Nikola Tesla Knew How To Show Off

January 22, 2024 | Jamie Hayes

Nikola Tesla Knew How To Show Off

Nikola Tesla has been called “The Man Who Invented the Twentieth Century” for his pioneering work with electricity—but let’s be honest: The number one thing most people know him for is the Tesla coil.

But, if Tesla had anyone to blame for that, it was himself—and maybe this photograph.

Nikola Tesla Coil Photograph ElectricityStefano Bianchetti/Corbis via Getty ImagesDanger! Danger! High Voltage!

Tesla invented his eponymous coil in 1891, in an effort to create a wireless lighting system. The thought was that special bulbs would light up under the influence of the coil’s electrical field. 

But, as he tinkered with his design, he found that he could use resonance to create much higher voltages than he anticipated.

Though the wireless lighting never took off, Tesla found a new use for his coil: Spectacle. Always a shameless self-promoter, he soon started wowing crowds with the Tesla coil at public lectures. 

We Need More POWER

Tesla coils are still impressive today, so imagine how crowds in the 19th century responded. These stunning demonstrations turned Tesla into an international superstar, funding yet more research—but Tesla’s reach almost always exceeded his grasp.

Tesla dreamed of using his Tesla coil to power electronics wirelessly, but as his work continued, his experiments began requiring higher and higher voltages. To accommodate his needs, he built his own laboratory in Colorado Springs in 1899. 

I bet you can guess what he did next: He built one of the largest Tesla coils in the world.

Surprising Facts About Famous ScientistsPicryl

Ride The Lightning

Tesla called his new device a “magnifying transmitter” and hoped it would one day be able to transmit power wirelessly over great distances. 

His grand ideas kept getting bigger and bigger—and that meant he needed more and more funding. So he came up with an idea.

Since his public demonstrations had been such a huge hit, Tesla wanted to capture his work in a photograph. But not just any simple photograph would do. 

By using the gigantic “magnifying transmitter” improperly, Tesla got it to create the spectacular, jagged arcs that appear in the photo.

Of course, the image of Tesla sitting reading calmly in a chair was added through double exposure—but this was the turn of the century. It didn’t take much to fool people.

Surprising Facts About Famous ScientistsPicryl


Though Tesla’s magnifying transmitter never became the wireless power generator that he dreamed of, his pioneering work with alternating current still affects countless parts of our life today. And of course, Tesla coils continue to excite the imagination, thanks in no small part to photos like this.

More from Factinate

Featured Article

My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.

Dark Family Secrets

Dark Family Secrets Exposed

Nothing stays hidden forever—and these dark family secrets are proof that when the truth comes out, it can range from devastating to utterly chilling.
April 8, 2020 Samantha Henman

Featured Article

Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.

Madame de Pompadour Facts

Entrancing Facts About Madame de Pompadour, France's Most Powerful Mistress

Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
December 7, 2018 Kyle Climans

More from Factinate

Featured Article

I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.

These People Got Genius Revenges

When someone really pushes our buttons, we'd like to think that we'd hold our head high and turn the other cheek, but revenge is so, so sweet.
April 22, 2020 Scott Mazza

Featured Article

Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.

Catherine of Aragon Facts

Tragic Facts About Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s First Wife

Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but very few people know her even darker history.
June 7, 2018 Christine Tran

Dear reader,

Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? We’re always looking for your input! Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. Your suggestions can be as general or specific as you like, from “Life” to “Compact Cars and Trucks” to “A Subspecies of Capybara Called Hydrochoerus Isthmius.” We’ll get our writers on it because we want to create articles on the topics you’re interested in. Please submit feedback to Thanks for your time!

Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at Thanks for your help!

Warmest regards,

The Factinate team

Want to learn something new every day?

Join thousands of others and start your morning with our Fact Of The Day newsletter.

Thank you!

Error, please try again.