Nikola Tesla (1856–1943) was a Serbian-American engineer and inventor whose greatest accomplishments were paving the way for practical widespread distribution of electricity by way of the development of alternating current, the Tesla coil (although they were really discovered by Michael Faraday and demonstrated by Callan 20 years before Tesla was born), and having a hand in the creation of radio alongside rivals Guglielmo Marconi and Reginald Fessenden. Though he originally worked for Thomas Edison, they had a falling-out over alternating current and Tesla left to work for Edison's competition.
Tesla was among the most prolific and noted scientists of his time, but made some very poor financial and legal decisions, allowing others such as Edison and George Westinghouse to register patents for his inventions, and he died in relative poverty. The SI unit measure for magnetic field strength is named after him despite the fact that he had no role in the development of electrodynamics, or physics in general. Tesla was also the object of a kind of New Age cult after his death in 1943. Tesla, like Democritus, was convinced that atom is the smallest indivisible unit of matter, and a believer in ether despite the Michelson-Morley experiment.
 Tesla's appeal to cranks
While Tesla's major accomplishments went a long way towards creating the world as we know it, he was also something of a mad scientist, dealing in numerous bizarre theoretical (and often unworkable) ideas, including a wireless power transmission system and, most notoriously, a "death ray." Like other pioneering scientists of his era, including Thomas Edison and William Crooke, Tesla was fascinated by the paranormal, the "spirit world" and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. He is also reported to have had various eccentricities and phobias, and it seems rather likely that he suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder.
Tesla's poorly-thought-out later ideas are much beloved of would-be engineers with little formal scientific training, and as a result Tesla's name is sometimes used as a handwave by unscrupulous or naive inventors misrepresenting their inventions.
Tesla is also a favourite figure of conspiracy theorists, and there are numerous theories revolving around him, most of which claim that his death was suspicious and followed some great breakthrough discovery or invention by him which has been kept secret ever since. In some variants, this is the "death ray" he was working on; in others, some form of paranormal or extraterrestrial communication. "The Tesla Conspiracy" site claims that he had discovered the means of drawing electricity directly from the atmosphere, but that this has been hushed up by the interests of unscrupulous oil and energy companies. Further fuel was added to the conspiracists' fire when the US government took control of Tesla's papers after he died.
Another general trope is the notion that Tesla has never received the credit due to him, with his name somehow being suppressed by "the scientific establishment." While it's true that Edison was a bit of a douchebag toward him, and even the patent office now admits that it was Tesla, and not Marconi, who invented the radio, the conspiracy claims go far beyond this. Quite how this tallies with mention of him in every physics textbook is not clear, never mind SI unit of magnetism being named the "tesla" in his honour, as well as a car company also being named after him.
 Tesla in slightly popular culture
- In Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes, the White Stripes try to play with a Tesla coil. Results: Epic phail.
- Alternative country duo The Handsome Family wrote the moving "Tesla's Hotel Room," which appears on their album Last Days of Wonder (2006).
- In the film The Prestige (2006), Tesla (played by David Bowie) secretly invents a device capable of cloning any person or object. Apparently the only useful application for such a machine is in stage magic, provided the clone (or the original) is immediately killed.
- Canadian science fiction series Sanctuary depicts Tesla as a member of an ancient vampire civilisation with a hatred for humanity. Tesla has a black sense of humor, and was originally not a vampire, but became one after Helen Magnus extracted a serum from vampire blood. Oddly enough, Tesla loves Magnus (but then again, so does everybody, she plays Samantha Carter in Stargate SG-1), and can light up lightbulbs by sticking his finger in them.
- Nikola Tesla is the creator of Atomic Robo, the protagonist of Brian Clevinger's Atomic Robo (of which a sample is available here).
- In the Red Alert series of strategy games, Tesla Coils are powerful weapons used by the dastardly commies because he defected from America and sold his inventions to the Soviets.
- Tesla is also the name of an American hard rock band, who have immortalized him in their song Edison's Medicine.
- Tesla and his experiments form the basis of many of the conspiracy theories believed by the protagonists in Douglas Rushkoff's novel The Ecstasy Club.
- In the eighties Synthpop band OMD had a top 20 hit in the UK with "Tesla Girls."
- Had Tesla married J. P. Morgan's daughter, he could have totally revolutionized the world with his technological ideas. At least, that is what happens in the timeline nicknamed Gernsback in GURPS Infinite Worlds,[wp] a role-playing game which deals with an international association called Infinity that travels between different alternate timelines and attempts to prevent problems in those timelines, as well as benefitting their Homeline.
- Tesla is a major character in Matthew Flemming's 2010 fantasy/alternate history novel The Kingdom of Ohio.
- As mentioned above, Tesla Motors was started as a manufacturer of electric cars in 2003. In 2012, the Tesla Model S won the Motor Trend Magazine Car of the Year award, the first such award ever given to a car without an internal combustion engine. (Irony: The car runs on DC.)
- A statue of Nikola Tesla was erected in 2006 overlooking Horseshoe Falls in Niagra Falls, Ontario, near the site of the world's first hydroelectic station built there.
 See also
- See the Wikipedia article on Nikola Tesla.
- Tesla Memorial Society of New York
- Video of a Tesla coil in action
- Drunk History: Nicola Tesla
- Video of "Edison's Medicine", performed by the American hard rock band Tesla
- Tesla Motors
- Galileo Ferraris
- ↑ The Tesla Conspiracy
- ↑ Those who claim to have replicated a Tesla "free energy receiver" have typically re-invented the radio antenna. A radio antenna does draw power "out of the air," but that power is measured in milliwatts.
- ↑ Red 5 Comics
- ↑ ABC News: Tesla S Electric Is Motor Trend’s Car of the Year