It’s difficult to imagine what the world would be like without Nikola Tesla.
He’s one of the most famous scientists who ever lived and has over 300 patents. His inventions power our lives, yet he died penniless and alone. Living in hotels all of his adult life, he never owned anything other than the ephemeral — electricity and ideas.
It was Tesla who inspired my first visit to Croatia. If you’re looking to go on a Tesla-inspired journey of your own — or simply visit all of the Tesla sites in New York City — here’s where you need to go.
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I’ll confess, I still have to visit the museum in Belgrade, his birthplace, and the Tesla coil in New Zealand.
Nikola Tesla didn’t spend much time in this modest home in Smiljan, but it’s essential to understanding his personality and upbringing. He was born here in 1856 and his family moved to town a few years later. The original farmstead has been restored and filled with interactive displays.
Tesla returned to Gospic several times over the years, including to teach at the high school.
Since you’ve come all the way to Croatia, you should visit the Technical Museum and Tesla monuments in Zagreb. You can also stop in Karlovac to see where he attended school, prior to his contracting cholera and Tomingaj, where he hid out to avoid the military draft. If you stop to see the gem of Plitvice Lakes National Park, you can find the remains of the hydro plant Tesla urged them to build, which was never completed.
Tesla never lived in Belgrade, but during his visit here in 1892 he met King Obrenovic. He was given an honorary doctorate from the University of Belgrade in 1926. In 1952, after much pressure from his family, Tesla’s estate was finally released by the US government and sent to Belgrade. The Nikola Tesla Museum opened shortly after, in 1955. In 2006, the Belgrade Airport was renamed in his honor.
While you’re in Serbia, it’s worth a detour to Vucje Hydroelectric Power Plant. While not directly connected to Tesla, it’s been running continuously since 1903.
World’s largest Tesla monument
Prague, Czech Republic
The biggest monument to Tesla is in Prague, having been unveiled in 2014 on a street bearing his name.
In 1880, Tesla’s uncles helped him leave Gospic to move to Prague and enroll in Karl-Ferdinand University. He was too late to register and didn’t meet the requirements. You can visit his home at 13 Smeckach Street and his second homes at the Clementinum Library and the Narodni Kavarna on Vodickova Street.
He spent a year in Czechoslovakia in 1936. That was the year he received an honorary doctorate from Universita Karlova.
It was in Budapest that Tesla had one of his visions, a discovery critical to developing alternating current electrical transmission. Located in a former transformer station, they will demonstrate a Tesla coil and egg of Columbus for visitors.
Colorado Springs, CO, USA
After his 5th Avenue laboratory burnt down, in 1899 Tesla moved his large experiments to Colorado. He made his new home in the Alta Vista Hotel, room 207. Neither building remains.
Chicago, IL, USA
Westinghouse, under Tesla’s guidance, powered the Chicago World’s Fair. Over 27 million people visited the exposition, seeing demonstrations of Tesla’s induction motor and generators.This was what led to Tesla’s AC system being chosen for Niagara Falls.
In 1917 he returned to Chicago, staying at the Blackstone Hotel overlooking the World’s Fair grounds, that he predicted the development of radar.
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Tesla spent a year in Pittsburgh working for Westinghouse and finalizing the contract for the AC polyphase system. He lived in the Metropolitan, the Anderson, and the Duquesne Hotels.
Niagara Falls, NY, USA & Niagara Falls, ON, Canada
Statues of Tesla stare out at each other — and the falls — on either side of the international border, celebrating the triumph of AC over DC. The AC power system first powered Buffalo in 1896. It was this Westinghouse Power Plant that was powering New York City while he lived there.
The Canadian side depicts him standing on an AC motor, sketching out the polyphase system in the sand with his cane. The American side has a much more subdued monument, which is a copy of the one in Belgrade.
On your drive down to New York City, hop on Route 20 to pass Auburn Jail, where AC power was used to execute William Kemmler. Kemmler was a convicted axe murderer and the execution was part of Edison’s smear campaign to show the dangers of Tesla’s invention.
Long Island, USA
In 1901, days after Marconi succeeds in sending radio waves across the Atlantic, construction begins on Wardenclyffe Tower. The financial panic of 1901 doomed the project as Tesla focused on grand visions instead of profits.
In 2013, Tesla enthusiasts bought the site and — with backing from Elon Musk — are turning the site into a science center. It’s not yet open to the public aside from special events and volunteer days.
Tesla spent 60 years of his life in New York. Tesla spent his last years in room 3327 of the Hotel New Yorker, dying there in 1943. It was here that King Peter II of Yugoslavia visited him in 1942.
Tesla arrived in New York through Castle Clinton, prior to the Statue of Liberty being erected.
Be sure to stop by Nikola Tesla Corner in Bryant Park to feed the pigeons. He lived in several hotels during his time in New York and had a number of different laboratories and office buildings. He preferred lavish surroundings and impressive buildings. He was staying in the posh Hotel St. Regis when his favorite pigeon died and he decided his life’s work was complete.
If you’d like to see some of Tesla’s ideas in action, you can cross the Hudson to visit Liberty Science Center.
Kaukapakapa, New Zealand
This farm outside of Auckland is home to the largest Tesla coil in the world. It’s about as tall as a 4-story building and it’s the project of an artist, an electrical engineer, and an art patron. It’s not as large as the planned coil at Wardenclyffe.
Located in a private sculpture park, you’ll want to get permission from Alan Gibbs before you show up. The monthly visitor days book months in advance.