Nikola Tesla is one of the most world-renowned inventors of the modern era thanks to his numerous discoveries. However, his accomplishments often came with taking risks into uncharted territory. In 1899, Tesla was experimenting with electricity in a Colorado city when he unintentionally blew up the entire electrical grid and left the city in complete darkness.
Tesla’s electrifying experiments in Colorado Springs were among his most important works. He discovered alternating currents, which is an electrical system still used today across the world, and he studied the use of high voltage, high frequency electricity in wireless power transmission. His studies resulted in the invention of the “Tesla coil,” which transmits wireless electrical power. Tesla’s goal was to send a transmission from Colorado’s 14,115-foot mountain, Pikes Peak, all the way to Paris.
During his experiments with the Tesla Coil, Tesla accidentally sent a thunderous transmission that ultimately fried the electrical generator in Colorado Springs about six miles away from his lab.
“On one occasion, 12,000 discharges occurred, all in a radius of certainly less than 50 kilometers from the laboratory. Many of them resembled gigantic trees of fire, with the trunks up or down,” Tesla wrote in his book, Experiments with Alternate Currents of High Potential and High Frequency.
The city later cut power to Tesla’s lab, which is thought to have been located on Knob Hill near today’s downtown Colorado Springs. Tesla’s lab was torn apart and his equipment was sold at auctions to repay his debts.
“Colorado is a country famous for its natural displays of electric force,” Tesla wrote. “In that dry and rarefied atmosphere the sun’s rays beat objects with fierce intensity. I raised steam to a dangerous pressure in barrels filled with concentrated salt solution, and the tinfoil of some of my elevated terminals shriveled up in a fiery blaze.”
Tesla left Colorado Springs in 1900 for New York with plans to continue his wireless electricity experiments. He set out to build a global wireless communication system, transmitted through a large electrical tower, for the purpose of sharing information and providing free energy throughout the world.
Tesla’s work was doubted by the community and investors at the time, but much of today’s technology has been birthed from his inventions. Tesla’s efforts in the alternating current machinery led to developments in radar and x-ray technologies, remote control, and the discovery of the rotating magnetic field. More recently, a group of engineers - including entrepreneur and engineer Elon Musk - founded Tesla Motors, named after Nikola Tesla. Coincidentally, a Tesla dealership recently opened in Colorado Springs, bringing back the connection of electrical engineering to the city. Also in the automobile industry, Nikola Corporation is named after Nikola Tesla, as well.