12 Interesting Facts About Nikola Tesla You Probably Didn’t Know

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Nikola Tesla (10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943) was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and futurist who is best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. Throughout his life, Tesla registered more than 300 patents and envisioned many more inventions.

Nikola Tesla in his 20s, and later in his 70s.

In honor of Tesla’s 163th birthday, we gathered a list of 12 interesting facts you probably never knew about the inventor.

1. He Was Born During a Lightning Storm

In perhaps the best foreshadowing in history, Tesla was born around midnight during a fierce lightning storm in Serbia. The midwife thought it was a bad omen and that he would be a child of darkness, but Tesla’s mother prophetically said, “No, he will be a child of light.”

Nikola Tesla’s family: his father Milutin, his mother Duka, his older brother Dane, and his three sisters, Milka, Angelina and Marica. Nikola sits alone on the far left.

2. He Had an Obsessive Personality

Playing into his stereotype of a mad scientist, Tesla suffered from many characteristics that today would likely be classified as obsessive-compulsive disorder. He was obsessed with the number three and detested jewelry, round objects, and touching hair.

He was particularly wary of pearls and wouldn’t talk to women wearing them; he even sent his secretary home when she wore pearl jewelry. He was also an insomniac and claimed he only needed two hours of sleep at night, though he often took afternoon naps.

3. He Was a Germaphobe

After a near-fatal case of cholera as a teenager, Tesla became obsessive about germs and cleaning everything. He has an extensive and rigid personal hygiene routine, used 18 napkins to wipe his dining room every night, and wore white gloves to every dinner.

Nikola Tesla aged 23, circa 1879.

4. He Was Really Funny

Most people don’t know that Tesla had a terrific sense of humor. For example, after dining with writer and poet Rudyard Kipling, he wrote this in a correspondence to a close friend:

April 1, 1901
My dear Mrs. Johnson,
What is the matter with inkspiller Kipling? He actually dared to invite me to dine in an obscure hotel where I would be sure to get hair and cockroaches in the soup.
Yours truly,
N. Tesla

5. He and Edison Were Rivals, But Not Sworn Enemies

Many have characterized Tesla and inventor Thomas Edison as enemies, but this relationship has been misrepresented. Early in his career, Tesla worked for Edison, designing direct current generators, but famously quit to pursue his own project: the alternating current induction motor. Sure, they were on different sides of the so-called “Current Wars,” with Edison pushing for direct current and Tesla for alternating current.

On a rare occasion, Edison attended a conference where Tesla was speaking. Edison, hard of hearing and not wanting to be spotted, slipped into the back of the auditorium to listen to the lecture. But Tesla spotted Edison in the crowd, called attention to him and led the audience in giving him a standing ovation.

Thomas Edison

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