The Man Who Invented the 21st Century

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), Serbian-American inventor in his Colorado Springs laboratory with his “magnifying transmitter” – 1899 (multiple exposure). Photo: Stefano Bianchetti/Corbis via Getty Images

The inventor who built his own legend during his lifetime, had 300 US patents and had developed hundreds of devices. He died 80 years ago, on January 7, 1943, in a New York hotel room. Only a few hours after his death, all the inventor’s belongings and notes were secured by federal agents.

When we ask the average 20-year-old what they associate with Tesla, their answer will be about the icon of the modern automotive industry, the American electric car available for – a trifling – quarter million Polish zlotys [~$57,000, ed.]. Tesla Motors, which in 2010 proclaimed one of the greatest inventors of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries as their namesake, paying only $75,000 for the rights to the name, got a great deal. In the era dominated by electronics, electric cars and renewable energy, the name of the precursor of these technologies is universally applicable.

Would the world really be different today without Nikola Tesla? Undoubtedly! The genius hailing from the area of today’s Croatia was a goldmine of ideas, often two epochs ahead of the state of knowledge of the contemporary world. At the end of his life, during World War II, FBI agents were said to follow his every step and collected napkins that carelessly fell out of his pocket. Because it was on these napkins that he wrote down his concepts of future technologies, including a defensive electromagnetic shield, a laser capable of remotely disabling aircraft, or communication along the lines of today’s Wi-Fi.

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Cezary Korycki Translated by Nicholas Siekierski