Nikola Tesla may have died long before the term “steampunk” was coined, but he’s practically the poster boy for the genre. Born in 1856 (during a lightning storm, in fact), he had ideas for technology that was way ahead of his time, conducted experiments that are still not fully understood, and became the real-life inspiration for any number of fictional mad scientists. He even claimed to have invented a “death ray” (his own term), though no one knows what he did with the blueprints. And, in keeping with the heart of steampunk, he was a dapper and tasteful dresser, not to mention a really good-looking guy.
He was also quite odd. To say the least. Here are a few weird, cool, and downright crazy facts about Tesla:
1) He came up with the idea for the smartphone.
In 1901, Tesla described to his business partner, J.P. Morgan, a concept of converting information into frequencies that could be broadcast to a handheld device. This was decades before the first computer, to say nothing of the Internet or cellphones. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) he never put this idea into practice. Same with his ideas for radar, X-rays, and a giant weather-controlling machine. We’re still waiting for that last one.
2) He had some really strange phobias.
In his autobiography, My Inventions, Tesla spent a lot of time describing his various eccentricities, like his strange compulsion to walk around a building a certain number of times before entering it. He also seems to have been very afraid of germs, which is understandable, especially in his day. Less understandable is his crippling fear of pearls. He also said that seeing someone rip a piece of paper into small pieces and drop the pieces into water drove him crazy, though that doesn’t seem like something you would run into every day.
3) We probably have him to thank for the light bulb, the laser, and the radio.
There’s evidence that Tesla invented the incandescent light bulb before Thomas Edison, and some people even believe Edison stole the idea from him. It’s certainly true that he developed the technology behind all kinds of remote-controlled and wireless devices, including the radio, by inventing an alternating current motor. He also invented the Tesla coil, obviously.
4) He was in love with a pigeon.
Yes, you read that right. Despite his looks, Tesla never married, and there’s no evidence that he ever had any kind of romantic relationship with a human being. The guy was so socially awkward that he even had trouble making friends. But he did have a very strong affection for pigeons, especially later in life, when he lived in New York City. He spent a lot of time feeding the city’s birds, and even let them roost in his apartments. He claimed that his love for pigeons in general came from a very strange encounter he had with one particular pigeon, which he “loved…as a man loves a woman.” O.o Your guess is as good as mine as to what that means…
5) He claimed to have a photographic memory.
A true photographic memory is extremely rare among adults–and the proper term for it is actually “eidetic” memory–but Tesla claimed that he had something like it. He could remember mundane images and events in vivid detail years after they happened. He described short “visions” of certain things that would randomly pop into his head whenever he encountered something that reminded him of them. Part of the reason he didn’t leave behind many blueprints for his machines may have also been because he could carry them in his head. Which may not have helped him protect his ideas while working for Thomas Edison…
Now go read some books about Tesla and have your minds blown!