American engineer and physicist Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) made dozens of breakthroughs in the production, transmission and application of electric power. He invented the first alternating current (AC) motor and developed AC generation and transmission technology. Though he was famous and respected, he was never able to translate his copious inventions into long-term financial success—unlike his early employer and chief rival, Thomas Edison.

Wireless Energy

In 1901, Tesla secured $150,000 from financier J.P. Morgan to build a 185-foot-tall, mushroom-shaped tower on the north shore of Long Island capable of transmitting messages, telephony and images to ships at sea and across the Atlantic Ocean by using the Earth to conduct signals. As work began on the structure, called Wardenclyffe Tower, Tesla wanted to adapt it to allow for wireless power delivery, believing from his experiments on radio and microwaves that he could light up New York City by transmitting millions of volts of electricity through the air. Morgan, however, refused to give Tesla any additional funding for his grandiose scheme. (Some speculate that Morgan cut off funds once he realized that Tesla’s plan would have crippled his other energy-sector holdings.) Tesla abandoned the project in 1906 before it could ever become operational, and Wardenclyffe Tower was dismantled in 1917.