Recently dubbed the “patron saint of geeks,” Nikola Tesla has had electric cars, rock bands, a unit of measurement, a minor planet and a lunar crater named after him. But eclipsed by contemporaries such as Edison and Marconi, the visionary scientist died impoverished and largely forgotten. During his lifetime, he gained international fame for his invention of a system of alternating current that made possible the distribution of electricity over vast distances and is the basis for the electrical grid that powers 21st century life. But the visionary Tesla imagined much more — robots, radio, radar, remote control, the wireless transmission of messages and pictures, and harnessing the wind and sun to provide free energy to all. A showman, he dazzled his scientific peers who flocked to see him demonstrate his inventions and send thousands of volts of electricity pulsing through his body. His fertile but undisciplined imagination was the source of his genius but also his downfall, as the image of Tesla as a “mad scientist” came to overshadow his reputation as a brilliant innovator. But it is his exhilarating sense of the future that has inspired renewed interest in the man, as his once scoffed-at vision of a world connected by wireless technology has become a reality. Written and produced by David Grubin and executive produced by Mark Samels, Tesla premieres on American Experience Tuesday, October, 18, 2016, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET (check local listings) on PBS.
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