Anne Cook Misty Stroud, PhD CHM 151; CRN 25017 1 March 2013 Tesla vs. Edison Everyone knows who Thomas Edison is, and many attribute the “invention of electricity” to Edison, but this is simply not accurate. The truth is, while Thomas Edison did patent and market DC, or direct current, electricity, he did not “invent” electricity, and as a matter of fact, much of his work was actually basically stolen from other scientists, among them, one brilliant scientist, Nikola Tesla.
We are all taught about Edison in school, but never once was I taught about the genius scientist who deserves much credit for many inventions, concepts, and ideas, most of which are credited to others, Nikola Tesla. Nikola Tesla was an Austrian born Serbian scientist who emigrated to the U. S. at the age of 28 after having attended the Austrian Polytechnic School in Graz and, subsequently, moved to Budapest, where he went to work for the Central Telephone Exchange.
It was during this time that Tesla invented the induction motor, which would soon revolutionize the world! After the invention of the induction motor, Tesla went to work for several electric companies in Paris and Strasburg, having been hired to improve their DC generating power facilities, during which time he tried to interest these European companies and investors in his induction motor utilizing AC current, but none were interested, so Nikola Tesla decided that he would move to the U.
S. to meet and work with his hero, the greatest electrical engineer in the world, in his opinion, Thomas Edison. Upon arriving in the U. S. with 4 cents in his pocket, some mathematical calculations, a drawing for a conceptual “flying machine”, and a letter of reference for Edison from one of his European business associates, Charles Batchelor, that read, “ My Dear Edison: I know two great men and you are one of them. The other is this young man! Tesla gave Edison this letter, and also described for him the work he had done in Europe, as well as his plans for a new alternating current (AC current) motor (the induction motor). Edison’s work was with direct current electricity (DC current), and he was notoriously stubborn and dismissive regarding AC current. The two types of electrical current differ a bit in that direct current (DC) is electricity that flows in a constant direction, and/or possesses a voltage with a constant polarity.
It is the kind of electricity that is made by a battery, with definite positive and negative terminals, or the kind of charge generated by rubbing certain types of material against each other, and DC is used in almost all electronics. AC, or alternating current, electricity changes polarity or direction over time. In the U. S. 60 Hertz is the standard, meaning that the current change consists of 60 oscillations per second, this means that every 1/120th of a second the direction in which the current is flowing is switched. In most other countries the standard for AC is 50 Hertz.
One of the major differences in the abilities of the two types of current is that AC is good for long distance transmission of electricity while DC is able to only transmit short distances and even at that it gets very hot so in order to utilize DC current to wire homes, there needed to basically be a power station with generators on every block, and even this was not really effective in getting a good electrical flow to homes and businesses. AC was a much safer and more cost efficient option for providing power to entire cities.
At the time that Tesla went to work for Edison, Edison was very actively marketing his DC power and had a lot invested in it, the threat of Tesla’s AC power was a very real one, and Edison knew this. There was a lot at stake financially, and in terms of recognition and prestige, and Edison did everything he could to discredit Tesla. Cook, 2 The dismissive attitude of Edison, along with great fundamental differences in what was the more beneficial invention, caused Tesla to leave Edison’s employ after just a few months and strike out on his own to further his work on his induction motor and AC as well as many other products.
It has also been told that one major reason Tesla left is that he was offered $50,000 by Edison to improve upon his DC generators, and once he had done so and asked Edison to pay him, Edison seemed surprised and reportedly told Tesla that the offer had been a “joke”, even going so far as to tell Nikola Tesla, “When you become a full-fledged American you will appreciate an American joke. ” We are told that Tesla immediately retired after that and once he left Edison’s employ, Tesla’s finances were so dire that he even took a job digging ditches– that would eventually hold Edison’s electrical wires, ironically!
But Tesla’s work was an incredible advance in electricity and in making it available and affordable to all, and eventually he found funding (most notably from George Westinghouse) and began to actively market AC electricity as well. This caused an all-out current war between Edison and Tesla, mostly facilitated by Edison, who was determined to see Tesla’s work discredited. Edison began to use Tesla’s AC power to electrocute small animals, cats and dogs, and even a large elephant, in an attempt to scare the public and convince them that this new AC current was dangerous and that it would kill people.
