The Genius Nicolae Teslea


The great scientist Nikola Tesla was Romanian. He was Istro-Romanian and his name was Nicolae Teslea.

The great scientist and inventor Nicolae Teslea was born on the night of July 10, 1856, as the son of Milutin Teslea (an Orthodox priest) and Gica Mandici. The father’s family was a family of anti-Ottoman border guards, in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. The family name was originally Drăghici, but was changed in “Teslea”, a nickname that was being given after the craft of carpenters passed within the family (in Romanian – ‘teslar’ or ‘dulgher’ = carpenter). Nicolae’s father had another brother, Iosif, who graduated from the Military Academy and taught mathematics in different military schools. Lately, he became professor at the War Academy in Vienna.

After initially was a student in the military school, Teslea’s father quickly changed his profession becoming an Orthodox priest in 1845 – when he married Gica. The church in which Teslea’s father had served, was located at the foothills of Velebit Mountains (covered with oak and beech forests) in Similian commune – belonging to Lica province with the town center at Gospici, where the priest had been transferred.

Henri Coandă is presenting the great inventor as being from Serbian Banat region, but the reality is that his friend was an Istro-Romanian from Croatia. Since the 15th and 16th centuries, Lica province was inhabited by Istro-Romanians Mavrovlachs (or Morlachs). Gospici was located 12 km away from the shores of the Adriatic Sea and the Similian commune (Teslea’s homeland) was situated 12 km away from Gospici.

Being an educated man, the priest was interested in literature, philosophy, natural sciences, and mathematics. The denationalization had gathered the Mavrovlachs under the Orthodox Church protection.

Teslea’s Romanian mother, Gica Mandici, remained orphaned since she was a child and she had to take care of her other six younger siblings. Her father refused to send her to a foreign language school, but being self-taught she completed her education as a student of her husband. The priest had a vast library with books from many fields, but many of them were mostly about the science field. Gica was famous for the beautiful embroideries she made.

Other Teslea’s siblings were, as following: a brother Dan, who died in an accident since a young age; 3 sisters – Anghelina, Milica, and Marita (this being the youngest sibling, whom he loved the most). About Teslea’s family we can say much more.

Nicolae Teslea made his studies, between 1875-1881, at Karlovat and Graz Polytechnic. In 1881 and 1882, he began his famous discoveries and inventions at Graz, Paris, and Budapest. After that, he continued his discoveries at the Edison Company in 1882 and at Strasbourg in 1884 – after which he left for America.

When you talk about Nicolae Teslea, you think about the Istro-Romanian who became an American citizen – the prolific inventor in the electrotechnic and radiotechnic fields, the one who discovered the rotating magnetic field (simultaneously with the Italian Galileo Ferraris, 1847-1897). He also invented the two-phase alternating current system and studied the high frequency current. He built the first two-phase asynchronous motors, electric generators, the electric high frequency transformer, etc. In the atomistic field, with the help of a high voltage electrostatic generator, he researched the atomic nuclei fission.

The invention of the “rotating electric field” phenomenon was born in 1882 at Budapesta, but immediately after this Teslea left for Paris – where he was employed by the Edison Continental Company. While working in there, he is modifying the Dynamo-Edison machine and is building the Strasbourg electric power plant. Despite the fact that he was promised, by Edison, $25,000 at the end of these projects, he got frustrated with gratifications only. Charles Batchelor, one of Edison’s assistants, is proposing to him to immigrate to America and is giving him (in 1884) a personal letter of recommendation for Edison. While getting ready to depart for America, he got into some troubles – his money was stolen at Le Havre train station. The captain of the ship understood his situation and based on the board document (the ticket already being nominated in his name) he is accepted to depart for New York. At Edison’s company he is “welcomed” with coldness, but based on that letter of recommendation he is employed as an electrician-engineer for the repairing of DC Edison motors and generators.

