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Nikola Tesla: Research in High Frequency Phenomena, 1894

Breakdown and Revelation

Tesla moved on to study electricity at the University of Prague and, short of funds, left after a year for a minor position with the newly-established Hungarian Telegraph Office in Budapest. Recognition of his ability came quickly and, in 1881, he was made manager of the telephone company and, with his characteristic enthusiasm, worked and invented and began his avalanche of discoveries. However, his fixation with the alternating motor idea remained and eventually manifested in a critical mental and physical breakdown with highly mysterious symptoms. A hypersensitivity to sounds, light, and vibration brought shivers, twitches, and wildly erratic pulse rates. The illness continued for some months and defied medical diagnosis. Physical improvement came, the extreme sensitivity subsided, and Tesla returned to work still maintaining his captivation with the AC motor puzzle.

The puzzle's solution came to him in dramatic fashion in February, 1882. While walking with a friend at sunset, reciting poetry by Goethe, a spasm of revelation struck Tesla. He stood transfixed, explaining how an AC motor would work. The vision he outlined in minute detail had surfaced spontaneously in response to the questions he had asked himself back in 1875. Tesla later described his visualization powers with the example that he would envisage a design in meticulous detail, then return to the retained image days or weeks later and be able to examine it for wear as if it had been running during the intervening period.

In the midst of this excitement, Tesla's employer sold the telephone company but encouraged this unusual genius to move to Paris for work and expanded opportunities. Tesla moved to Paris in April of 1882.