Nikola Tesla, the inventor of almost mythical proportions was a complex and eccentric character. While he invented incredible things in energy, radio, remote control technology, and more, he battled personal inner struggles throughout his life, and at one point even suffered from addiction.
Nikola Tesla was addicted to gambling for a period of time while he was a student at Graz university in Austria in the 1870s. Attending on a scholarship and receiving financial support from his parents, Tesla lost all of his money gambling on card games, which led to him drop out and never receive his degree.
Tesla’s father was an orthodox priest and was furious when he learned of what happened. Tesla’s mother reacted differently however. She was a brilliant thinker and inventor as well, and a huge influence on Tesla and the development of his genius. Instead of reacting with anger, Tesla’s mother gave him more money, and encouraged him to go and enjoy gambling some more. Soon after, Tesla was no longer a gambling addict.
Tesla’s experience with gambling addiction is not entirely surprising when we learn more about his character. He was a creative genius, possessing other-worldly intelligence, and in his pursuit of the unknown perhaps even flirted with madness. Throughout Tesla’s life he exhibited behaviours that suggest that it was not easy being Tesla.
“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success… Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”
~ Nikola Tesla
As a child Tesla suffered from vivid nightmares
Tesla’s eccentricity was apparent early in his life, when as a child he experienced ongoing intense nightmares. At times he also would have hallucinations of blinding lights. Shortly after high school Tesla contracted cholera and was bedridden for nine months.
Tesla spontaneously recovered from illness upon learning he would go to school
A few years late after the cholera illness Tesla was again extremely ill, this time with unusual and mysterious symptoms. His senses were overly active, and as he was perceiving too much stimuli, he was unable to function.
Then his father announced he could attend the best technology school, and Tesla made a remarkable sudden recovery. Tesla and his father had been disagreeing over his future, with his father wanting him to join the priesthood. This story shows the intense psychosomatic effect Tesla’s mind had on his body, as he seemed to have willed himself into a state of complete dysfunctionality.
Tesla was extremely particular about how he dressed
Tesla was always impeccably dressed in his signature dapper style, including a moustache and collared shirt and jacket. At the height of his career, he socialized with some of the most elite people in New York society, and had a table reserved for him every night at one of the finest restaurants. Each night he would show up wearing white gloves, perhaps in part because of his aversion to germs.
Tesla Had strange phobias about accessories women would wear
On one occasion, a secretary who worked for Tesla arrived at the office wearing pearls. Deeply uncomfortable with this, Tesla sent her home for the day. He seemed to react this when whenever he saw women wearing round accessories. Tesla would also avoid physical contact with others, choosing not to shake hands or hug others.
Some of Tesla’s projects were too ambitious and never completed
Tesla imagined a system of infinite clean energy that could be sent through the atmosphere to the entire planet, supplying energy to wherever it was needed. This project ran into problems, and investor JP Morgan pulled out.
Another of Tesla’s more grandiose projects that never saw the light of day was his death ray machine, which could blast airplanes out of the sky from 250 miles away. He imagined creating world peace by enabling every nation in the world the ability to defend themselves.
Tesla claimed to be contacted by extraterrestrials
Another highly unusual experience in Tesla’s life was when he claimed to be contacted by extraterrestrials. He began receiving rhythmic signals on one of his devices he invented, and believed them to be coming from another world of intelligent life.
Tesla spent his later years feeding the pigeons
Tesla spent his later years in poverty, sleeping in cheap hotels in New York and eating crackers. From the little money he did have, he used some to feed the pigeons in the park. The activity became a large part of his life until his death at the age of 86, as he found solace and a retreat from the troubles of life in it.
Tesla’s short yet significant experience with gambling addiction makes sense when put in the greater context of his life. He was an emotional and sensitive person, who at times drifted wildly from being centered and calm. He was eccentric throughout his life and experienced a lot of hardship, eventually finding solace in feeding the pigeons in the park as an old man.
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