Nikola Tesla

7 Apr, 2024 620 Engineering

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) and his role in the development of electrical systems towards the end of the nineteenth century. He made his name in New York in the contest over which current should flow into homes and factories in America. Some such as Edison backed direct current or DC while others such as Westinghouse backed alternating current or AC and Nikola Tesla’s invention of a motor that worked on AC swung it for the alternating system that went on to power the modern age. He ensured his reputation and ideas burnt brightly for the next decades, making him synonymous with the lone, genius inventor of the new science fiction.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Simon Schaffer 25 episodes
    Emeritus Fellow of Darwin College, University of Cambridge
  • Jill Jonnes No other episodes
    Historian and author of "Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse and the Race to Electrify the World"
  • Iwan Morus 4 episodes
    Professor of History at Aberystwyth University

Reading list

  • Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age
    W. Bernard Carlson (Princeton University Press, 2013) Google Books →
  • Tesla: Master of Lightning
    Margaret Cheney and Robert Uth (Barnes & Noble Books, 1999) Google Books →
  • Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930
    Thomas P. Hughes (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983) Google Books →
  • When Old Technologies Were New
    Carolyn Marvin (Open University Press, 1988) Google Books →
  • Nikola Tesla and the Electrical Future
    Iwan Rhys Morus (Icon Books, 2019) Google Books →
  • How The Victorians Took Us To The Moon
    Iwan Rhys Morus (Icon, 2022) Google Books →
  • Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology
    David E. Nye (MIT Press, 1991) Google Books →
  • Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla
    John J. O'Neill (Cosimo Classics, 2006) Google Books →
  • Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla, Biography of a Genius
    Marc J. Seifer (Citadel Press, 2016) Google Books →
  • My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla
    Nikola Tesla (Martino Fine Books, 2011) Google Books →
  • My Inventions and other Writings
    Nikola Tesla (Penguin, 2012) Google Books →

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Programme ID: m001xvhb

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Auto-category: 621.309 (Electric power systems)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. Nikola Tesla, 1856-1943, is inseparable from the story of the electrification of America, if not the world.