This generator was to be used for quite a horrific invention, in order to show the world once and for all just how “deadly” alternating current was. One of Edison’s assistants, a professor named Harold Brown, managed to illegally obtain an old Westinghouse generator and a New York state death-row inmate named William Kemmler was to be the very first victim of death by electrocution. Edison created the world’s first electric chair, and they proceeded to use this disgusting device to put on display one of the most cruel deaths ever.
All who attended the electrocution spoke of just what an incredibly disturbing event it was, of how Kemmler suffered greatly, and that many of those in attendance fainted, left the room, and all were very upset at just how gruesome the electrocution was. In spite of all Edison’s efforts, however, the reign of DC current was coming to an end, and in 1893 the tides would turn against Edison and in favor of Tesla’s alternating current. The 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America (although that’s another area up for debate, but we’ll leave that for another paper! was being celebrated at the Chicago World’s Fair. T he Columbian Exposition, as the fair was being called, would be the first all-electric fair in world history, and this was a huge opportunity for the company that would win the bid. The General Electric company, which had very recently taken over the Edison company, made a bid of $1,000,000 to use Edison’s DC power to illuminate the fair, about half of that going to the copper wiring needed to use the DC power. The Westinghouse Corporation bid half that amount, $500,000 for the same job, using Tesla’s AC power instead, and they, naturally, won the bid.
On opening night of the fair, President Grover Cleveland flipped the switch and hundreds of thousands of incandescent lights illuminated the entire fair. There were 27 million visitors over the course of the Chicago World’s Fair that year, and this easily convinced all that AC power was absolutely the power of the future. After the fair, over 80% of all electrical devices in the U. S. were ordered for AC power. Even today, AC power is the power that brings elecricity to homes and businesses all over the world. The current war was easily won by Nikola Tesla!
I have been a long-time fan of Nikola Tesla, and I have read a lot of material over the years regarding Tesla’s work and about the unscrupulous actions of Thomas Edison, not only toward Tesla, but pretty much toward everyone he worked with, or stole ideas from, so doing this paper didn’t change my opinion of either scientist, but before I knew the lengths that Edison went to in order to discredit Tesla’s work with the induction motor and AC current, I was like most other people and really thought that Edison was this incredible, brilliant scientist.
Honestly, in my opinion, nothing could be further than the truth. Edison was a businessman, not a scientist, he relied on other brilliant “assistants” to Cook, 3 discover things, build things, invent things, and once they did, he quickly rushed to the patent office to be sure to patent, in his own name, the inventions of men much greater than himself. The discovery of the electrocutions in order to discredit Tesla, the fact that he invented the very first electric chair, which absolutely sickens me, the stubborn nwillingness to entertain any thoughts at all about AC power and how it would greatly benefit society, and the deceptive and conniving nature of Edison, all changed my opinion of one of the most revered men in innovation and technology. Edison is given so much credit for things that all those around him did, but he patented, marketed, and capitalized on, and I definitely think it’s a shame that so much effort is spent on teaching how wonderful Edison is to elementary, middle, and high school students, but never once, not ever, can I ever remember Tesla even being mentioned to me in my science, history, or any other classes before this class.
Just a few of the incredible, innovative inventions that Tesla created, invented, or laid the foundational groundwork for are: the induction motor and alternating current, radio (and the world’s first radio controlled device, a remote controlled boat), robots, wireless communication, the Tesla coil, the world’s first hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls, he recreated ball lightning in his lab (which I believe no one else has ever been able to do successfully), neon lighting, and the modern electric motor, to name just a few.
Tesla warned of the dangers of x-rays while Edison was experimenting with them on his assistant, Clarence Dally, who had to have his arms amputated, and eventually died as a result of exposure to radiation.
Nikola Tesla was a brilliant scientist and deserves to be recognized for the incredible contributions he has made in science, mathematics, and engineering, and I am excited that there is a museum to honor Nikola Tesla and his work currently being built/renovated at Wardenclyffe, which is the site of his laboratory, and the former site of the giant tower that he was building in order to bring wireless communications and wireless transmission of power, but unfortunately was torn down after investors backed out of the deal. I am really looking forward to visiting and paying tribute to one of the greatest scientists there ever was!