Thomas Alva Edison & Nikola Tesla were the two great scientists who developed many devices that have greatly influenced life around the world. But these two great men were never at ease with each other. Edison and Tesla were termed as the biggest rivals with the tales of their bitterness still repeated over time.
Thomas Alva Edison gave the world many amazing inventions including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, the practical electric light bulb.
Nikola Tesla was an inventor, mechanical engineer, and electrical engineer. He was an important contributor to the birth of commercial electricity and is best known for his many revolutionary developments in the field of electromagnetism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
These two men have contributed a lot to the welfare of mankind. But they became ardent rivals, as both usually saw their lives intertwined and saw each other on the opposite ends as components.
When did the fight between Tesla and Edison start?
Tesla worked in Paris and arrived in the USA in 1984, he had a letter of recommendation from the previous employer Charles Batchelor. In the letter of recommendation to Thomas Edison, it is claimed that Batchelor wrote, ‘I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man’.
Edison hired Tesla to work for his Edison Machine Works. Tesla’s work for Edison began with simple electrical engineering and quickly progressed to solving some of the company’s most difficult problems. Tesla was even offered the task of completely redesigning the Edison company’s direct current generators.
Tesla claimed he was offered US$50,000 (~ US$1.3 million in 2011) if he redesigned Edison’s inefficient motor and generators, making an improvement in both service and economy. In 1885 when Tesla inquired about the payment for his work, Edison replied, “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor,” thus breaking his word. Earning US$18 per week, Tesla would have had to work for 53 years to earn the amount he was promised. The offer was equal to the initial capital of the company.
Edison was a great experimenter and inventor but he lacked mathematics skills. On the other hand, Tesla was a mechanical engineer and had substantial knowledge of mathematical physics.
Tesla had initially told Edison his ideologies about AC but he dismissed it saying “[Tesla’s] ideas are splendid, but they are utterly impractical.”
Bad feelings were exacerbated because Tesla had been cheated by Edison of promised compensation for his work. Edison later came to regret that he had not listened to Tesla and used alternating current.
Tesla later resigned when he was refused a raise to US$25 per week.
Tesla, in need of work, eventually found himself digging ditches for a short period of time for the Edison company. He used this time to focus on his AC polyphase system. And we are thankful to Edison for making him quit the job or the world would still be stuck with DC current.
This was an example of Edison’s business-mindedness and Tesla’s capabilities which were greatly ignored by Edison.
Tesla and Alternating current
Tesla continued with his research and formulated how the electricity system could be greatly made efficient using Alternating Current.
In 1888, Tesla devised a better system of transmission, the AC (alternating current) system used in houses around the world today. By using Tesla’s newly developed transformers, AC could be stepped up and transmitted over long distances through thin wires.
Edison’s DC couldn’t be stepped up, required a large power plant every square mile and thick cables for transmission.
Electricity is useless if it can’t do anything, so in 1890, Tesla invented a motor to run on AC, the same type of motor used in every household appliance today. Scientists of the late 1880s were convinced that no motor could work with AC. After all, AC electricity reverses itself 60 times a second, so all previous motors would just rock back and forth 60 times a second. Tesla solved this problem and proved them all wrong.
What is The war of Currents?
During the initial years of electricity distribution, Edison’s direct current was the standard for the United States and Edison did not want to lose all his patent royalties. Direct current worked well with incandescent lamps that were the principal load of the day, and with motors. Direct-current systems could be directly used with storage batteries, providing valuable load-leveling and backup power during interruptions of generator operation.
At the introduction of Edison’s system, no practical AC motor was available. Edison had invented a meter to allow customers to be billed for energy proportional to consumption, but this meter worked with only direct current. By 1886, between 40 to 50 hydroelectric plants were operating in the United States and Canada, and by 1888, about 200 electric companies relied on hydropower for at least part of their DC generation.
George Westinghouse and Edison became adversaries because of Edison’s promotion of direct current (DC) for electric power distribution instead of the more easily transmitted alternating current (AC) system invented by Nikola Tesla and promoted by Westinghouse. Unlike DC, AC could be stepped up to very high voltages with transformers, sent over thinner and cheaper wires, and stepped down again at the destination for distribution to users.
In 1887 there were 121 Edison power stations in the United States delivering DC electricity to customers. The problem with DC was that the power plants could economically deliver DC electricity only to customers within about one and a half miles (about 2.4 km) from the generating station so that it was suitable only for central business districts. When George Westinghouse suggested using high-voltage AC instead, as it could carry electricity hundreds of miles with a marginal loss of power, Edison waged a “War of Currents” to prevent AC from being adopted.
The war against AC led him to become involved in the development and promotion of the electric chair (using AC) as an attempt to portray AC to have greater lethal potential than DC. Edison went on to carry out a brief but intense campaign to ban the use of AC or to limit the allowable voltage for safety purposes. As part of this campaign, Edison’s employees publicly electrocuted animals to demonstrate the dangers of AC; alternating electric currents are slightly more dangerous in that frequency near 60 Hz have a markedly greater potential for inducing fatal “cardiac fibrillation” than do direct currents. On one of the more notable occasions, in 1903, Edison’s workers electrocuted Topsy the elephant at Luna Park, near Coney Island, after she had killed several men and her owners wanted her to put to death. His company filmed the electrocution.
