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Nikola Tesla



The eccentric Serbo-Croatian inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla contributed to a wide range of inventions but also became the model of a mad scientist. (© Getty Images)
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  • The eccentric Serbo-Croatian inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla contributed to a wide range of inventions but also became the model of a mad scientist. (© Getty Images)
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Nikola Tesla

Before there were Abercrombie jets, before there was a Magic Kingdom, before The Donald, there was Nikola Tesla. An Austrian-born Serb who died penniless despite being one of the greatest scientists and inventors of all time, Tesla has become a sort of cult figure in pop culture.

Tesla's longstanding feud with Thomas Edison and his tragic life story make him an easy figure to idealize, and there's good reason to admire him; in his prime working years, from about 1884 to 1930, he invented everything from the spark plug to the airplane turbine engine to the remote-control boat. His high-voltage and high-frequency experiments at Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1899 were and still are some of the most ambitious and ingenious scientific projects ever performed.

In reality, though, Tesla — as an employer and as a person — was truly bizarre.

His obsessive-compulsive disorder, quite pronounced in his later years, resulted in a hatred of round objects and of hair and an obsession with the number three. He was, at six feet two inches tall and 142 pounds, almost skeletally thin, and his dislike for overweight people caused him to fire a secretary who had put on a few pounds. Perhaps it's just as well for the world that Tesla remained celibate his entire life.

Oh, and he never slept more than two hours at a time. And he sometimes saw blinding flashes of light accompanied by visions. Tesla is that rare figure of such simultaneous brilliance and insanity — think Michael Jackson — that any really weird story about him just might be accurate.

* Bing: Famous quotes from Nikola Tesla

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