In the battle for enduring fame, sometimes the more interesting story belongs to the guy who came in second. Thomas Edison's name is known to every American child. Nikola Tesla was his great rival.
"Tesla's Wonderful World of Electricity" opened earlier this month at the New York Hall of Science. The 14-week exhibit contains models from the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade and is sure to fascinate the same fans who recently helped raise more than $1.3 million to build the first U.S.-based Tesla museum.
One of the greatest technological minds of all time, Telsa invented the induction motor, the Tesla coil, radio, neon lighting and many other devices. He was born in modern-day Croatia in 1856, immigrated to the United States in his late 20s, and became a U.S. citizen at age 35. He obtained hundreds of patents worldwide -- and also tried to unlock the secrets to teleportation and time travel.
Tesla is thought to have had obsessive-compulsive disorder; he was a germophobe and, in his later years, avoided round objects, women's jewelry and human hair. Despite his fame and success, he died "broke and alone," writes Matthew Inman, webcomic author and Tesla fanboy, "living on milk and Nabisco crackers."
The New York exhibit displays Tesla's successes. But it also shows his failures: his "loud" wireless electricity generator, his unworkable vertical-takeoff-and-landing airplane. Even some of his workable inventions, the exhibit notes, were overlooked in his lifetime. Of his remote-controlled boat, Casey Johnston of Ars Technica writes, it was overshadowed by other scientists' work because "Tesla emphasized the mystery and magic of the device and didn't make its inner workings easily known to reporters."