WARNING!! Link to the video: http://youtu.be/Gr6xBz-h99U
AC replaced DC in most instances of generation and power distribution, enormously extending the range and improving the efficiency of power distribution. Though widespread use of DC ultimately lost favor for distribution, it exists today primarily in long-distance high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission systems. Low voltage DC distribution continued to be used in high-density downtown areas for many years but was eventually replaced by AC low-voltage network distribution in many of them.
DC had the advantage that large battery banks could maintain continuous power through brief interruptions of the electric supply from generators and the transmission system. Utilities such as Commonwealth Edison in Chicago had rotary converters or motor-generator sets, which could change DC to AC and AC to various frequencies in the early to mid-20th century. Utilities supplied rectifiers to convert the low voltage AC to DC for such DC loads as elevators, fans, and pumps. There were still 1,600 DC customers in downtown New York City as of 2005, and service was finally discontinued only on November 14, 2007. Most subway systems still are powered by direct current.
The war of currents was finally won by Tesla as the world is practically based on AC while DC has been used with system concerning a battery.
Some amazing things Nikola Tesla invented but never got credit?
In 1898, Tesla demonstrated the first remote controlled model boat at Madison Square Garden.
After all of these technological breakthroughs, Tesla still had not achieved his lifelong dream. All of Tesla’s life, he had dreamt of free wireless energy and other signals to the world.
In 1900, Tesla was backed with $150,000 from J. P. Morgan. Tesla began construction of “Wireless Broadcasting System” tower on Long Island, New York. Tesla intended to use it to link the world’s telephone and telegraph and to transmit pictures, stock reports, and weather information.
The world thought that Tesla was crazy. Transmission of voice and pictures was unheard of in that time. What they didn’t know is that he had already demonstrated the principals behind the radio nearly ten years before Marconi’s supposed invention. In 1943, the year that Tesla died, the Supreme Court ruled that Marconi’s patents invalid due to Tesla’s previous descriptions, but yet most textbooks and encyclopedias credit Marconi.
In his Manhattan lab, Tesla made Earth into and an electric tuning fork. He made a steam driven oscillator vibrate at the frequency of the ground beneath him. The result was a small earthquake in the surrounding city blocks. It was here that he contended that in theory, he could do the same to even split the earth in two. He accurately determined the resonant frequency of Earth almost 60 years before science could confirm it.
In his Colorado Springs, Colorado lab, in 1899, Tesla made what he thought was his biggest discovery ever– terrestrial stationary waves. He sent waves of energy through Earth that bounced back to the source. When they came back, he added more electricity to it. He lighted 200 lamps without wires from a distance of 25 miles and created the biggest man-made lightning bolt ever, 130ft. long! That’s a world record still unbroken.
At the beginning of World War I, the government desperately searched for a way to detect German submarines. The government put Thomas Edison in charge of the search for a good method. Tesla proposed the use of energy waves – what we know today as radar – to detect these ships. Edison rejected Tesla’s idea as ludicrous and the world had to wait another 25 years until it was invented.
Why did Tesla suffer a life of misery while Edison one of the richest man at that time?
A blogger formulated the differences between Tesla and Edison.
The Edison versus Tesla productivity scorecard:
- Innovation output. Edison had received 1093 lifetime U.S. patents while Tesla had received 112. Although some of Edison’s patents (perhaps many of them) were bought or stolen, this is a huge number. Since Tesla wasn’t taking much money from Edison and only worked for him for a short time, there is no way Edison could have stolen many from him.
- Innovation success rate. Almost 100% of Edison’s patents were tied to commercial successes while Tesla’s number was similarly high in the early years while working for Westinghouse then plummeted to about 20% after he went out on his own.
- Capital productivity. Edison built up sophisticated laboratory operations, employing some of the best and brightest people in the world, with Tesla among them for a while. Tesla built up similar labs while involved with Westinghouse and when on his own. The difference is that Edison did not hesitate to scale down or close operations from time to time as his organizational needs changed to remain solvent. Tesla had his creditors closing them for him.
- Labour productivity. This is one of the greatest differences between Edison and Tesla. Edison always had several people involved with his projects while Tesla generally worked alone. Tesla might have had extremely high levels of personal productivity at times, but Edison had the advantage of having a virtual army at his disposal. For example, Edison was able to accumulate over 5 million pages of organized records while Tesla had relatively few and they were not as well organized as Edison’s. Edison and Tesla both had legendary work ethics, but only Edison had it instilled at an organizational level.
- Media output (the Google Test). A quick Google image search of “Thomas Edison” generated 123,000 returns while the same search of “Nikola Tesla” generated 35,000 returns. Edison and Tesla each had the ability to engage the media in their day although Edison had the upper hand in this regard too.
- Network productivity. This is the Who’s Who test. Edison developed close relations with some of the most powerful and influential people around in his day, including Henry Ford, while Tesla also knew such people but tended to alienate most of them over time.
Just For Fun
So what do you feel, who was more intelligent or who contributed more to mankind?