Tesla was born to Serbian parents in the village of
Smiljan, Austrian Empire near the town of Gospić,
in the territory of modern-day Croatia. His baptismal certificate
reports that he was born on 28 June (N.S. 10 July), 1856,
to Father Milutin Tesla, a priest in the Serbian Orthodox Church.
His paternal origin is thought to be either of one of the local Serb
clans in the Tara valley or
from the Herzegovinian noble Pavle Orlović.
His mother, Đuka, daughter of a Serbian Orthodox Church priest, came
from a family domiciled in Lika and Banija, but with deeper origins to Kosovo.
She was talented in making home craft tools and memorized many Serbian epic poems, but never learned
Nikola was the fourth of five children, having one older
brother (Dane, who was killed in a horse-riding accident when Nikola
was five) and three sisters (Milka, Angelina and Marica).
His family moved to Gospić in 1862. Tesla attended school at Higher Real Gymnasium in Karlovac.
He finished a four-year term in the span of three years.
Tesla went on to study electrical engineering at the Austrian Polytechnic in Graz (1875).
While there, he studied the uses of alternating current. Some sources
say he received Baccalaureate degrees from the university at Graz.
However, the university says that he did not receive a degree and did
not continue beyond the first semester of his third year, during which
he stopped attending lectures.
In December 1878, Tesla left Graz and broke all relations with his
family. His friends thought that he had drowned in the Mur
River. He went to Marburg, (today's Maribor, in Slovenia),
where he was first employed as an assistant engineer for a year. He
suffered a nervous breakdown
during this time. Tesla was later persuaded by his father to attend the
which he attended for the summer term of 1880. Here, he was influenced
Mach. However, after his father died, he left the university,
having completed only one term.
Tesla engaged in reading many works, memorizing complete
books, supposedly having a photographic memory.
Tesla related in his autobiography that he experienced detailed moments
of inspiration. During his early life, Tesla was stricken with illness
time and time again. He suffered a peculiar affliction in which
blinding flashes of light would appear before his eyes, often
accompanied by visions. Much of the time the visions were linked to a
word or idea he might have come across, at other times they would
provide the solution to a particular problem he had been encountering;
just by hearing the name of an item, he would be able to envision it in
realistic detail. Modern-day synesthetes
report similar symptoms. Tesla would visualize an invention in his mind
with extreme precision, including all dimensions, before moving to the
construction stage; a technique sometimes known as picture thinking. He
typically did not make drawings by hand, instead just conceiving all
ideas with his mind. Tesla also often had flashbacks to events that had
happened previously in his life; these began during his childhood.
In 1880, he moved to Budapest
to work under Tivadar Puskás in a telegraph
the National Telephone Company. There, he met
Nebojša Petrović, a young, Serbian inventor who lived in
Austria. Although their encounter was brief, they did work on a project
together using twin turbines to create continual power. On the opening
of the telephone exchange in Budapest, 1881,
Tesla became the chief electrician to the company, and was later
engineer for the country's first telephone system. He also developed a
device that, according to some, was a telephone
repeater or amplifier,
but according to others could have been the first loudspeaker.