With the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, the new inventions followed each other rapidly. Golden times for the brilliant minds. And when it came to brilliance, few in the last two centuries could compete with Nikola Tesla (1856-1943). As an engineer he invented and developed a large scale of electric devices. But we are more interested in Tesla’s personal lifestyle. The born Serbian hardly ever ate meat, he didn’t smoke or drink coffee and tea. Alcohol was a whole different thing though, since he claimed this was ‘not a stimulant but the elixir of life.’
Growing up in a Serbian family in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Tesla must have been exposed to alcohol at a young age. As traditionally, the home distilled drink rakija, and booze in general, plays a large role in the Serbian culture. The fact is that in his younger years he read a lot of work from Mark Twain, a writer known for his heavy drinking. Though at some point Tesla gambled away his college funds and dropped out of the University of Graz at some point, there are no indications he was drinking more than normal students.
After the Serbian engineer moved to the United States in 1891, his reputation as a drinker grew. Not so much because he was hanging in bars all day long. If anything Tesla was a workaholic, not an alcoholic. Yet he drank whiskey every day, while he labeled tea and coffee as unhealthy stimulants. Tesla was also practically a vegetarian and he did not smoke. In the early 20th century he explained his lifestyle: “I myself eschew all stimulants. I also practically abstain from meat. I am convinced that within a century coffee, tea, and tobacco will be no longer in vogue. Alcohol, however, will still be used. It is not a stimulant but a veritable elixir of life.”
No wonder the years of the American Prohibition were quite tough on Tesla, who obeyed the strict no-alcohol policy in those days in his new fatherland. “Only a few days of abstinence made me a very sick man and my health became precarious.” Tesla was convinced that if it wasn’t for these years of forced abstinence, he would have lived to see 150 years old.
During the Prohibition the famous inventor wrote an article for the New York World-Telegram under the title ‘Chewing Gum More Fatal Than Rum, Says Tesla’. A striking quote from this piece was: “People have been led to believe that alcoholic beverages cause serious injuries to mind and body, while other stimulants, as tea and coffee, are almost harmless. I know from careful observation and lifelong experience that the reverse is more nearly true.”
In the same article he takes things a little further, by stating: “Even smoking, snuffing or chewing tobacco will eventually impair the health, though not quite so much as chewing gum, which, by exhaustion of the salivary glands, puts many a foolish victim into an early grave. But by far the greatest number of victims are claimed by tea and coffee. Dr. Alexander Haig, foremost authority on uric acid and founder of his famous diet, says of the former: ‘Tea drinking is just like drug taking, in fact, and has just as terrible and fatal results’.”
For those who are interested, they can read Tesla’s full article here. Fact is that the engineer never lived to see 150 years. But as long as he lived, he maintained his strict diet, combined with numerous glasses of whiskeys and fine wines. With that awkward lifestyle the inventor made it to the respectable age of 86. Who knows how much higher that number would have been without those horrible sober years.