Tesla was born "at the stroke of midnight" in 1856 with lightning striking during a summer storm (the first moment of July 10). The midwife commented, "He'll be a child of the storm," to which his mother replied, "No, of light." He was born in Smiljan near Gospić in Croatia, Lika, (the Military Frontier of the Austria-Hungary, now in Croatia). (His baptismal name was Николай (Nikola). His Baptism Certificate reports that he was born on June 28 (Julian calendar; July 10 in the Gregorian calendar) 1856, and christened by the Serbian orthodox priest, Toma Oklobdžija. Tesla was baptised in the Old Slavonic Church rite.
His father was Rev. Milutin Tesla, a Serbian priest in the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Karlovci which gathered the Serbs of the "Greek-rite" as they were legally referred to in Habsburg Monarchy at the time (Vlach Orthodox; Metropolitanate of Karlovci). His father's church in Gospić was destroyed in the 1990s. His mother was Đuka Mandić, a housewife talented in making home craft tools. Nikola was one of five children, having one brother and three sisters. His godfather, Jovan Drenovac, was a Captain in the Krajina army. His family moved to Gospić in 1862.
Tesla went to school in Karlovac (then Austria-Hungary), then studied electrical engineering at the Austria Politechnic in Graz, Austria (1875). While there, he studied the uses of alternating current. Today , there is a school dedicated to Nikola Tesla in Zagreb.
In 1881 he moved to Budapest to work for the telegraph company, American Telephone Company. On the opening of the telephone exchange in Budapest, 1881, Tesla became the chief electrician to the company, later engineer to the Yugoslav government and the country's first telephone system. He also developed a telephone repeater (sometimes called an amplifier) [ed., this was one of the first wireless telephones]. The device could act as an audio speaker (not an audio transducer).
The device had its resonance tuned to a particular frequency of other repeaters to communicate between each. In 1916, Tesla described the prior developed audio transducers. According to Tesla, it was the "... simplest ways [to detect the radiant energy ...] the low frequency gave audible notes. [... in a field, there was] placed a conductor, a wire or a coil, and then Tesla would get a note [...] characteristics of the audible note". The audible sounds were of the quality of the telephones diaphragms of that period of time. The invention was never patented nor released publicly (till years later by Tesla himself). The device also contained the characteristics of modern wireless telephones.
For a while he stayed in Maribor. He was employed at his first job as an assistant engineer. Tesla suffered a nervous breakdown during this time. In 1882 he moved to Paris to work as an engineer for the Continental Edison Company. He worked designing improvements to electric equipment. In the same year, Tesla conceived of the induction motor and began developing various devices that use rotating magnetic fields (for which he received patents in 1888). Tesla visualized the rotating fields and thereby designed the induction motor.
Tesla was fascinated by the Crookes radiometer, believing that it was a most wonderful invention.
Tesla hastened from Paris to his mother's side as she lay dying, arriving hours before her death in 1882. Her last words to him were, "You've arrived, Nidzo, my pride." After her death, Tesla fell ill. He spent two to three weeks recuperating in Gospić and the village of Tomingaj near Grač, the birthplace of his mother. All his life, Tesla kept a home-spun embroidered travel bag from his mother.