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'American Experience: Tesla' Transmits the Historical Account of Electronic Innovation
October 18, 2016  | By David Hinckley

Yo, millennials. Put down that cell phone and check out a new PBS special called Tesla
Why, you ask?

Because, dude, Nikola Tesla basically invented your cell phone.

So let’s see some props.

Tesla, the latest documentary in the American Experience series, premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET and confirms what the scientific community has known for years: that Nikola Tesla crystallized several of the most important elements in our daily lives.

That includes, for starters, electricity and wireless transmission of audio and video signals.

Thomas Edison, widely considered America’s greatest inventor, put electricity into general use with a system called direct current (DC). It works, but it’s inefficient and limited.

The problem: Electricity rapidly loses its power as it travels away from the source. Had we only used DC, this special notes, we would need an electric generating station about every mile or so. Tesla, recognizing this problem, developed alternating current (AC), which can travel far greater distances with no loss of power.

Were it not for some personality issues, Edison and Tesla might have developed this together, making an AC/DC connection long before the rock band formed.

Tesla was living in his native Serbia, working on big scientific concepts like AC, when he became a devotee of Edison’s work.

He emigrated to New York, arriving with exactly four cents in his pocket, for the chance to meet Edison. Tesla was brilliant and Edison hired him on the spot.
Alas, a few months later it became clear their beautiful minds were not compatible. Edison worked methodically, by laborious trial and error, and his goal was to create products he could sell. Like the light bulb or the phonograph.

Tesla, conversely, was more a pure scientist, enamored of ideas and possibilities for harnessing the wonders of nature and the universe.

They parted ways and Tesla struck out on his own, developing and patenting inventions that would soon lead to the development of radio.

He became a celebrity inventor of the age, a working partner with the likes of George Westinghouse and J.P. Morgan. He was a prize high society guest for his inventing genius and his generally erudite aura. He was well versed in classic music and literature.

He was also more than slightly compulsive and more than a little nuts. He had a near-phobia about women’s earrings. He was obsessed with the number three. He would circle a block three times before he entered a building.

After he had become successful he opened a secret laboratory on Long Island where he built the Tesla Tower.

That was right around the time he announced he had received transmissions from Mars, but his immediate goal for the tower was more prosaic if no less radical.

When completed, he promised, the Tesla Tower would transmit electricity, which the entire world could receive at no cost.

For better or worse, he ran out of money and patrons before he could complete the tower, which was eventually demolished.

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