After the death of Nikola Tesla, an American court, in January 1943, awarded custody of his property to Sava Kosanović. the son of Tesla’s youngest sister Marica. Sava Kosanović was a Serbian politician, publicist and diplomat who, at that time, was living in New York as a member of the Royal Yugoslav Government-in-exile.
Following his death, Tesla’s entire property was packed, sealed and handed over to the Office of Alien Property Custodian. His belongings were transferred from the New Yorker Hotel to the Manhattan Warehouse and Storage Co. where some of Tesla’s property was already stored.
On the initiative of Sava Kosanović, all Nikola Tesla’s personal property and writings were shipped to Belgrade, where Kosanović subsequently presented them to the state.
Packed in sixty packages, suitcases, metal trunks and barrels, the legacy of Nikola Tesla arrived on the ship Serbia in the port of Rijeka in September, 1951. The material was then transferred by train to Belgrade, where it was stored in the Belgrade University Faculty of Electrical Engineering. In June, 1952, it was moved from the Faculty to the Genčić Villa at 51 Proleterskih Brigada, as the street was then known. That address is now the Museum.
On the basis of Article 80, Paragraph 2, of the Yugoslav Constitution, and at the proposal of the Government Council for Science and Culture, the Yugoslav Government, on December 5, 1952, resolved to establish the Nikola Tesla Museum. This resolution was signed by Josip “Tito” Broz, and published in the Official Gazette no. 59, on December 10 that year. The same year, Veljko Korać, a professor of the Belgrade University Faculty of Philosophy, was appointed the founding director.
The responsibilities and goals of the Nikola Tesla Museum are defined by its 1953 statute: to preserve the scientific and personal legacy of Nikola Tesla; to continue collecting and conserving documentation and personal items connected with the life and work of Nikola Tesla; to maintain a permanent exhibition of material from its collections and to organize and facilitate research into that material; to publish the works and writing of Nikola Tesla and, as copyright holder, to authorize publication, reprinting and translation of these; alone or in collaboration with local and international scientific and educational institutions and individuals; to encourage and support scientific endeavor and research in the technical sciences in which Nikola Tesla worked, and to publish such work.
Following the founding of the Museum and the organization of the archive material, work began on preparing the permanent exhibition. This was carried out during the period from 1953 to 1955. The design for the reworked ground floor of the Genčić Villa was prepared in 1955 by architect Slobodan M. Vasiljević Macoka, a student of Professor Nikola Brašovan. By organizing the ground floor into three spaces linked by a circular traffic flow, using a minimal geometry and introducing a contrast between the ceiling and wall surfaces, he succeeded in creating an impression of gravitas in the exhibition space. The project also significantly enhanced his own reputation as an architect.
The Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade was opened to the public on October 20, 1955. It was the first technical museum in Yugoslavia. The opening presented the permanent exhibition, which gave visitors the opportunity to see models built accurately according to Tesla’s drawings. Perhaps the most celebrated of these demonstrates the effects of a rotating magnetic field. The Egg of Columbus, which had amazed visitors to the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, was also displayed for the Belgrade public. Also on display were Tesla’s first induction motor, a model hydroelectric power plant which illustrated Tesla’s polyphase transmission system, various generators and transformers, and a remote-controlled model boat. The most popular exhibit for visitors today is the Tesla coil with antenna, which was the basis for the fluorescent light.
The opening was attended by many famous figures from the world of science and culture. The guests included the then US ambassador to Belgrade, James Riddleberger.
The next important ceremony in the Museum was in the second half of 1957 when Milica Trbojević, the daughter of Tesla’s sister Angelina and heir to Sava Kosanović, presented Tesla’s ashes to the Museum for permanent preservation. The Yugoslav Embassy in Washington had handed over the urn containing the ashes to Charlotte Muzar, who arrived with it in Rijeka on the merchant ship Triglav on July 13, 1957. Four days later it arrived in Belgrade. A new space on the ground floor of the Museum was prepared for the ceremonial handover of the urn. It was built that same year to the design of architect Milan Pališaški. A pedestal was designed and made by painter Mario Mascarelli, and a spherical urn to hold the ashes was made by sculptor Nebojša Mitrić.
The museological work of the Nikola Tesla Museum may be seen as beginning in 1957, when the urn received by the Museum went on display as a permanent exhibit.
Since October 9, 1969, the Museum has been the property of the City of Belgrade, having been transferred from the federal government by an agreement promulgated in the Official Gazette of the Yugoslav Government.
The Nikola Tesla Museum is today, by any criteria, a scientific and cultural institution which is unique in Serbia and the world. It is the only museum preserving the original and personal legacy of Nikola Tesla. Its holdings include the following exceptionally valuable collections:
• more than 160,000 original documents
• more than 2,000 books and periodicals
• more than 1,200 historical and technical exhibits
• more than 1,500 photographs and glass photographic plates of original technical items, instruments and devices
• more than 1,000 plans and drawings.
The Nikola Tesla Museum was conceived from the outset as a complex institution, encompassing cultural, educational, scientific and memorial functions. This largely determined its original vision and mission. As a cultural institution, the Museum deals with the protection and presenta-tion of Tesla’s legacy.
Recognizing the universal importance of Nikola Tesla and his creation, on 16th October 2003 UNESCO included Tesla's archive, as a part of the movable documentary heritage of mankind in the Register "Memory of the World".