Around 120 years before our Yugos were introduced to the world, and more than 150 years before an entrepreneur from California named his revolutionary electric car, on a stormy night, full of thunder and lightning, in a tiny Croatian village called Smiljan, a boy named Nikola Tesla was born. This greatest mind of the 19th, 20th and yes, we’ll dare to say, 21st century, could easily fill 100+ blog posts with his achievements, inventions and ideas. He had more than 700 patents (even though he actually bothered to register less than half of them), he made alternating current functional (thus winning the War of the Currents against Edison), built the AC hydro power-plant at Niagara falls for the Westinghouse company, invented the remote control and the radio (yes, Tesla invented it, not Marconi), produced artificial lightning bolts, worked in the field of robotics, lasers, magnetic field, X rays, wireless communication (THANK YOU!) and the impressive list continues on and on and on…
Despite all that, Tesla did not get the appropriate recognition for his work during his lifetime. His legacy waited until the 21st century, to reach the fame and glory he deserved all along. A lot of it has to do with the fact that mankind finally today understands his ideas, and even more with the fact that the famous Californian car is named after him. Basically, almost 80 years after his death, Tesla became a rock star: movies are filmed about his life starring A list actors, books are written about him, conferences are organized discussing his inventions, people wear T-shirts with his image, tattoo his quotes and share online memes.
The legacy of Tesla lives in every corner of the world, but he’s more alive than ever in his three countries: the U.S., Serbia and his homeland – Croatia.
Nikola Tesla was of Serbian origin, born and raised in Croatia (which was, at the time, a part of the Austro Hungarian Monarchy). He spent most of his adult life (from his late 20s) living, working, inventing, paying taxes (OK, we won’t go too far with this, since paying taxes has always been a relative term for us) and eventually dying in the United States of America. Today, there is a quite significant Tesla movement in the U.S.: the fans of Tesla managed to preserve the location of his final laboratory and are planning to rebuild his never completed Wardenclyffe tower on Long Island. Some of them gather each year for the big Tesla conference in the New Yorker hotel in NYC, where the great inventor died in January of 1943, and, believe it or not, some ultimate enthusiasts went the extra mile and changed their surnames into Tesla. Moreover, Tesla keeps appearing in Hollywood shows and movies: e.g. Sheldon Cooper celebrates his ingenuity, and David Bowie played the role of Nikola Tesla (who cloned rabbits) in the movie titled The Prestige. Interestingly enough, a few years later, Tesla played Bowie while flying into space (without the rabbits). Google it: the Tesla car played Bowie’s Space Oddity on the radio (what did we say, who invented it?), while being launched into space.
The US did the most for Tesla-marketing, but we are really trying to catch up.
Serbia is, without a doubt, very proud of their inventor, giving him a museum, a banknote, a resting place and the airport in Belgrade.
And what about Croatia? Well, we have something no other country in this world has: his childhood. We have schools where he learnt the laws of physics, the roof from which he jumped off while testing if he could fly with an umbrella (he couldn’t), rivers and waterfalls among which he had his first visions of using the power of water to create energy, and the cemetery where his parents were buried. Those traditional 19th century parents who broke the norms of rural Croatia and instead of sending Tesla to the army or clergy, they allowed him to study physics. Unfortunately, they didn’t live long enough to realize how important that decision turned out to be for mankind.
If one drove down the highway, about two hours from Zagreb…
or 3 if you drove in a Yugo…
Or 6 if you stopped for the well known and delicious Lika lamb on the way…
Or 2 days if you drank rakija with that lamb…
…you would come across a village surrounded by breathtaking nature.
It’s called Smiljan and it’s where Tesla’s house still is today (now turned into a museum), standing across the orthodox church his father, the Reverend, ran. The village is so remote and tiny that Edison, while trying to figure out where his competitor came from, wasn’t able to find it on the map and asked if people there were cannibals.
The city that is easier to find on the map (maybe even Edison would have solved that puzzle and located it on the map) and which is connected to Tesla, is our nation’s capital: Zagreb.
Here, we have bars named after him, a Tesla street in the city center, a Technical museum with the inventor’s laboratory performing daily experiments for kids, his statue made by our best known 20th century sculptor, Ivan Meštrović, and a memorial plaque on the City Hall building. Tesla never lived in Zagreb, and it’s unknown exactly how many times he visited our city before moving to the U.S., but we know he was here in 1892, to present his work to the city assembly. Even though now we brag about him to the world, back then, for us, he was just an inventor that came from overseas and told us a bunch of stuff we didn’t understand, including the idea to electrify street lights in the city. Instead of listening to his suggestion and instead of becoming the first city in the world to introduce the system of electric street lights, we decided to play the “we know better” card together with “he’s now American and our streets are not good enough for him? Well, they are good enough for us!” card and we didn’t replace the old gas lamps. Until today. Yep, Zagreb, the capital of Tesla’s homeland, has 241 old gas street lamps that are turned on and off manually. Basically, even 130 years later, we won’t admit we were wrong and that Nikola Tesla was right.
Regarding other parts of the country, there is an AC hydro-plant on the Krka river, built according to Tesla’s design and opened only a few days after the one at Niagara falls, thus becoming the first alternating current hydro power plant in Europe. There are Tesla streets in many major Croatian towns, and Tesla has his own star on our version of the Walk of Fame in Opatija.
Additionally, Tesla has become a great inspiration for young artists all over the country. This year, in Varaždin, a young and talented sculptor that shares the same name with the great inventor, Nikola Vudrag, made the tallest Tesla sculpture in the world. His Tesla giant is 12,5 meters (41 feet) high.
And yes, we mustn’t forget the car… We will be eternally grateful to Elon Musk for naming his car Tesla and adding to the popularity of this great mind. However, Musk’s revolutionary car can’t compete anymore with the car we have today (spoiler alert, it’s not a Yugo). Croatia, the homeland of Nikola Tesla, got a new mastermind that is on the path to conquer the world. The good thing is, this one understands marketing and for sure will not be forgotten for decades. With his team, he made the fastest electric car in the world, managed to beat Ferrari in a drag race, and made it commercial for a modest price of 2 million euros. His name is Mate Rimac, the company is Rimac Automobili and the car is Nevera – meaning a lightning storm. The same as the one that was raging over a little village of Smiljan, in the night between July 9th and 10th 1856 when The Mind from the Future was born.
***Photo of the giant Tesla is borrowed from Nikola Vudrag’s Facebook page and photo of the Tesla corner in NYC from teslasociety website