Nikola Tesla was perhaps the greatest wizard of the modern age. He invented radio at the same time as Marconi, invented alternating current which powers the world’s electric grid, and contributed to the fields of electrical engineering, physics, and power generation and transfer. His work touches the daily lives of most people on the planet.
Tesla was born in Croatia, then a part of the Austrian Empire but his father was an Orthodox minister and since he was born in the former Yugoslavia and once visited Belgrade where he said “I am a Serb,” he is perhaps the proudest son of the Serbian people. He is on the 50 Serbian Dinar note and when you visit Belgrade it’s worth it to pay a visit to the Nikola Tesla Museum located in a 1929 residential villa built by Dragiša Brašovan, a distinguished Serbian architect.
The museum is open from 10 am to 6 pm Tuesday through Friday and weekends from 10 am to 1 pm. Entrance is 150 Serbian Dinars (about 1.5 Euro)
The story of how the museum which contains the bulk of Tesla’s personal effects and some of his inventions came to be is a result of Tesla dying and leaving his estate to his nephew, a resident of Belgrade. Tesla himself was a U.S. citizen and died in New York City where he was working on a way to create ‘free energy’ which conspiracy theorists believe was sabotaged by the electricity companies. Furthermore, they say that his inventions along this line were seized by the U.S. government and hidden in the deepest vaults for safekeeping. Because of his eccentric personality and his seemingly unbelievable and sometimes bizarre claims about possible scientific and technological developments, Tesla was ultimately ostracized and regarded as a mad scientist by many late in his life.
Conspiracies aside, Tesla was working on a way to transmit power without wires but when the project neared completion the backing was pulled by financier JP Morgan who notoriously said that if you couldn’t put a meter on it, you couldn’t make a profit from it.
Despite his world changing inventions, Tesla died penniless and alone. As a result of all of this, the Belgrade Nikola Tesla museum is the only one in the world that contains his notes, letters, and personal belongings. These include more than 160,000 original documents, 2000+ books and journals, 1200+ historical technical exhibits, 1000+ technical drawings and schemata, 1500+ photographs and photo plates of original, technical objects, plus many of his instruments and apparatus.
The museum is a major draw for those who are deeply involved in environmental protection projects and studies of pollution-free energy sources. It is also the last resting place of Tesla as his ashes are kept in an urn at the back of the museum. Here is a short video I took with my phone of the Tesla coil…sorry for the bad cinematography :)
While the historical and personal effects of Tesla are interesting, the real fun is in the working models of his inventions including a small tesla coil, a poly-phase system, a coreless Tesla transformer, and his wireless remote control. The engineering students who volunteer at the museum give a wonderful demonstration and explanation (in English, Serbian, French, Italian, or Spanish) and if you want to feel what it is like to have thousands of volts of electricity pass through your body (safely) or to witness the power of Tesla’s inventions, there is no better place to do it. Knowing that his umbrella, hat, and the ashes of his body are in the same building makes it all just that much more exhilarating.