In the movie Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) there is a segment called Jack Shows Meg His Tesla Coil where Jack gives a speech about Tesla:

Jack: Well Nikola Tesla invented fluorescent light. Without him, we wouldn't have alternating current radio, television, x-ray technology, induction motors, particle beams, lasers. None of that would even exist if it weren't for him.


closed as off-topic by Keelhaul, Frostfyre, L.Dutch, sphennings, Azuaron Aug 22 '17 at 13:04

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    $\begingroup$ Yes. There would've been no other way to figure those things out. Tesla was an alien from another dimension with exclusive knowledge from the beyond. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Aug 22 '17 at 12:14

The idea something can be invented by one and just one person is something belonging to fiction, not reality.

Nowadays, with globalization, research teams keep their work as secret as possible and work as fast as possible, always in fear someone would publish results "before" them (and this is the cause of several epic fails due to race to publish without cross-checking all variables; e.g.: FTL neutrinos in between Switzerland and Italy).

In past times we have many cases of "almost contemporaneous" developments independently found by unrelated teams/individuals; of course we only remember the first, but others would have got there all the same, only slightly later (e.g.: everybody (?) remember Lobachevsky, but few know about Bolyai's work).

There have been real precursors, inventing something really ahead of their times, but they invariably died swimming in ridicule, only to be "rehabilitated" and brought into the spotlight of scientific fame much after descending into the grave (e.g.: Galois and Mendel).

Of course nobody can really know what would have happened, but it stands to reason technological situation was ripe for Tesla's work (as testified by immediate acceptance) and thus those "miracles" would have been performed by someone else very soon, had not he arrived first.

This, of course, has nothing to do with complottist view of Tesla's life and death. Whoever (if true) manipulated his work would have done the same with other researchers and result would have been similar.


Leaving aside the phylosophical question of the importance of one great man to the progress of humanity, let's look at the actual supposed unique contributions of Nikola Tesla as quoted in the question.

"Nikola Tesla invented fluorescent light. Without him, we wouldn't have alternating current radio, television, x-ray technology, induction motors, particle beams, lasers."

  • Fluorescence was known since about always; the first scientific quantitative description was made by George Stokes. The Stokes shift, the essential physical property which underlies fluorescent lights, is named after him.

  • Radio and television? What, Heinrich Hertz (who proved the existence of electromagnetic waves), Guglielmo Marconi (who made the first transatlantic radio transmission and got a Nobel prize for contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy) and John Logie Baird (who invented television, building on the work of Paul Gottlieb Nipkow, and demonstrated it publicly) have been erased from history?

  • Particle beams (specifically, electron beams) were intensely studied by physicists when Tesla was a little boy. Cathode rays were first observed by Johann Hittorf in 1869. (Tesla was 10 years old at that time.)

  • X-rays were famously discovered by Wilhelm Roentgen; he got a Nobel prize for this. Tesla did not have anything to do with it.

    (The anecdote is that dr. Roentgen was experimenting with cathode rays when he accidentally put his hand between the cathode ray tube and the fluorescent screen; to his shock he observed the skeleton of his hand projected on the screen.)

  • Alternating current was known and used for power transmission before Tesla came to proeminence; Tesla was indeed instrumental in promoting its use.

  • Tesla had nothing to do with lasers, those came long after his prime.

In general, Tesla was a very good engineer, some say even a great engineer; but he did not make any major discoveries.

He did invent the self-starting induction motor, as an application of the rotating magnetic fields described in 1824 by François Arago; had Tesla not invented the induction motor in the U.S.A. nothing would have changed, because it had also been invented independently in Italy by Galileo Ferraris (who actually got his patent two months before Tesla).


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