Nikola Tesla was an unabashed genius whose design of an alternating current electrical distribution system is still used to provide electrical power to consumers across the globe. Over the course of his life, he obtained over 300 patents worldwide, and his thoughts and experiments regarding the wireless transmission of electrical power led to his creation of man-made lightning, helping to create a public image of a mad-scientist in his lifetime.
Tesla always dressed impeccably, towards the end of his life dining daily at New York’s Delmonico’s or Waldorf-Astoria precisely at eight o’clock. A believer in physical fitness, he usually walked eight miles or more every day, although he slept only two hours each night, fortifying himself throughout the following day with short catnaps.
His patents and work with Westinghouse on alternating current distribution alone should have made him a very wealthy man. They did not because the royalties due Tesla from Westinghouse were prohibitive, and George Westinghouse explained this difficulty to his employee by starkly informing him that it was either Tesla or the company. Tesla signed his patents over to Westinghouse for a lump-sum amount, less than a quarter of a million dollars, which was soon to be exhausted by Tesla’s ongoing experiments and failed attempts at marketing other products of his design. Most were ahead of their time.
By the turn of the 20th century, Tesla was residing in New York hotels, beginning with the prestigious Waldorf-Astoria, running up debts on the hotel and when pressed for collection moving on. Once wealthy from his work, Tesla’s own money was gone, sunk into failed businesses, but he continued to live as if he had the means. He could no longer afford the rent for either offices or living spaces and left a trail of debt behind him across New York City.
By the time he moved into the Hotel New Yorker in 1934, he had stiffed several of Manhattan’s better-known hostelries. That year Westinghouse began paying his debts and a stipend, which Tesla referred to as a consulting fee. He died in the Hotel New Yorker in 1943, leaving behind a wealth of knowledge and theories, but very little cash.