Last Updated: March 1, 2024
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Jul 10, 1856 - Jan 7, 1943 (86 years old)
6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)
Physicist, Inventor, Electrical engineer, Mechanical Engineer, Scientist, Futurist
United States of America
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What was Nikola Tesla's net worth?

Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, physicist, and futurist who tragically died penniless. It was a terrible ending for a man whose inventions changed the course of human history, and with a slight twist of fate, he could have been the richest human being in history. More on that in the next section below.

Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and futurist whose pioneering work laid the foundation for modern electrical engineering and many technologies used today. Tesla's contributions to the development of alternating current (AC) electricity supply systems were among his most significant achievements, allowing for the efficient transmission of electricity over long distances. This innovation was instrumental in the success of the "War of Currents," where AC eventually triumphed over direct current (DC) systems promoted by Thomas Edison.

Tesla's inventions and developments spanned a wide range of technologies. He invented the Tesla coil, an electrical resonant transformer circuit used in radio technology and other scientific applications. He also made groundbreaking contributions to the fields of electromagnetism and wireless communication, which paved the way for the development of radio, television, and even modern-day Wi-Fi and cellular technology. Tesla envisioned wireless transmission of energy and experimented with transmitting electrical energy without wires, a concept that remains a subject of research and interest today.

Despite his numerous contributions to science and technology, Tesla's life was marked by periods of financial difficulties and obscurity. In his later years, he lived alone and became increasingly eccentric, claiming to have developed inventions like a death ray and to be in communication with extraterrestrial beings. After his death, Tesla's work gained renewed interest and recognition. Today, he is celebrated as a visionary inventor and ahead-of-his-time genius whose ideas continue to influence modern technology.

Tesla's legacy includes over 300 patents, and his name lives on in the Tesla unit of magnetic flux density. He has become a pop culture icon, symbolizing the archetypal "mad scientist" and the unappreciated genius whose work could have changed the world even more profoundly had it been fully realized during his lifetime.

Fortune Made, Fortune Lost

Tesla's 300 different patents brought him fame and incredible fortune in his lifetime. At one point, the royalty payments on his Alternating Current patent were worth the inflation-adjusted equivalent to hundreds of millions dollars. By most estimates, Tesla's royalties were so valuable that he easily should have become the world's first billionaire and the richest person on the planet by a long shot. But none of that happened. Unfortunately, not only did Tesla burn through his entire personal fortune on failed projects, but he also threw away his most lucrative patent and, subsequently, his chance to become a billionaire. When Tesla died in 1943, he was bankrupt, alone, and teetering on the verge of insanity.


Early Life

Nikola Tesla was born in the village of Smiljan in the Austrian Empire. His father, an Eastern Orthodox priest, and mother were both ethnic Serbs. While his mother had never been formally educated, she had an excellent memory and was talented in building tools and appliances. Tesla grew up with three sisters and an older brother, though his brother was killed in a horse riding accident when Tesla was five.

Tesla first became interested in electricity while in his high school physics class. He was a very capable student, able to perform integral calculus in his head, and finished the four-year school term in only three. After finishing high school, Tesla contracted cholera and nearly died from the illness. However, he did recover but was then fearful of being conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian Army. In order to avoid this, Tesla ran away to the mountains, a time that Tesla recalled as pivotal to his physical and mental health.

He later enrolled at the Imperial-Royal Technical College in Graz, where he again excelled as a student. However, he later dropped out of school and experienced a few tumultuous years full of anxiety and gambling, in addition to the fact that his father. Tesla then moved to Budapest in 1881, where he started working at a telegraph company as a draftsman. Soon after, he earned the position of chief electrician.

Professional Achievements

Tesla's move to Paris to work at another electrical company, the Continental Edison Company, Thomas Edison's company, which would prove pivotal to his career, as it was there that manager Charles Batchelor noticed Tesla's obvious skill in working with electricity. When Batchelor was transferred to New York City from Paris, he requested that Tesla be brought as well. There, Tesla continued working for the Edison company until he quit six months later over an alleged payment dispute.

Tesla then began working on patenting an arc lighting system. While working on this, Tesla was able to strike a deal with two businessmen who agreed to finance a company in Tesla's name, the Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing company. However, this partnership was relatively short-lived as the two men decided some of Tesla's manufacturing ideas were too complicated and decided to just run a utility business without Tesla.

However, Tesla soon after met two new investors who were more interested in Tesla's ideas for new electrical equipment, including those that ran on alternating current (AC). With the two men, Tesla created the Tesla Electric Company. Through this, Tesla was able to get an induction motor that ran on AC power patented. He was able to make a substantial amount of money from his AC patents, allowing him more freedom to pursue his own interests.

In 1891, Tesla patented the Tesla coil, an oscillating transformer that could be used to produce alternating-current electricity. He later used this coil to work on various forms of wireless lighting. He also partnered with the World's Fair in 1891 to provide lighting for the event and worked with General Electric to create the first modern power station. His work was briefly stunted in 1895 due to a laboratory fire that destroyed a large amount of equipment and notes. He then left New York for a couple of years to work in Colorado Springs, though he later returned to New York and secured funding from the financier, J.P. Morgan. He focused much of this life on developing the transmission of electricity wirelessly.

Herbert Barraud/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Personal Life

Tesla remained a bachelor his entire life, never marrying or involving himself in a serious relationship. Though he felt he was more successful in his scientific endeavors by remaining single, he deeply admired women and later wondered if he had sacrificed too much by not marrying.

In general, Tesla was asocial and primarily devoted to his work. He kept a rigorous work schedule, beginning every day at 9:00 a.m. and pausing by 8:10 p.m. to eat dinner, always in the same restaurant or hotel. After dinner, he would then resume work until 3:00 a.m. He also was known to walk at least eight miles per day and regularly practiced toe curls in order to stimulate his brain. However, he did develop some close friendships throughout his life, including Mark Twin, actress Sarah Bernhardt, and the Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda. Among other personality quirks, he was said to have a photographic memory and spoke eight languages.


At the age of 81 in 1937, Tesla was taking his regular evening walk and was hit by a taxicab while crossing the street. As a result of the accident, Tesla's back was severely injured, and he broke several ribs, though he refused to go to the doctor. He never fully rehabilitated from this injury.

Five years later, Tesla was found by a maid in a room at the Hotel New Yorker. He was alone, and an autopsy later revealed that the cause of death was coronary thrombosis. Tesla's belongings were soon after collected by the FBI in order to ensure that he had not been working on anything that may prove hazardous if it ended up in the wrong hands.

Tesla is survived by his over 300 patents and a number of companies, schools, and other places that are named in his honor.

All net worths are calculated using data drawn from public sources. When provided, we also incorporate private tips and feedback received from the celebrities or their representatives. While we work diligently to ensure that our numbers are as accurate as possible, unless otherwise indicated they are only estimates. We welcome all corrections and feedback using the button below.
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