The Real Reason Nikola Tesla Died So Poor

Long before Michel Foucault learned that "knowledge is power," Nikola Tesla brilliantly illustrated that genius is AC power. Born in current-day Croatia in 1856, Tesla displayed his immense brainpower at a young age. Smithsonian writes that "he could memorize entire books and store logarithmic tables" in his seemingly inexhaustible mind. He could stay awake for incredibly long stretches and because his intellect was more flexible than a boneless yoga master, Tesla could also wrap his head around foreign languages with ease. From the sound of things, Tesla had a goldmine sitting between his ears, and indeed, his fruitful mind produced world-changing inventions. But sometimes the world makes no sense, and Tesla died penniless. 

Shortchanged by Edison

Nikola Tesla arrived in the United States in 1884 with just four cents in his pocket, per Smithsonian. Though he didn't have much, much like electricity, he had plenty of potential. Tesla also had a letter of recommendation addressed to Thomas Edison that allegedly said, "My Dear Edison: I know two great men and you are one of them. The other is this young man!" In hindsight, Tesla might have recommended against working for Edison.

Tesla said Edison had apparently promised to pay him $50,000 if he could outdo the DC generator plants that Edison operated, at which point Tesla hopefully said, "Challenge accepted" in his best Barney Stinson voice. Once Nikola Tesla Stinson surmounted the challenge, the Wizard of Menlo Park transformed into the Wizard of Oz, reneging on his $50,000 offer and calling it a joke. Clearly unamused, Tesla quit and became a ditch digger.

Nikola Tesla's heart was even bigger than his brain

Impressed with Tesla's designs for an AC power system, Edison's rival, George Westinghouse, licensed the patents for that powerful technology for $60,000. But when a costly legal battle with Edison threatened to bankrupt Westinghouse, Tesla selflessly agreed not to collect the royalties he was promised. Another priceless invention, Tesla coils, had the power to generate high voltages and transmit radio signals. But Tesla was ripped off by Guglielmo Marconi, who stole credit for the invention of the radio and made out like a bandit. 

Tesla wanted to transmit electricity wirelessly  for free all over the world via a series of giant towers, but he fell out of favor with wealthy investors and fell into a deep depression. After a mental breakdown, Tesla's life fell apart. He became obsessed with the number three, compulsively washed his hands for fear of uncleanliness, and started talking to pigeons, one of which he professed to love like a person. That pigeon died in his arms, and Tesla later died in debt while working on a "Death Beam" for the Soviet Union."