15 Weirdest Facts About Nikola Tesla

These days, the name “Tesla” is synonymous with “crashing into things and catching on fire,” which is basically how the man himself operated.
15 Weirdest Facts About Nikola Tesla

These days, the name “Tesla” is synonymous with “crashing into things and catching on fire,” which is basically how the man himself operated. His ability to push science forward by decades at a time could mostly be attributed to a brain that worked completely differently from every other brain that’s ever existed, which was great for humanity in general but not so awesome for those who had to interact with him and/or clean up his pigeon shit.

He Was Born in a Thunderstorm


(Max Saeling/Unsplash)

If you were watching a Tesla biopic that opened with Mrs. Tesla laboring sweatily while thunder boomed and lightning flashed outside, you’d be like “Oh, boy, it’s gonna be that kind of movie,” but according to family legend, that actually happened. The story goes that the midwife remarked, “Your new son is a child of the storm,” to which Mrs. Tesla responded, “No, he is a child of the light,” which feels like a minor quibble, but we don’t recommend arguing with immediately postpartum women.

He Experienced Visions in “Flashes of Light”

White light


Mrs. Tesla didn’t realize just how right she was. Since childhood, Tesla experienced blinding “flashes of light” that often contained detailed visualizations of his future inventions. This was probably part of the debilitating mental illness he suffered from, but it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t useful to a scientist and inventor.

He Lived in the Mountains For a Year

To avoid being drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army as a young man, Tesla adopted the Unabombercore aesthetic, hiding out in seclusion in the Croatian mountains. “For most of this term I roamed in the mountains, loaded with a hunter’s outfit and a bundle of books, and this contact with nature made me stronger in body as well as in mind,” he later wrote.

He Was Physically Revolted By Pearls


(Tiffany Anthony/Unsplash)

It’s generally agreed that Tesla suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder or something similar, which led to a lot of irrational beliefs and behaviors, but the most inexplicable was his feelings about jewelry. He hated how it felt, objected to the entire concept of women’s earrings, and “the sight of a pearl would almost give a fit.”

He Had a Strict Diet

His disorder no doubt contributed to some eyebrow-raising dining practices, but so did his principles. He believed meat was on the way out, so he stuck to a simple but strict diet of milk, honey, bread, and vegetable juices. He would probably want us to note that there’s no scientific evidence the Tesla diet will make you a genius or anything but even hungrier.

He Believed in Aliens


(Stephen Leonardi/Unsplash)

In 1901, Tesla announced that he’d received radio signals from outer space two years earlier and that “the feeling is constantly growing on me that I had been the first to hear the greeting of one planet to another.” He wasn’t entirely wrong: Almost 100 years later, scientists hypothesized that the signals had come from one of Jupiter’s moons passing through its magnetic field.

He Claimed to Have Built a Death Ray

In 1934, Tesla claimed he’d worked out how to direct a beam of energy that could instantly kill from 250 miles away and eliminate warfare forever. Not to call the man a liar, but he somehow couldn’t find a single government to fund the device’s creation, and while he later claimed to have built and tested it himself, he conveniently died before he could actually unveil it.

He Was Weird About Women

Tesla was famously celibate, but he insisted it was because he “worshipped” women and found himself “unworthy of the object” of his worship. He also had real specific opinions about how women should look and act, firing one secretary because of her weight, demanding another go home and change because her dress was too modern for his liking, and complaining about “the present economic condition wherein women strive against men and in many cases actually succeed in usurping their places in the professions and in industry.” But he also wrote that “the female mind has demonstrated a capacity for all the mental acquirements and achievements of men, and as generations ensue that capacity will be expanded,” resulting in “a new sex order, with the female as superior,” so who knows what he was on about.

He Only Slept Two Hours a Night


(Matheus Vinicius/Unsplash)

Tesla insisted he never slept more than two hours a night, once even working 84 hours straight, so next time someone tells you we all have the same 24 hours work with, electrocute them in the face. Tesla’s professors once told his father that his “working and sleeping habits were killing him,” and he did soon suffer the first of many “nervous breakdowns,” so don’t go trying it out for yourself.

He Had an Interesting Exercise Routine


(Alicia Christin Gerald/Unsplash)

Tesla believed that curling his toes 100 times every night before bed stimulated his brain cells. There’s no apparent downside to that one, so knock yourself out.

He Fell in Love With a Pigeon


(Douglas Bagg/Unsplash)

Toward the end of his life, Tesla spent increasing amounts of time feeding pigeons in the park, eventually just leaving the windows of the hotel rooms where he lived open so they could come and go as they pleased and really trying the patience of the housekeeping staff who had to clean up after them. There was one particular pigeon who he loved “as a man loves a woman, and she loved” him. He claimed she telepathically communicated it to him when she was dying, which was possibly the greatest heartbreak of his life.

He Held Birthday Press Conferences

As Tesla became increasingly reclusive (see: pigeon love), he began holding press conferences every year on his birthday so people would leave him alone the rest of the year. At these events, he told reporters everything he’d been working on or discovered, which was usually pretty weird, including the death ray, the discovery of a “new source of energy,” and a device to improve “the size, quality, and quantity of eggs and chickens.”

He Invented a Lot Weird Stuff

Empire State Building


They couldn’t all be the alternating current. In addition to the death ray, Tesla claimed to have built an “earthquake machine” that could topple the Empire State Building with just five pounds of air pressure and created plans for a camera that could take pictures of thoughts.

The FBI Seized All of His Stuff After Death

Police tape

(David von Diemar/Unsplash)

Considering their refusal to fund his death ray, the U.S. government was awfully interested in Tesla’s papers, confiscating everything from his hotel room after he was found dead in 1943. It apparently took 10 years for Dr. John G. Trump (yes, those Trumps) to declare the notes largely worthless and release them to Tesla’s heirs. Well, some of them.

Some of Tesla’s Papers Are Still Classified

Classified file


In 2018, the FBI released 250 pages of Tesla-related documents they’d been keeping secret for 75 years, and that’s not even all of them. Does this mean the U.S. government is building a death ray? Only time and the continued existence of warfare will tell.

Top image: 

Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons

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