October the 26th, 2023 – Nikola Tesla, born in Smiljan not far from Gospic in Lika, is among the greatest minds in the world and one of the most famous people to be born in Croatia. Most know of his inventions, but how much do you know about his eccentricity and quirks? Read on for five lesser known facts about this Croatia-born genius.
Nikola Tesla suffered from quite severe obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
Like many highly intelligent people, Nikola Tesla suffered from psychiatric issues. One marked problem he had was OCD which gradually became more and more severe. It has been reported that Tesla’s OCD symptoms began presenting themselves more obviously in 1917. Around that time, he became slowly more obsessed by the number three – with everything he did needing to somehow correspond with it. When swimming laps in the pool, he committed to doing exactly 33. If he lost count or forgot, he would begin again from zero, feeling he could not leave the pool until he knew the number 33 had been reached. He would only occupy a hotel room which bore a number that could be divided by 3. He also demanded he be given 18 napkins when he was served any food so that he could individually wipe the silverware he would use, as well as any plates, bowls and glasses. Also being drawn to the numbers 6 and 9, many attributed Tesla’s obsession to his strong belief that certain numbers were very significant to their relationship with the universe. At one point in his life, he was admitted to hospital in Budapest after experiencing a breakdown involving intrusive thoughts and mental imagery (which he described as visions) and jarring flashes of light. Tesla’s brain was as tortured as it was extraordinary. His obsessive compulsive disorder never abated.
He adored pigeons
Tesla enjoyed the natural world and animals, but his passion when it came to the animal kingdom was pigeons. He loved them, fed them and spent hours with them, and would even bring back sick and injured pigeons to his hotel room when living in New York to nurse them back to health. One white female pigeon apparently bonded closely with Tesla and ”stole his heart”. He even wrote about her, claiming that he ”loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman” and that the pigeon also loved him. He claimed that this particular pigeon came to him during the night, flying into his room through an open window, to let him know that she was dying. We can speculate that the difficulties Tesla faced in connecting on a deeper level with his fellow human beings were mitigated by his natural ability to connect with birds. His relationship with them, and particularly the white female pigeon, filled a void in him that despite his logic and rationale, he was painfully aware of.
He had an aversion to women wearing jewellery (especially pearls)
Tesla is described as having what’s known as extrasensory perception, this made jewellery, particularly if it was typically spherical like pearl, uncomfortable to him. While all jewellery displeased him, pearls were a particular hatred of his, to the point that he point blank refused to even speak to any woman who happened to be wearing them. Later on in his life, his unsuspecting secretary, with whom he allegedly had a civil relationship, was sent home by Tesla who was unspeakably furious at her for wearing pearl jewellery to work. While his bizarre abhorrence for pearls was never entirely explained, it is line with other eccentric behaviours of his and was more than likely a symptom of his (by this point) intense and untreated OCD.
He was an extreme germaphobe
Tesla had been gravely unwell for a long time in his youth after he was struck down by a severe bout of cholera. He contracted the disease just after leaving high school at 17, and it nearly ended his life multiple times. He spent nine months in bed trying to recover, with his visiting doctors believing that it was very unlikely that the weak and feeble Tesla would survive the disease. He fell ill with various infections throughout his earlier years, and his phobia was stoked when he decided to observe some microscopic creatures under a microscope. His experiences rendered him extremely germaphobic. He would wear gloves when around food, would insist on the aforementioned 18 napkins with which he would meticulously clean each individual item he would use, he also had an extreme aversion to touching his hair and refused to shake anyone’s hand.
Despite having a priest for a father, Nikola Tesla was a humanist
Tesla was a humanist, and he controversially (although not at the time) became quite the proponent of eugenics, believing that “human pity had interfered too much with the ruthless workings of nature.” Raised as an Orthodox Christian by his Orthodox priest father, Tesla claimed to not subscribe at all to such beliefs, claiming to entirely oppose any kind of religious fanaticism. ”The universe is a great machine which never came into being and which will also never end”, Tesla said when asked about his religious convictions, adding that he didn’t believe in the notion of an afterlife of any kind, that the soul was a mere biological entity and that when biological functions in the body end, everything else does as well – including the soul.