Nikola Tesla was certainly a genius. The benefits of his pioneering work on electricity are still being felt today. His reputation was never as high as that of his rival, Thomas Edison, mainly because Edison was a relentless glory hunter who was not averse to taking credit for other men’s ideas.
For Tesla, however, it was the idea that was important. He seemed to have little interest in celebrity or even money. While his inventions have generated millions or even billions of dollars, he seems to have benefited little from them. Tesla had an eidetic memory, could speak eight languages, and rarely made notes while inventing, as he didn’t need them, despite the fact that they would have been handy for establishing patents.
It is true that Tesla was always a little eccentric. He almost certainly suffered from OCD. He obsessively washed his hands and would only eat food that had been boiled. He had strange phobias, such as an aversion to pearls, which led to anxiety when speaking to society ladies. He believed that his greatest ideas were borne out of solitude, so he became solitary.[
Tesla’s poor business skills led him to fritter away his fortune, and he spent his last years moving from hotel to hotel and skipping out before paying the bill. He once offered one of his inventions in lieu of cash—a box which, he claimed, contained a death beam but which was too dangerous to be opened. Not one of his more useful inventions.
Tesla died in one of his hotel rooms in 1943. He was, as he had always been, alone.