In 1885, an unexpected situation made him to stand out and be remarked. Oregon Transatlantic liner, equipped with the Edison generator that got broken, had to depart for Europe on a fixed day; the liner had all seats sold and the delay would had been brought great damages to the ship-owners. Edison’s company is asking Teslea to repair it and in 20 hours he is fixing the coil winding which turned to have contributed to the damage of the generator. Edison had promised Teslea a prize of $50,000 if the generator would have been fixed on time, prior to the departure of the ship. The ship left on time, but the promise that he would be given a prize was actually a joke. None of the gratifications that had been promised, were given to him – like gratifications for the improvement of the Edison electric generators and motors in 24 variants, supplied with a regulator and a new type of switch. Because of Edison’s conduct, Teslea will work from now on on his own and will achieve the completion of his own original system – based on the polyphase alternating currents. As time goes by, Teslea is being proved to be right in his competition with Edison and gradually his thesis on alternating current is standing out.

Starting with the spring of 1885, the proud Teslea is refusing to continue to collaborate with Edison and is starting to work independently establishing his own company named “Tesla Arc Light Company”.

In a discussion with Henri Coandă, recorded on tape, the great savant told me personally that he knew Teslea: “Since I was young I knew Teslea from my father, Gen. Constantin Coandă, who was always next to me. Nicolae Teslea, the inventor of the alternating current, was a Romanian from Banat region (Aromanian) and his way of thinking surprised me so much. He was four months younger than my father, but I cannot say that I wasn’t influenced by him too. Despite the fact that I was a child, I cannot forget his extraordinary way of thinking and presenting things. You see, one of the very important Romanians who probably changed the life of the whole world is from Banat region (Bănățean).” If 150 years ago somebody would had come and say like Teslea said “I will make electric light by moving an iron in front of a copper wire”, the world would had called him “crazy”. Coandă met Teslea in 1893, when Teslea was in the country (Romania) because of the death of his mother. At that time, he was already famous all around the world – but less famous in Romania. In November 1933, Albert Einstein – who recently immigrated to the USA – is learning about Teslea’s research on nuclear fission and is looking forward for a way to meet him. They are going to know each other with the help of a young scientific reporter, Kenneth Sweasy, who is giving to Teslea a letter of recommendation coming from Einstein. Teslea was 75 years old when he received Einstein’s letter. Celebrating his birth anniversary, he is confessing that is working on a new source of energy, information that is inciting Einstein to meet and know him.

Teslea is researching the gravitational fields, the same way he researched the electromagnetic ones. Einstein is learning about this, from an article in the “Scientific American” magazine – article based on the experiences conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in order to obtain high voltage tensions using the Van der Graaf generator, designed to experiment the atomic nucleus.

On March 13, 1885, a fire is devastating Teslea’s laboratory in New York. The fire is destroying all the telegraphic installations and all the technical equipment necessary for obtaining high voltage frequency currents. This catastrophe is letting Teslea poor and without financial means; but the scientist is rewarding his secretaries who are leaving him, by cutting in half the Edison gold medal he had received. After the laboratory fire let him poor in the street (not being covered by fire insurance), Teslea had moved into a modest hotel room. Despite the poor conditions he was forced to live in, he is continuing his research anyway.

In the spring of 1898, Teslea is demonstrating in public the routing, through a radio, of a long distance ship without crew. The experiment was done offshore, close to the New York coastal area, out in the Atlantic Ocean.

In 1899 Teslea is building in Colorado a big radio station with an output of 200 kW, performing transmissions of over 1,000 km away by wireless telegraphy, illuminating cities from the distance, and getting voltages of 12 million volts.

Edison and Teslea were both being proposed, in 1915, to share the Nobel Prize for physics – as being the scientists who dedicated their lives in order to make useful discoveries and great technical achievements for mankind. Teslea refused the prize, because of the animosities from the past with Edison. In 1916, the prize couldn’t be awarded to him because of the World War I.

Nicolae Teslea died in New York on the night of January 7, 1943, and is buried on January 12. He was an overwhelming personality, a genius who marked two centuries.


Article written by Prof. Univ. Assoc. Dr. Eng. Dinu-Ștefan T. Moraru
Member of the Romanian Academy of Scientists

Translated by Ioana


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