Nikola Tesla was born on July 10, 1856 in Smiljan, Lika, which was then part of the Austo-Hungarian Empire, and today is a region of Croatia. He comes from an Orthodox family, where his father, Milutin Tesla, was an Orthodox priest. His mother, Djuka Mandic, was very intelligent and supported his life in his younger days. He had four siblings: three sisters, Angelina, Milka, Marica, and a brother named Dane. Unfortunately, his childhood was marred by the death of his older brother, a difficult relationship with his parents, and a serious illness at age 12.
Already at an early age, Tesla shows insight and ambition. There is an anecdote from his life related to his first sight of Niagara Falls, where he announced to his uncle Josip that one day, he would put a big wheel there and use the potential of the falls. This was his childhood dream.
Tesla started school in Smiljan, where he learned German, mathematics, and religion. After moving to Gospic, he carried forward with elementary school finishing Preparatory Elementary School and Lower Real Gymnasium. From Gospic, he left for Rakovac, located near Karlovac, and finished Higher Real Gymnasium.
When Tesla completed high school, he avoided forced enlistment in an ongoing war, and went to study physics and other disciplines at the Polytechnic School in Graz, located south of Vienna. However, he did not stay to complete his degree. Still, he later enrolled at the University of Prague, where he advanced his knowledge of wave mechanics (and indirectly AC), working with Professor Ernst Mach.
After his studies, Tesla began his career as an electrical engineer with a telephone company in Budapest in 1881. Tinkering with equipment as a telephone line repairman, he created a kind of amplifier, a forerunner of loudspeakers, which he never filed as his own patent.
Before leaving for America, Tesla got a job at the Continental Edison company in Paris, where he designed a dynamo. While in Strassbourg in 1883, he privately built a prototype of an induction motor and successfully started it. The impossibility of anyone in Europe recognizing the potential of his invention induced him to accept Thomas Edison's offer and go to work in New York. He gets there in 1884 with an introduction letter from Charles Batchelor to Thomas Edison: "I know two great men," wrote Batchelor, "one is you and the other is this young man.".
Tesla started to work in Edison’s lab in New Jersey, where he began to improve Edison’s line of dynamos. This is the point where his divergence of opinion with Edison over direct current versus alternating current began. Due to disagreements with Edison, he decides to found his own company.
In 1885, he founded a company called the Tesla Electric and Manufacturing Company, which went bankrupt a year later. After that, Tesla is forced to finance himself through hard manual work. Two years later, he founded a new company called Tesla Electric Company. That same year, 1887, Tesla decided to register his patents, which included a multi-phase electric power transmission motor system, an induction motor, generators and transformers. A year later, in partnership with George Westinghouse, Tesla sold his alternating current patents for $1 million (some sources claim he received only $60,000).
After going to Europe and visiting Lika, Tesla's birthplace, in 1890, he began researching high-frequency current, where after a year, he constructed the first transformer, the so-called Tesla coil. In 1892, he returned to Lika for his mother's funeral.
As part of the world exhibition of electrical engineering held in Chicago in 1893, Tesla presented the advantages of alternating current. Unfortunately, in 1895, his famous work on electrons and x-rays was destroyed in a fire in his laboratory, which is why it was never published.
In 1896 the first hydroelectric plant was commissioned at the foot of Niagara Falls and used Tesla's alternating current patents. In 1899, Tesla built an experimental station in Colorado Springs to experiment with high voltage, high-frequency electricity and other phenomena. There he worked for one year, and after that, he moved to Long Island, where he never had a chance to finish his research on wireless transmission of electricity because J.P. Morgan stopped to finance him.
From 1910 to 1922, Tesla continued with his engineering inventions, where 1919, Tesla's autobiography „My inventions” was first published. He was awarded the Edison medal in 1917 and, in 1926, received an honorary doctorate from the University of Zagreb. In 1937 he earned two honorary doctorates from the Polytechnic University in Graz and the University of Paris.
Tesla spent his life in hotels, and he lived in the Hotel New Yorker for the last ten years. He died there on January 7th, 1943, in his apartment on the 33rd floor. A state funeral was held at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City. He was cremated, and his ashes were interned in a golden sphere, Tesla’s favorite shape, which was handed over to the Tesla Museum in Belgrade.