. He wrote, “The feeling is constantly growing on me that I had been the first to hear the greeting of one planet to another.” That did not end up being the case, as the signals were a result of normal cosmic activity.

A Pigeon Was The Light Of Tesla’s Life

Tesla swore off intimate relationships and committed to celibacy early on in his career, but he saved a place in his heart for, of all things, pigeons. He kept them at his hotel in New York, and he had a particular affinity for one white female who he claimed to straight-up love. In keeping with his claims of receiving visions, Tesla said that the bird came through his window one night to tell him that she was dying, and then shot beams of light from her eyes. Shortly thereafter, Tesla claims the pigeon died in his arms and, at that very moment, he knew his life’s work was complete.