June 18, 2005

Who is the greatest American?

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Nikola Tesla
1856 - 1943

"Science is but a perversion of itself unless it has
as its ultimate goal the betterment of humanity."

—Nikola Tesla

While looking through my referal logs at Site Meter, I noticed a visit from Annika of Annika's Journal. I went over to check her out and found a post about "who is the greatest American". Annika nominated Willis H. Carrier for his invention of air conditioning. I can see her reasoning and I agree that Mr. Carrier did, indeed, make a contribution to the world that is taken for too much for granted.

HOWEVER, I believe I have say that there is a man who made an even greater contribution, and who is all but forgotten. That man is Nikola Tesla. WHO, you say? Well, you would not be reading this without the contribution that Mr Tesla made to the benefit of the entire world, and Mr. Carriers air conditioning would be useless without Mr. Tesla. Edisons light bulb would still be a limited curiosity without it. In fact, most of the modern convienences that we take so for granted depend on it

Mr Tesla invented the first practical, safe, system to generate and transmit alternating current. Without alternating current, the modern world would not be possible.
Thomas Edison always fought the idea of alternating current as "too dangerous", despite the fact that direct current severly limited the distances that power could be carried, making it impractical for widespread use.

Mr. Tesla also developed in rapid succession the induction motor, new types of generators and transformers, fluorescent lights, and a new type of steam turbine. He also became intrigued with wireless transmission of power. Had his financial backer not deserted him, we may have had broadcast power now, without need for transmission line cluttering up the landscape. Engineers today are exploring the possibility of using microwaves for just that purpose. With Tesla's genius, I wonder if we wouldn't already have had it. Imagine the impact that THAT would have had. Totally electric cars would have been practical within the first decade of the twentyth century, forstalling many of the pollution problems we have now.

At the time of his death on January 7, 1943, he held over 700 patents.
Tesla was well known in his time, hundreds of admirers attended his funeral, but as with so many, he's all but forgotten today, eclipsed by another great genius of the time, Thomas Edison. Tesla was a loner, not interested in anything but his own work; Mr. Edison had not a little of the showman in him, with the result being that he is remembered and Tesla has faded into obscurity, despite his great contributions to the modern world.

Posted by Delftsman3 at June 18, 2005 04:50 AM

Tesla rocks. Good choice man; he's not well known outside the geek community but a talented man he was.

I still don't think his "Death Ray" was a hoax. I think he had one and just destroyed it for the good of mankind. :P

Posted by: phnxfire54 at June 18, 2005 11:41 AM

thanks for the link. i saw a tesla coil in operation once. it's an awesome sight. isn't there an urban legend that edison was against AC because he invented the electric chair, which used DC?

Posted by: annika at June 18, 2005 05:45 PM

Interesting choice; I of course, would have to go for my father being the greatest American. Sometime after he retires and no longer works with the Department of Defense, I will tell you why.

Posted by: Andy T. at June 18, 2005 10:54 PM

Excellent choice, I own the book by Thomas Commenford Martin "The inventions. Researches, and Writings of Nikola Tesla". Tesla was light years ahead of the pack, reading it today still leaves me awestruck.
Other greats come to mind also:

Edwin Armstrong, we wouldn't have modern communications without his inventions.

Edward Teller, it all started at Stagg Field in Chicago

Posted by: Jack at June 19, 2005 12:53 AM
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