Serbia’s history of invention is as proud as it is long. Millennials have embraced Serbian icon Nikola Tesla as something of a lost hero, an unorthodox genius who was mistreated by ‘the man’ at every turn, but he is just the tip of this particular iceberg. The sons and daughters of Serbia have been responsible for a plethora of inventions, from the everyday to the mythical.
It was a pig-breeder from a village in Vojvodina who paved the way for the 20th-century barber revolution. Nikola Bizumić grew tired of trotters and became a barber’s apprentice instead, but his employer wanted nothing to do with Bizumić’s attempts to make the procedure of haircutting a whole lot more efficient. Bizumić moved to London in 1855, where he had no trouble finding willing investors for his invention. Hair clippers came into being, and Nikola Bizumić died a very rich man indeed.
For a while in the late 2000s, vampires were all the rage. The blood-sucking beasts have always carried an intangible mythical coolness, although that wasn’t the case when the name was first used back in the early 18th century. ‘Vampire’ is just one of a small number of words that the Serbian language has given to the English, along with the name Tesla (more on that shortly) and a few more.
Vampire is a word that originates from the 1718 Treaty of Passarowitz, where it was observed that locals had begun the peculiar practice of ‘killing vampires’. The craze of the fanged fancies spread fast, although the stories of Sava Savanović and Petar Blagojević have largely been forgotten in the near 300 years since.
The average reader may not be familiar with Milankovitch Cycles, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a soul who isn’t at the very least aware of the term ‘climate change’ in the modern world. The cycles are named after their creator, Serbian mathematician and climatologist Milutin Milanković. It took him four bottles of wine, but the Croatia-born scientist came with a problem of cosmic significance to solve: deciphering whether or not climate had a predictable order.
Milanković painstakingly slogged through 650,000 years worth of data before arriving at conclusions that formed the basis of the cycles named after him. The cycles describe the effect of the changes in Earth’s movement on the planet’s climate. Milanković also found time to write a wildly romantic sci-fi novel about a time-travelling man witnessing the development of science.
Nikola Tesla is rightly considered the grandaddy of Serbian inventors, and it is no stretch to say that this article could be titled ’11 Amazing Things Nikola Tesla Gave The World’. Some of the spotlight must be shone on the other great minds of Serbian history however, so just a few of Tesla’s inventions will be featured here. Rest assured, there is a lot more where this comes from.
The credit for the invention of radio initially went to Italian engineer Guglielmo Marconi, but it was later revealed that Tesla had come up with the invention first. Tesla had two radio patents accepted in the late 19th century, but the financial clout of Marconi’s backers saw the Italian awarded the patent that mattered. Tesla accepted the situation with maturity, happy instead that science was moving forward nonetheless.
Tesla didn’t exactly invent alternating current (AC), but the ‘Electric Jesus’ was the man who made AC practical and usable for the entire planet. It wasn’t until wealthy investor George Westinghouse got behind him that Tesla’s work on AC began to be taken seriously. The AC/DC electric current wars were on.
In truth, it was simply a question of practicality. Thomas Edison’s direct current (DC) needed numerous power plants in order to provide electricity to large numbers of people, while Tesla’s AC used thinner wires and was able to transmit over great distances. Edison embarked on a very public smear campaign against AC, going so far as using to electrocute cats and dogs, but Tesla won out in the end.
Tesla was awarded a patent for a remote control in 1898, after using a battery-powered boat as a demonstration. Years passed before the technology was used in any meaningful way, but it is difficult to imagine a modern world without remote control tech. Tesla’s invention saw his boat controlled by radio signals, which subsequently powered the rudders and propellers. It was another of his inventions that went way over the heads of many at the time.
Tesla had a dream that one day every single person on the planet would be able to receive free energy. He set about building a tower that would use natural frequencies to transmit data across the globe — perhaps a precursor to the world wide web.
Tesla was well on his way to finishing the tower when his backer pulled the plug, citing the lack of profitability in the project as his reason. Modern wireless communication can be traced back to Nikola Tesla, the man whose ashes lie in the centre of Belgrade today.
How can one talk about Nikola Tesla without mentioning the coil that takes his name? The Tesla coil is used to produce high-voltage, low-current high-frequency electricity. That might fly over the heads of many, so look at it like this: It was a contraption that created flying arcs of electrical energy.
Coils may sound dangerous, but Tesla wasn’t one to shirk in the face of potential electrocution and almost certain death. His coil created huge amounts of energy and allowed him to light bulbs without using wires. The Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade demonstrates this excellently, allowing the visitor to light a bulb using nothing but their hand and a little bit of Tesla magic.
Nikola Tesla wasn’t the only Serbian inventor to make a name for himself in the United Staes. Mihajlo Pupin went in search of the American Dream in 1874, armed with an eager mind and five cents in his pocket. The money soon went on a piece of disappointing pie, but his brain remained intact.
Pupin was awarded many patents in his lifetime, but it was his contribution to long-distance telephone communication that made him a star. Pupin made the call to place wire coils along the transmitting wire, meaning the range of long-distance communication was greatly increased. The man from Idvor was also one of the founding members of NASA.
Serbia’s long history of robotics and prosthetics stretches all the way back to Nikola Tesla, but it wasn’t until two decades after the great man’s death that the five-fingered artificial hand came into being. It was created in Belgrade, and the genius behind the invention was a man called Rajko Tomović. Tomović was a productive man who published novels alongside his work in the laboratory, taking inspiration all the while from his deep love of classical music, and the prosthetics industry has skyrocketed since Tomović’s invention in 1963.
The fantastically named Ognjeslav Kostović Stepanović is credited with creating the world’s first version of plastic. Stepanović’s creation was actually called arbonite, and he was awarded the patent in September 1906. It was one of many ideas that bubbled in the mind of the man who spent most of his life in Russia. Stefanović is also credited by some as being the inventor of the world’s first airship.
His work was destroyed in a fire however, and his lifetime commitment to the East meant a lot of his work was ignored in the West.