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Alternating Current: A Nikola Tesla Invention

Nikola Tesla entered the world in 1856. Born in Austria-Hungary, his mother stayed home to raise the children and his father was a Serbian Orthodox preacher. Tesla was a quick study and learned six languages. He graduated at the age of 14 and started college. While in college he became fascinated with science though his parents hoped he would become a priest or enter the military. When he fell ill from cholera and survived he earned his father's blessing to study electrical engineering at Graz, Austria's Polytechnic Institute. It was in college where he started to question why motors had to convert alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC). He aspired to create a motor that used AC power directly without the conversion. After switching to the University of Prague, he ran out of funding to remain in college and entered the working world. Eventually, his job brought him to Paris where he took a junior engineer job with Compagnie Continental Edison.

While Tesla worked with the Edison plant in France, he kept thinking about creating a system that operated on AC power rather than DC. He didn't see the point in taking the extra step to convert the current. His colleagues continued to create DC motors, but he kept focusing on his own ideas. When he was sent to Strasburg, Germany to repair damage to an Edison system that exploded, he spent his free time working on an AC motor and generator that proved successful. That success brought him to New York in 1884. In New York, Tesla met Thomas Edison and worked on improving the efficiency of his systems. When he did not receive the bonuses he believed Edison promised him, he left the company and founded The Tesla Light and Manufacturing Company. His financial supporters however, ended up swindling him out of his patents leaving him broke. He was forced to dig ditches but his foreman recognized his abilities and The Tesla Electrical Company opened in 1887. He soon had patents in hand and George Westinghouse, owner of Westinghouse Electric Company, purchased rights to Tesla's system soon after.

To create his system, Tesla built a device that had an iron rotor revolving between two electrified wire coils. The resulting magnetic field produced AC current. That current moved to another device, an induction motor, that created the energy needed to power the motor in an appliance. He went on to expand the system to have a generator, lights, motor, transformer, and transmission lines. He figured that three circuits set up out of sequential order would be more efficient for transmitting electricity. With single-phase power, there was a gap between phases that led to loss of power, a three-phase system ensured there was never a gap, so the electricity could travel farther. The system went on display in the 1893 World's Exposition in Chicago. It later went into a hydroelectric plant in Niagara Falls. Despite his success, by 1899, Tesla would run out of money and needed financial support. He received funding to build a new power plant in Long Island, New York. Eventually, the money ran out and the project was abandoned in 1905. He turned his focus on inventions that could reach space and the use of radio waves to find ships. In 1943, he died with little money left, but his inventions continued to shape and change the world.

Nikola Tesla's inventions play an important part in today's technology. People would not have computers, rechargeable electronics or lighting fixtures in their homes without his inventions. AC power is the power that comes into a person's home, sent over transmission lines that run from the power plant to businesses and residences. The AC system is used in electronic equipment, such as radios and televisions and vehicle starters. Even the expensive electric-powered sports car manufacturer, Tesla, tips its hat to Nikola Tesla for creating the motor that powers Tesla vehicles. Without Tesla's foresight, people would be reading by candlelight, cooking over open fires and using horse and carriages to get around town. Every time someone turns on a light, uses an electronic device, or feels the blast of heat from an electric-powered furnace, Tesla is the man to thank.

To learn more about Tesla's life, visit these websites.

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