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social sciences

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Tesla, Nikola (1856-1943)  
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Tesla's many accomplishments included advancements in fluorescent lighting, radio remote control, high voltage transmission, wireless lighting, and the properties of electrical frequencies. He stunned audiences with demonstrations of artificially generated lightning. A year after his death, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that Tesla's discovery of the principles of radio had preceded Marconi's.

Although he held more than a hundred patents, and was undoubtedly a greater scientific thinker than his rival, Tesla lacked Edison's business acumen and was unable to profit from his discoveries. He developed a pattern of tapping his connections in the "New York 400" whenever he needed financing and poured each cash infusion into his work until it was gone.

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After his mid-forties, Tesla's attention swung toward ever more outlandish and improbable scenarios, such as receiving communications from Mars or envisioning a mysterious "death beam" that would protect the nation from any form of attack.

In his waning years he developed an intense fondness for the pigeons he routinely fed, growing especially attached to a white one that seemed to exemplify his sublimated ideal of the feminine archetype. He was crestfallen when it died.

At age 86, on January 7, 1943, Tesla died alone in his New York hotel room, probably while sleeping; the maid discovered his body the next day. He was eulogized by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Fiorello LaGuardia, the Yugoslav government, and numerous luminaries from the sciences.

Tesla remains a vital--though mysterious--figure in the popular imagination. His scientific discoveries, especially in the field of electromagnetism, but in other areas as well, have earned him lasting fame and abiding interest. As the prototype of the solitary genius, he is sometimes regarded as significant to the twentieth century as figures such as Sigmund Freud, Alfred Einstein, and Alan Turing. But he is also sometimes depicted as a kind of mad scientist, and some of his more bizarre pronouncements have been used to support pseudoscientific and occult theories.

Tesla's sexuality--whether it was sublimated in the pursuit of science or simply very well-hidden from an intolerant society--is but one among many mysteries associated with this fascinating figure.

Ruth M. Pettis

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Cheney, Margaret. Tesla: Man Out of Time. New York: Random House, 2003.

Johansson, Warren. "Tesla, Nikola." Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. Wayne Dynes, ed. New York: Garland, 1990. 1287-88.

Jonnes, Jill. Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World. New York: Random House, 2003.

O'Neill, John J. Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla. Hollywood: Angriff Press, 1981.


    Citation Information
    Author: Pettis, Ruth M.  
    Entry Title: Tesla, Nikola  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2006  
    Date Last Updated September 9, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2006 glbtq, Inc.  


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