Nikola Tesla was born on July 10, 1856, in what is now Smiljan, Croatia. Tesla's interest in electrical invention was spurred by his mother, Djuka Mandic, who invented small household appliances in her spare time while her son was growing up. Tesla's father, Milutin Tesla, was a priest and a writer, and he pushed for his son to join the priesthood. But Nikola's interests lay squarely in the sciences. After studying at the University of Prague during the 1870s, Tesla moved to Budapest, where for a time he worked at the Central Telephone Exchange. It was while in Budapest that the idea for the induction motor first came to Tesla, but after several years of trying to gain interest in his invention, at age 28 Tesla decided to leave Europe for America.
In 1884 Tesla arrived the United States with little more than the clothes on his back and a letter of introduction to famed inventor and business mogul Thomas Edison, whose DC-based electrical works were fast becoming the standard in the country. Edison hired Tesla, and the two men were soon working tirelessly alongside each other, making improvements to Edison's inventions. However, several months later, the two parted ways due to a conflicting business-scientific relationship, attributed by historians to their incredibly different personalities: While Edison was a power figure who focused on marketing and financial success, Tesla was commercially out-of-tune and somewhat vulnerable. His luck changed in 1887, when he was able to find interest in his AC electrical system and funding for his new Tesla Electric Company. Setting straight to work, by the end of the year, Tesla had successfully filed several patents for AC-based inventions. Tesla's AC system eventually caught the attention of American engineer and businessman George Westinghouse, who was seeking a solution to supplying the nation with long-distance power. Convinced that Tesla's inventions would help him achieve this, in 1888 he purchased his patents for $60,000 in cash and stock in the Westinghouse Corporation. In addition to his AC system and Tesla coil (laid the foundation for wireless technologies and is still used in radio technology today), throughout his career, Tesla discovered, designed and developed ideas for a number of other important inventions—most of which were officially patented by other inventors—including dynamos (electrical generators similar to batteries) and the induction motor. He was also a pioneer in the discovery of radar technology, X-ray technology, remote control and the rotating magnetic field—the basis of most AC machinery.
After suffering a nervous breakdown, Tesla eventually returned to work, primarily as a consultant. But as time went on, his ideas became progressively more outlandish and impractical. He also grew increasingly eccentric, devoting much of his time to the care of wild pigeons in New York City's parks. He even drew the attention of the FBI with his talk of building a powerful "death beam," which had received some interest from the Soviet Union during World World II. Poor and reclusive, Nikola Tesla died on January 7, 1943, at the age of 86, in New York City, where he had lived for nearly 60 years. But the legacy of the work he left behind him lives on to this day.