10 Unbelievable Facts You Didn’t Know About Nikola Tesla

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Greatly overshadowed by his famous employer, Thomas Edison, Serbian-born inventor and physicist Nikola Tesla is known mostly as the mastermind behind the AC induction motor and the Tesla coil.

While Tesla enjoyed a successful career as an inventor, he displayed many asocial behaviors and didn’t have any documented romantic relationships; he ultimately ended up financially destitute and alone. Having become more eccentric with each passing year, Tesla amassed a list of odd behaviors that accompany his legacy of preternatural brilliance; Tesla truly was an archetypical “mad scientist”. Represented here are both sides of one of the most complex thinkers of our time.

Here are 10 things you might not know about Nikola Tesla.

1. He envisioned the modern day smartphone – in 1909

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Attempting to make good on his idea to craft a handheld device that could receive stock quotes and telegram messages via encoded and broadcasted frequencies, Tesla went on to design the very first wireless transmission tower and had it erected in Long Island New York, along with a laboratory facility. Wardenclyffe Tower, so named after the investor, James S. Warden, was meant for trans-Atlantic wireless telephony and broadcasting, but it was never fully functional, and was therefore demolished in 1917.

2. He suffered from oystersaritisphobia – the fear of pearls

Not being able to tolerate even the sight of the gem, Tesla once sent his secretary home to change after she showed up to work donning a strand of Tesla’s much-hated spheres. This is one of many traits –such as being obsessed with the number 3 and being extremely wary of germs- that have given many cause to believe that Tesla suffered from a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

3. He rarely slept

Tesla claimed to only sleep two hours per night, and was prone to spending two days or more in his laboratory without sleeping at all. Kenneth Swezey, one of the inventor’s friends, confirmed Tesla’s claims. Swezey once recounted a time when Tesla phoned him at 3 a.m.: “I was sleeping in my room like one dead … Suddenly, the telephone ring awakened me … [Tesla] spoke animatedly, with pauses, [as he] … work[ed] out a problem, comparing one theory to another, commenting; and when he felt he had arrived at the solution, he suddenly closed the telephone.” Tesla did admit to dozing every now and again to “recharge his batteries.”

4. He had a photographic memory

Possessing the ability to read books and periodicals while simultaneously committing them to memory served Tesla well; he used all the information he acquired as an internal library, available at his beck and call. As a result, Tesla rarely made drawings of his inventions, but worked from a picture or a memory in his head.

5. He spoke 8 languages

No doubt hastened by his eidetic—commonly known as photographic—memory, Tesla was fluent in 8 different languages: Serbo-Croatian, English, Czech, German, French, Hungarian, Italian and Latin. Linguists refer to such a person as a “hyper polyglot”, or someone who can speak more than six languages with great proficiency.

6. He invented the first hydroelectric power plant

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In 1895, along with George Westinghouse, Tesla built the first power plant to tap the hydroelectric potential trapped within Niagara Falls. The Niagara Falls Power Company marked the final victory of Tesla’s Poly-phase Alternating Current (AC) electricity, which powers the world today.