It seems odd to me, as I walk around the museum in Belgrade and learn more about the life of Nikola Tesla, that he is not a household name.
It’s especially odd since his inventions are in every single household – powering everything from your hairdryer to your fridge.
But at the heart of the Tesla story and the controversy of his legacy is an intriguing mix of patriotic propaganda, economic warfare, unbridled vision and a thin grasp of sanity.
What is agreed unanimously is that Nikola Tesla was a genius ahead of his time. He was born a Serb (although in modern day Croatia) but did most of his work in the USA after emigrating there at the age of 28.
Although he could probably not have had the support to do his research anywhere else, it was working in America that was the first nail in the coffin of his legacy.
By working alongside greats like Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, the media and writers of history were always going to favour their own sons.
In fact, the Americans are often given far more credit for work which was essentially that of Tesla. Things like motors, power transmission, and energy generation.
Another invention Nikola Tesla has never been given proper recognition for is a little thing called radio. Although Guglielmo Marconi is generally considered to be its creator, it was something Tesla was actually further advanced on.
In fact, Marconi had to use 17 of Tesla’s patents to make his system work but the general view these days is that, despite legal challenges, Marconi was given the credit because of his links to big financial interests in the US.
Nikola Tesla was also the inventor of remote control, X-ray, the electric motor, lasers, and (in a broad sense) robotics. Oh yeah – just a few little things.
This was all at the turn of the 20th century, more than a hundred years ago, and they were advancements that people found hard to believe.
In fact, when he first demonstrated remote control with a small boat on a lake, many witnesses believed he was controlling it with his mind!
But these are, in some ways, the boring nitty gritty of the everyday inventions. The true genius of Tesla came in his big ideas.
He looked beyond the ordinary and sought to harness the power of the earth and the atmosphere above us. Quite literally.
This great inventor believed that he could transmit electricity through the air across great distances, no need for powerlines.
He tried to test his most ambitious project from a station he built on Long Island in New York. But, to cut a long story short, the project ran out of money before he was able to prove if it was possible or not.
There were various reasons why his backers were not willing to invest more – but one theory is that they lost interest when they realised what he was building could essentially provide free energy.
There would be no way to charge people for how much they used, and that wasn’t a popular idea for men who used their power to make money from power.
The experiment was scrapped and it’s still not known today whether he would ever have been able to make it happen. It is an interesting notion, though, particularly considering so many of his other radical ideas proved to be completely correct and have changed the way the world works.
The problem was that he was becoming increasingly eccentric in his old age, living alone in hotels and speaking to pigeons. He was, himself, very confident of how the future would judge him, though.
“All that was great in the past was ridiculed, condemned, combated, suppressed – only to emerge all the more powerfully, all the more triumphantly from the struggle,” Tesla once wrote.
“Let the future tell the truth and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs, the future, for which I really worked, is mine.”
Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Serbia
So, what did the years since his death hold for Nikola Tesla? It’s something I wonder as I look at the exhibits about his life and work in this museum in central Belgrade.
Although the scientist died in New York, all his possessions were sent back to Serbia and some have been displayed here.
A guide will walk around with you and demonstrate some of his inventions – including the famous Tesla coil that can light up fluorescent tubes remotely.
But the government keeps many of his papers shielded from the public, hidden away just for researchers trying to unlock more secrets from the mind of one of the greatest inventors and scientists to ever live.
Is there more he can teach us?
Will we find one day that a man who has already changed so much in the world has a few more surprises tucked away for humanity?
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN BELGRADE
You get great value for accommodation in Belgrade so you might want to consider staying somewhere a bit cool!
For a fun and social atmosphere, one of the best backpacker options is Hedonist Hostel.
If you would like something affordable with clean modern rooms, I suggest Omia Hotel.
There is some very funky design at the cool Mama Shelter Belgrade.
And when it comes to luxury, I just love the style at Square Nine Hotel Belgrade.
11 thoughts on “A spark of genius and genius of spark”
I have always been intrigued with Tesla the man, and his work. There is little doubt that his work was squashed by rich oil barons who were terrified of his idea to provide free electricity. They blackballed him and as a result, his work was not taken seriously by the scientific community after that. Interestingly, when he died he was in the employ of the U.S. government, working on defense patents. His safe was opened (presumably by the government) and all the top secret papers were whisked away. I have read that most are still classified as top secret.
Such an interesting post. I was in Belgrade last September, shame for not popping in Nikola Tesla’s museum, it would have been interesting.
Also shame that the government keeps some of his papers, I mean I understand the reasons why but it would be nice to know and see more about this great inventor!
Awesome post! Tesla was a genius, its a shame credit was given to other people for his work, I hope I can make it to this museum one day.
Tesla was the original mad scientist. He invented so many things that like you said, even today researchers are still trying to figure out everything. One wonders what he could have done given a little more time.
Tesla was an awesome guy. I read a lot of Steampunk and he very often shows up. Sometimes as a hero, sometimes as a villan and very often as a madman. He is often referred to as working on mind control and making earthquakes with machines. No clue if it is true, but geek-cool in any case. He had such a cool history that hs (in the age of the Internet) reduced to hearsay and singing Tesla Coils on YouTube.
And now you’ve given Andy a reason to visit Belgrade!
Genius always seems to straddle insanity in some way or another. He’s certainly a legend and I’m one of those who subscribes to the number of conspiracy theories behind his free energy legend, and how the U.S. government went with Edison simply because they saw a way to profit off of electricity, even though Tesla had figured out a way for everyone in the world to tap into an unlimited pool of magnetic power 🙂
Great post! I only wish more people would study the brilliance of Tesla above and beyond the legends. A truly brilliant mind.
I feel like I just learned something important 🙂
This is an excellent museum to visit and learn the truth about an ingenious inventor the world has forgotten. The Serbians idolise Telsa and rightly so after the Americans like Westinghouse took advantage of him.
I don’t know how anyone can visit Belgrade and not visit this museum. It is very popular and well advertised at accommodation and guides.
Very interesting post! This sounds like a great museum to visit to know his story better and to get you thinking about technology today. Thanks for sharing!
The Yugoslav government isn’t to blame for hiding some of Tesla’s papers. They just haven’t received all of them:
“In 1952, Tesla’s remaining papers and possessions were released to Sava Kosanovic´ and returned to Belgrade, Yugoslavia where a museum was created in the inventor’s honor.”