The Genius of Nikola Tesla: It Runs in the Family

Discover the story of Nikola Tesla's roots - from his privileged upbringing in wartorn, poverty-stricken Serbia to the many talents of his immediate family.

The House Tesla Was Born InNikola Tesla Museum


In 1856, during the Turkish occupation of Serbia, the country was ravaged by hunger and poverty, and few people could read.

But on 10 July 1856, Nikola Tesla was born into a highly educated and unusually talented family, in the parish of Gospić, now Smiljan.

Baptismal Certificate of Nikola TeslaNikola Tesla Museum

Here, young Nikola was baptised in the Eastern Orthodox Church of St Peter and Paul, just next door to the family home.

Tesla's fatherNikola Tesla Museum

Nikola Tesla's father

Like his ancestors, Milutin Tesla was known for his prodigious memory, mathematics prowess and a tendency to daydream.

He was an Arch priest of the Greek Orthodox Church and reputedly spoke twelve languages.

Milutin Tesla's Charter from the Austrian EmperorNikola Tesla Museum

In 1873, Milutin was awarded the charter for the highest honors by the Austrian emperor himself.

But when Milutin died in 1879, probably after suffering a stroke, decisions about Nikola's further education fell to his uncles.

Bag from LikaNikola Tesla Museum

Nikola Tesla's mother

Đuka was born into one of the oldest families in the country.

Nikola Tesla would often point out that he inherited his talent as a first-rate inventor from his mother.

Highly skilled with handicrafts, she even invented a loom without ever setting her eyes on such a tool.

Like most other women of her time, Đuka was never photographed.

Nikola Tesla's uncle, the Serbian Orthodox MetropolitanNikola Tesla Museum

Uncle Nikolaj

Petar Mandić, Tesla’s uncle from his mother side, was a Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church.

He adopted the name Nikolaj after entering monasticism.

He was renowned for the artistic approach he took to carving, forging and masonry.

A beautiful book of prayers that he bound is now looked after at the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade.

Tesla's uncleNikola Tesla Museum

Uncle Paja

Tesla's uncle Paja Mandić was a distinguished member of the Austro-Hungarian army.

He married Paula, a rich daughter of the Hungarian aristocrat Peter Lupa.

Angelina, Milka and MaricaNikola Tesla Museum

Tesla's sisters

Angelina, Milka and Marica never received a formal education, so their potential talents remained undiscovered.

Karlovac High SchoolNikola Tesla Museum

In 1870, Tesla moved far north to Karlovac to attend high school at the Higher Real Gymnasium. The classes were held in German.

And in the 1880s, Tesla found work in the telephone transmission business in Budapest. Two years later, he moved to Paris, to work for T. Edison. There his exquisite talent for scientific work became clearly visible.

Tesla's Document of CitizenshipNikola Tesla Museum

In June 1884, Tesla emigrated from Paris, France, to the United States, where he lived and worked for years.

He officially became a citizen of the USA on July 30th, 1893 but never lost a strong affinity for his homeland.

Sava KosanovićNikola Tesla Museum

The man who preserved Tesla’s heritage

Tesla's nephew, Sava Kosanović, was a journalist, publicist and politician, and elected Secretary General of the Democratic Party of Yugoslavia.

For his whole life, Sava was deeply committed to the promotion of Tesla's work.

And thanks to him, Nikola Tesla's whole legacy - including artifacts, books, illustrations and belongings - was repatriated from the USA to Belgrade.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Once Upon a Try
A journey of invention and discovery with CERN, NASA, and more than 100 museums around the world
View theme
Google apps