At Pivot, we probably spend as much of our time helping clients with things like product manufacturing contracts, prototyping, and project data management as we do with product design.

However, if you ask any of us, we’ll probably tell you that product design – invention, in other words – is the reason we got into this business. We love working with inventors. They’ve got amazing vision, unstoppable drive, and incredible creativity.

That’s why we’re launching a new blog series that pays tribute to some of history’s most brilliant minds, many of whom were seen as simply crazy at the time they were working. And maybe they were a bit crazy – but then again, most geniuses are.

And when it comes to crazy geniuses, who better to start with than Nikola Tesla?

Tesla, the 20th century’s iconic mad scientist

You may have heard the name Tesla in reference to the Tesla coil, or maybe just Tesla Motors’ famously futuristic concept cars. Maybe you remember Tesla as he was depicted in the Hugh Jackman movie The Prestige, working on a teleporting machine in a secretive laboratory in the mountains of the American West.

But who was Tesla, really? In addition to being the man who contributed the most to developing the alternating current (A/C), electrical system – the one that we still primarily use today – he also studied things like time travel, X-rays, and weather control.

Early life

Tesla was born in 1856 in what is now Croatia. As a first-year college student, he was a true superstar – he attained the highest marks possible, passed double the amount of exams as required, and practically worked himself into an early grave.

That all changed later in his academic career, when he became addicted to gambling and dropped out of school. After spending some years drifting from job to job, he started working at a telegraph company in Budapest. It was here that he learned about Thomas Edison, and in 1884 he emigrated to the United States to redesign Edison’s direct current generators.

Tesla’s work with electricity

As you can imagine, working with electricity in the early days of the technology was not for the faint of heart. The way the force worked wasn’t entirely known, meaning that electrocution was a real possibility – especially when experimenting with it the way Tesla did.

This makes his contributions to the A/C current system even more impressive. While working at his Tesla Electric Company, which he set up with the help of two businessmen, Tesla invented an induction motor that ran on A/C current that he patented in 1888. Because it used alternating current instead of direct current, it didn’t need a commutator. This reduced the possibility of sparking, making the motor safer and more reliable.

A bold futurist

Tesla’s love affair with unseen forces, like electricity, was a lifelong one. In fact, one thing Tesla became known for was creating huge artificial lightning bolts. These were part of his experiments in controlling the weather, which he believed he could achieve at some point.

Some of his other bolder – some might say crazy – experiments and inventions:

  • He created an X-ray gun that he could (and did) shoot at willing participants, creating images of their anatomy on undeveloped film hanging behind them.
  • He supposedly invented a Death Ray, or particle beam weapon, that he claimed could “bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy war planes at a distance of 200 miles.” The weapon was never constructed, but it did become the basis for the “Star Wars” defense system that the U.S. began developing in the 1980s.
  • He studied, but never achieved, teleportation, time travel, and the creation of anti-gravity airships.
  • He studied memory, which he believed was recorded on the brain and could be accessed like a film.
  • He developed the world’s first radar system.

Without Tesla, the history of invention would be a lot duller. And who knows? Without his incredibly forward-thinking, futurist mind it may have taken us decades or centuries longer to develop X-rays, radar, and other seemingly incredible things.

If you’re a crazy genius inventor like Tesla – or, like most of us, just a regular inventor with a great idea – Pivot would love to help you bring your product to life. Whether you need help with an electrical engineering project or achieving regulatory compliance, you can contact Pivot for the expert guidance you need.