Nikola Tesla: 7 little known facts from his life in Croatia

Nikola Tesla and his electricity
Image by Smithsonian Magazine

Nikola Tesla was a genius inventor, engineer, and notorious eccentric born in Smiljan, Croatia on July 10, 1856. Without his alternating current, our lives would not be the same as they are.

There are an endless number of “fact” posts about Nikola Tesla, but they all regurgitate the same things like his fear of pearls, his obsession with the number 3, and that he moved to New York City with only 4 cents in his pocket.

Rarely does anyone touch on his life in Croatia. We dug through Croatian language resources to uncover a few fun facts about Nikola Tesla, his life in Croatia, and how his big brain helped make Croatia better.

Below are several interesting facts about Tesla that you may not know.

The facts are these…

Nikola Tesla: 7 little known facts from his life in Croatia

#1 How Nikola Tesla got his name

According to some findings, Tesla wrote about the origin of his Croatian surname in his diary. He stated that the surname “Tesla” is actually his grandfather’s nickname.

The tesla was a carpenter’s carving tool similar to a wide ax. Since his grandfather had protruding front teeth, people gave him the nickname “Tesla”. As a result, “Tesla” was adopted as a surname that was passed on to his children.

#2 He passed on the arts

In 1870 after Tesla finished his 3rd year of gimnazija (secondary school) in Gospić, his parents sent him to higher secondary school in Rakovac.

In Rakovac, he lived with his aunt Stanka and her husband Danilo, a retired major of the Austrian army. Stanka tried to get Tesla interested in music and art history. While Tesla had a great hearing and very sensitive ears, he simply wasn’t interested in music.

#3 He brought home cholera

After graduation from gimnazija, Tesla returned to his parents’ home in Gospić. His father didn’t want Nikola to return due to a cholera infection that plagued the Lika area at the time.

His father’s concerns turned out to be legitimate because Tesla became infected with cholera. He was stuck in bed for almost 9 months. Tesla was often sick as a child as well and he was once absent from school for 2 months due to sickness.

#4 He found his destiny in high school

Nikola Tesla stated that he became interested in electrical engineering thanks to his high school professor of physics, Martin Sekulić. Although his father wanted him to be a priest, he was impressed by his professor who was an excellent experimenter and constructor.

Tesla was very excited by his professor’s experiments. He was especially intrigued with construction in the shape of a freely rotatable bulb that spun rapidly when connected to a static machine.

#5 Nikola Tesla worked too hard

When Tesla enrolled in a polytechnic school in Graz, Austria, the dean of the school sent a letter to his father. The dean praised Nikola Tesla as “a star of the first magnitude”.

Despite this praise, the dean thought Tesla was working too hard so he warned his father that he thought Tesla should slow down. His hard work began endangering his health, so the dean told his father that Tesla should drop out of school to save his health.

#6 Tesla unclogged a fire hose as a child

Tesla was an ingenious problem-solver, even as early as elementary school. When Tesla was a child, there was a gathering in Gospić when a new fire hose was put into operation.

During the ceremony, the hose became clogged. Tesla realized on his own that the problem was with the supply pipe coming from the river.

He took off his shoes, stepped into the river, and unclogged the pipe himself. The new fire hose resumed working immediately.

#7 Thanks to Tesla, Šibenik was the first electrified city in the world

street number 14 in Nikola Tesla's street
Nikola Tesla’s street in Dubrovnik

On August 28, 1895, Šibenik became the first city in the world with a system of production, transmission, and local distribution of Tesla’s alternating current.

This system enabled Šibenik to have the first electric alternating current street lighting. It was the beginning of Croatia’s modern electrification, all thanks to Nikola Tesla.

The alternating current was produced in the hydropower plant Jaruga, the first and oldest electric power plant in Europe and the second in the world. Jaruga is situated on the river of Krka and its electricity is produced from renewable sources.

It is very appropriate that the world’s first city with electricity was Šibenik, a mere 160 kilometers from Gospić where Tesla grew up.

To learn more about other prominent Croatian figures, browse our posts here.

To learn more about Croatian history, browse our posts here.

People also ask about Nikola Tesla…

When and where was Nikola Tesla born?

Nikola Tesla was born in Smiljan, Croatia on July 10, 1856.

When and where did Nikola Tesla die?

Nikola Tesla died due to coronary thrombosis on January 7, 1943 at The New Yorker in New York City. He was 86 years old.

The life and work of Nikola Tesla
NA DANAŠNJI DAN – Šibenik prvi u svijetu izgradio sustav Tesline izmjenične struje

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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