11 Nikola Tesla Inventions That Cemented His Place As One Of History’s Greatest Minds

Published June 10, 2021
Updated July 25, 2022

Throughout his storied yet tragic life, Nikola Tesla invented hundreds of devices and processes that changed our world, from the Tesla coil to the induction motor.

Tesla Coil
Magnifying Transmitter
Induction Motor
Radio Controlled Boat
11 Nikola Tesla Inventions That Cemented His Place As One Of History’s Greatest Minds
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In 1908 — about a century before the iPhone — inventor Nikola Tesla mused about creating a device "no bigger than a watch" that would allow someone to hear "music or song [or] the speech of a political leader" and transfer "any picture, character, drawing or print."

Today, we take the ability to send a photo to our grandparents for granted. But in Tesla's time, it was imagining the impossible.

So, what did Nikola Tesla invent with his ambitious mind? In his life, the Serbian-born inventor obtained around 300 patents for his designs. But he's best known for inventing alternating current (AC) — which powers homes and businesses, even today — and the induction motor, which is a key component of modern devices like vacuum cleaners and hair dryers.

Some of Nikola Tesla's inventions were overshadowed by the work of other scientists. He experimented with "shadowgraphs" around the same time that Wilhelm Röntgen invented the X-Ray. Tesla's work with wireless lights looks like a precursor to neon-lit signs.

And, heartbreakingly, Tesla's work on the radio was dwarfed by Guglielmo Marconi's successful 1901 radio message — even though Marconi used Tesla's technology. In fact, Tesla only got his due for radio six months after he died, when the U.S. Supreme Court deemed Marconi's patents invalid and posthumously awarded them to Tesla.

Listen above to the History Uncovered podcast, episode 20: The Rise and Fall of Nikola Tesla, also available on iTunes and Spotify.

But other Tesla inventions truly astounded the public. His idea for a radio-control boat seemed so incredible at the time that he was initially denied a patent. But then, when Tesla displayed the boat at Madison Square Garden in 1898, people couldn't wrap their minds around what they were seeing — to the inventor's delight.

All of Nikola Tesla's inventions looked toward the future. There's a reason why people call him the "man who invented the 20th century."

After reading about these Nikola Tesla inventions, learn about Nikola Tesla's death and his missing files. Or, see why he believed that the numbers 3 6 9 could change the world..

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a double degree in American History and French.