PEMF Pioneers: Nikola Tesla

PEMF Pioneers: Nikola Tesla lifemat

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” Nikola Tesla

The late 1800’s and early 1900’s were a time of incredible technological progress. In particular, the inventions of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla showed the potential of electricity and electromagnetic fields, including new therapeutic directions.

In 1891, Tesla demonstrated passing an electrical current through his own body and reported beneficial effects. In 1896, he created an ozone generator with major potential as an antibacterial and antiseptic, and also designed an oscillator to relieve leg muscle fatigue. And at the turn of the century, he wrote a research article titled High-Frequency Oscillators for Electro-Therapeutic and Other Purposes (1). In this he suggested that:

“It might be possible to sterilize wounds, or to locate, or even to extract metallic objects, or to perform other operations of this kind…”

The fact that he suffered with mental illness all of his life may been a key motivation, and potentially prescient — decades later we saw the emergence of trans-cranial PEMF as one of the most promising treatments for severe drug-resistant depression.

Many believe that Tesla’s early inventions were a pivotal point in the future development of PEMF therapy.

Early Life

Tesla’s achievements were all the more remarkable given the place and timing of his birth. Born in the small village of Smiljan in Croatia in 1856 (2) he suffered from mental health issues throughout his life, particularly after the death of his brother.

He had a reasonably affluent family for the time (his mother managed a farm and his father was a priest) and he went on to study maths and physics at the Technical University of Graz and philosophy at the University of Prague.

After university, he moved to Paris and began working for the newly formed Edison Company where his interest in electricity galvanised him even more.

By 1884, he had moved to New York and worked with Edison for a year. During this time, Edison asked Tesla to improve the design of his DC dynamo for a payment of $50,000. When Tesla delivered his solution, however, Edison famously refused to pay.

Nikola Tesla the Inventor

Leaving the company, Tesla attracted various backers and became an inventor, developing no fewer than 30 different patents. At one point he was hired by Edison’s main competitor, George Westinghouse.

As an inventor, Nikola Tesla was probably the most prolific of his age. Working with Westinghouse, he designed the alternating current (AC) system which became the preeminent standard for the 20th century electricity, despite a disinformation campaign waged by Edison who was still tied to his direct current (DC) system.

In 1895, Tesla also designed the first AC hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls and the Tesla Coil which is still the basis for the wireless technology we have today.

Tesla’s Role in Magnetic Therapy

While he has been associated with many inventions, Tesla’s magnetic loop coil is probably the one that resonates most with those interested in PEMF therapy.

While today we have sophisticated PEMF mats and other devices, at the turn of the century the early prototypes were large round solenoid coils that often measured as much as 3 metres in diameter. Compared to today’s machines (mostly quite low frequency), they also produced high-frequency electromagnetic fields which had the potential to cause harm.

Many see Tesla as the first real pioneer of PEMF devices but he was ahead of his time. Most homes still had no electricity and a great deal of the infrastructure needed was years from being constructed. Enthusiasm for electromagnetic therapy didn’t last and fell away until the 1930s when the Diapulse pioneers Abraham Ginsberg and others used a device that delivered electromagnetic pulses to improve circulation and heal wounds. By the 1940s, further prototypes were being experimented with in Japan.

Tesla’s Later Life

At the turn of the century, Nikola Tesla had designs to create a global wireless communication system. With backing from financial giant JP Morgan, he was able to build a power plant and transmission tower in Long Island, New York. It was an incredibly large and expensive project that could have changed not just how energy is produced but how we communicate too.

At the same time, however, Marconi was also developing his wireless technology and doubts began to be raised by investors about Tesla’s project. Marconi’s invention prevailed even though Tesla had thought of the idea two years beforehand. By 1915, the Long Island site had been closed and Tesla was declared bankrupt. It had a catastrophic effect on his already-fragile mental health.

He suffered a nervous breakdown and his future projects became increasingly bizarre, including building a ‘death ray’ (3) that even attracted the attention of the newly formed FBI.

Nikola Tesla continued to be plagued by ill health and in 1945 suffered a coronary embolism, dying at the age of 86.

After years of relative obscurity, his brilliance has drawn increasing attention in recent decades. There have been several movies: the Secret of Nikola Tesla (1980), the Prestige (2006), the Current War (2019) and Tesla (2020). And in 2003 Tesla Motors was created, the pioneer in electrically-powered cars and now the world’s most valuable car manufacturer.


  1. Nikola Tesla High-Frequency Oscillators for Electro-Therapeutic and Other Purposes The Electrical Engineer, 1898
  2. Nikola Tesla’s Early Years 2020
  3. Sam Kean The Undying Appeal of Nikola Tesla’s “Death Ray” Science History, 2020

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