Did Nikola Tesla develop alternating current? Surprisingly, the answer is “No.” I know this statement came as a blow to many. But it’s true!

Okay, Tesla has been one of the greatest inventors that humanity has ever witnessed. Many of the modern privileges that we are enjoying today result from his vision, and I do not deny that. But still, there are some myths about Tesla that have been floating freely around us for years, and this is something that seriously needs to be debunked at a point!

Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla

Myth #1: Nikola Tesla invented Alternating Current

When it comes to alternating current(AC), Tesla’s name always makes it to the top. But as I mentioned in the first line itself, Tesla didn’t invent alternating current. I’m not saying that Nikola Tesla didn’t have a role in making AC what it is today. He refined the use of AC and played an irreplaceable role in perfecting and promoting AC, but he just didn’t invent it.

Alternating current was first developed in principle by Michael Faraday, and then the first example of alternating current in practice was developed by Hippolyte Pixii.  In 1832, Pixii developed a simple AC generator that sparked a new industry which was further flourished by genius visions like those of Tesla and others.

Moreover, some devices employing AC in the medical world were developed way before Tesla was even born. Tesla himself studied the use of AC in college and later molded it further according to his vision. Tesla’s development of AC is clearly important for the evolution of our modern electrical world, but saying that he invented the entire AC system all by himself is not right. For your reference, here is a detailed article explaining the timeline of AC.

Myth #2: Tesla invented Radio

The discovery of radio has hazy clouds of doubts associated with it. Some believe that Guglielmo Marconi first developed radio, and some believe that Nikola Tesla sewed the seeds of radio transmission. But here comes the surprise.

Although both Tesla and Marconi had filed their patents for a radio device, their work was predated by a Russian physicist, Alexander Popov, who successfully demonstrated a working radio receiver in 1895, a year before Marconi and Tesla did.

5 Popular Myths About Nikola Tesla That You Need To Stop Believing. 1
Aleksandr Popov used his lightning detector to demonstrate the transmission of radio waves | Image: A.S. Popov Central Museum of Communications

However, in 1898, Nikola Tesla demonstrated the world’s first radio-controlled device (a boat) at an electrical exhibition in the Madison Square Garden. His model responded to radio signals and was powered with an internal battery. Tesla’s device was like the birth of robotics, so we can call him the inventor of radio-controlled systems, but not the inventor of the radio as a whole.

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Myth #3: Nikola Tesla invented the induction coil

Before shedding some light on this myth, I would like to explain what an induction coil is. An induction coil is an electrical device consisting of a coil of a conductive material surrounding a metallic core. It is designed so to establish a strong magnetic field around the coil. As the current flowing through the coil changes, it causes fluctuations in the magnetic field that further induces a voltage across the coil.

Induction is believed to have been first discovered by Michael Faraday ( although it was inspired by Italian priest and physicist Francesco Zantedeschi and Joseph Henry, who made similar claims around 1829 and 1830 but did not publish his findings). The induction coil was invented by Nicholas Callan in 1836, long before Tesla was even born. However, in 1891, Nikola Tesla came up with his electrical resonant transformer circuit that could be used to produce high-voltage, low-current, and high-frequency alternating-current electricity. This was known as the Tesla coil and was based on the principles of the induction coil.

5 Popular Myths About Nikola Tesla That You Need To Stop Believing. 2
An early induction coil built by Irish clergyman Nicholas J. Callan in 1845 | Image: AugusteBlanqui, CC BY-SA 4.0

Now coming to the myth associated with Tesla and the induction coil, most people confuse the Tesla coil and induction coil to be the same thing and thereby credit Tesla for the invention of the induction coil. However, although Tesla invented his Tesla coil, a subtype of an induction coil, he neither proposed nor invented the first induction coil.

Myth #4: Tesla invented the transformer

Here’s another surprise: Nikola Tesla didn’t invent the transformer as well! The first transformer was developed in the late 1870s by the Ganz company in Budapest, and at that time, Tesla was probably in his college. Moreover, the first modern transformer as we know it today was invented in 1885, based on the ideas of Gaulard and Gibbs.

Around 1885, Tesla joined the inventors who were already working with AC. It is said that Tesla often mentioned that he had his design in mind for a full AC system in 1882. However, there are no written documents of any kind that prove this claim. But one thing is for sure; the first transformer was developed way before Nikola Tesla even envisioned it.

Myth #5: Tesla’s Niagara Falls Hydropower Plant was the first ever AC hydropower plant

I read somewhere that Nikola Tesla designed the world’s first hydroelectric power plant in Niagara Falls. I was amazed by this and decided to read more about such plants. But as I looked further, I realized that it wasn’t the case.

The AC power plants were first developed in Europe between 1878 and 1885. Westinghouse hired William Stanley, Oliver Shallenberger, Benjamin Lamme, and others to build AC power systems in North America in 1885. And Tesla didn’t join Westinghouse until 1888.

The Redlands Power Plant, constructed in 1893, was the first 3 phase AC power plant built for commercial purposes in North America. Moreover, the first full hydroelectric three-phase AC power system at Frankfurt was built by Dobrovolsky in 1891. Of course, one cannot ignore the fact that Tesla’s Niagara Falls Hydropower Plant played a fundamental role in the electrification of the world. Still, Tesla was not the only one running in the race to do so!

5 Popular Myths About Nikola Tesla That You Need To Stop Believing. 3
Tesla generators inside the Niagara Power plant in 1895 | Image: bigthink.com

The development of AC and other modern advancements was followed by the genius and hard work of many and not just a single mind. No doubt that Nikola Tesla’s ideas played a substantial role in the maturing of the advanced and modern-day world but giving him the credits of all the revolutions and ignoring the contribution of others doesn’t feel right. It’s time that we start giving credits where they are due.

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