Tesla's early life is not well-documented. From what is known, Nikola Tesla was born in the town of Smiljan, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now located in Croatia. However, Tesla's family was of Serbian origin. His father, Milutin Tesla, was a priest in a Serbian Orthodox church, while his mother, Đuka, had a knack for inventing useful household farming tools, despite not being able to read. He was one of their 5 children.
Tesla went on to study electrical engineering in the Austrian Polytechnic in Graz. It is said that he originally intended to study physics and mathematics, he was fascinated by the uses and working of electricity, and went on to specialize in that. It is still debated if he did actually complete his baccalaureate degrees in Graz. The reason for this argument is that the university claims that he left in the first semester of his third year, never to return again. In between, on the insistence of his father, Tesla attended the Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague, but left after the death of his father.
In 1882, he got a job with the reputed Continental Edison Company in Paris. While working there, he is said to have conceived the induction motor and other devices that would use rotating magnetic fields. In 1884, he came to the United States, and began working for Edison Machine Works. While working under the great Thomas Alva Edison, he was given the responsibility of reworking the entire system of motors and generators in order to make it more efficient. For all his effort, Edison promised him USD 50,000. Tesla claims that after he completed his arduous task, Edison did not fulfill his part of the promise, and instead paid Tesla a mere 18 USD per week. Infuriated, Tesla left the company.
He had to work as a laborer to raise funds. In the meanwhile, he fine-tuned his ideas for an alternating current (AC) polyphase system. During that time he also constructed his brushless alternating current induction motor and the Tesla coil, which would enable the transmission of alternating current over longer distances. He was said to be obsessed with the alternating current, and his craze was rewarded when George Westinghouse chose to believe in his theory, and decided to work with him. He portrayed the uses of AC in a slightly negative light, but eventually people decided that AC was indeed a great idea, and a hydro-electric power station was built over the Niagara Falls.
Tesla then continued his works in the fields of wireless transmission of energy. He foresaw the use of radars and X-rays. He was also a firm advocator of geothermal and solar energy. He also did crucial work into harnessing radio waves for communication.
His name has become synonymous with the popular conception of the 'evil scientist' in recent times, due to his reluctance to shine in the limelight. He was reputed to be popular among women wherever he went, but never married.
Great as he was at inventing the stuff of dreams, he wasn't quite the best when it came to managing his finances. He used up his money quite injudiciously and came to be regarded as eccentric, owing to his severe germ phobia. He died penniless, after he sold all his valuable patents, in the New Yorker Hotel, in 1943.