Nikolas Tesla and AC Won the "War of the Currents."

Tesla should be recognised for the genius he was

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Thomas Edison.  Stolid scientist who lacked Tesla's brilliant mindNikola Tesla Museum in BelgradeNiagra showing modern hydroelectric dam fathered by TeslaNikola Tesla a brooding genius.
Thomas Edison.  Stolid scientist who lacked Tesla's brilliant mind
Thomas Edison. Stolid scientist who lacked Tesla's brilliant mind
Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade
Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade
Niagra showing modern hydroelectric dam fathered by Tesla
Niagra showing modern hydroelectric dam fathered by Tesla
Nikola Tesla a brooding genius.
Nikola Tesla a brooding genius.

Tesla's papers were so 'electrifying, the US Government appropriated them all upon his death.

Thomas Edison and his “DC“ were, ahem, “discharged!”.

Few people as they switch the electricity on for any reason in their homes or businesses recall the name Nikola Tesla. Yet this man was an inventor of such sheer brilliance, his peers and rivals were dwarfed by his intellect and often sidelined by his innovative solutions to their own problems.

One of the first to be astounded, mortified and eventually won over by Tesla was Thomas Edison. Upon his arrival in the United States, the Serbian citizen sought employment with Edison only to disagree with one of Edison's proudest achievements, the invention of generators to produce DC current he intended to make available to all corners of the land. Tesla argued that his own AC was a better and safer power source. Perhaps operating on the philosophy that the best place for an enemy is very close to you, Edison offered Tesla nearly $1,000,000 to completely redesign his DC generators. When the brilliant young electrical engineer finished this task, Edison refused to pay the money, telling an enraged Tesla, "Oh, it was just a joke, you don't understand American humour." He also, short sightedly, refused Tesla a raise of $25 a week causing him to resign and begin his own company, Tesla Light and Manufacturing Company, to develop his own "brushless alternating current" (AC) induction motor."

Tesla was actually a Serb, born in Croatia in 1856. He was tall and extremely handsome, yet never married and described himself as celibate. He was not a homosexual but more of an aesthete, becoming a gourmet, lover of music and of animals. In his latter years, he became a recluse, dying alone in a two-room suite in a New York hotel with more debts than money to his account.

But what an astounding legacy he has left behind him.

Edison mounted a prodigious campaign against Tesla and Westinghouse during what became know as the "War of the Currents." Edison even electrocuted animals in front of audiences, asking men in the audience if they wanted their wives to be at risk of their lives like this every time they switched on the iron.

The fact is that all electric power can be dangerous. In truth, AC can be considered worse in that a shock from alternating power can interrupt the heart rhythm and cause fatal filibration, But AC was so much more user friendly - easier to step up and down, requiring a solid state transformer only, whereas DC requires complicated apparatus to achieve the same results. The end result was the Westinghouse/Tesla proposals to electrify the nation won out over Edison's beloved DC, except for in New York and some other cities world-wide where direct current remained for many year longer. The conflict between Edison and Tesla resulted in neither being awarded a Nobel Prize: Tesla certainly deserved the accolade - perhaps they both did.

(Note: the physics and math describing AC generation is extremely elaborate and for the scholar. Wikipedia does a fair job of explaining the process).

Tesla was as much before his time as was Galileo in an earlier epoch. He became involved in robotics, computer science - and remember, this was in the 19th Century! He dabbled in nuclear physics, theoretical physics and ballistics. Later, he decried much of Einstein's work on relativity, producing viable arguments and theories of his own. He proposed that all future energy should be transmitted by wireless and provided free, from energy sources deep in the earth. He played with "death rays" that became of interest to Washington, so much so that the Custodian of Alien Property, acting through the FBI, (although Tesla was a naturalized citizen), confiscated tons of his research documents upon his death in 1943; also, someone had drilled his safe and confiscated everything within. The government refused to let them be examined by the scientific community from the official archives in New Mexico. It was many years before his family and officials of the Belgrade Nikola Tesla Museum were able to get them returned to be exhibited. Who knows how many the US government had "lost" of filed for future use by then?

In his heyday, Tesla rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous and would be considered top of the "A" list today. He partied with the Morgans, Rockefellers and Vanderbilt's and was a close friend of Mark Twain. He would invite them to his laboratory in Manhattan and astound them with his latest research and inventions, also terrifying them with exhibitions of lightning; balls of “fire” that he juggled without being burned and all the rest possible with his knowledge and equipment. Meanwhile, Edison was left to gnash his teeth over the handsome émigré's success.

Like many geniuses, he had many eccentricities, including a fetish over cleanliness, a hatred of overweight people; doing things in threes or nines. Today, he would probably be classified as having an obsessive-compulsive personality.

It was not Marconi but Tesla who patented the first system for wireless broadcasting (although Marconi got the Nobel). It was also the Serb who harnessed the power of Niagra Falls for electricity generation, spectacularly lighting the stunning vistas, and paving the way to power most of the surrounding states.

Tesla left a legacy of more than 300 patents! Some were lost and were copied in other countries, other inventions of his were not patented but received acclaim. His later work on the particle-beam device (death ray!) was not taken up by the government who said the papers were “lost” (Ha!) after his death. (One bets the Gipper had them by his bed for night-time study). Neither has his work on universal “free” power, using electricity generated in the core (etc.) of the Earth been taken up by US power companies. This isn’t surprising, it would be like General Motors and Ford rushing to use motors that ran on water! (They may have to soon).

Con Ed, the US giant power company finally cut the last DC from the nation’s grid in 2007. Although the battle had been won a century ago, the vanquished took a long while to finally expire. DC still has many uses - too many to list here. But AC is the current that runs most the world, and Tesla can slumber happily from his urn of ashes in the museum that bears his lofty name.

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Comments 21 comments

msorensson profile image

msorensson 5 years ago

Yes, you did a great job, Diogenes. In one of the books about him the daughter of Pierpont Chase was enamored with him and Chase was one of his supporters.

Two things come to mind.

One, that Chase even was forward looking even at that time, and two, Tesla was ethical in the sense that had he married the daughter of Chase, his research would have had continued support.

I can tell you from where I sit, that for a scientist, normally incorruptible, it would be worth considering especially at that time.

That is ethics of the highest value.

Scribenet profile image

Scribenet 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Interesting and informative Hub!

How sad that Tesla's research was "lost". Free energy would have improved the lot of mankind around the world and raised the standard of living since it would have been one less expense to deal with.

Of course, now I will have to read more about this interesting person. Thank you for the enlightenment!

diogenes 5 years ago

Very interesting bloke. Those eyes of his, even in photos, are hypnotic. I am going to look further. Thanks for comment. Bob

diogenes 5 years ago

The above comment from me was for msorensson.

Scribenet...I don't think most of his research was "lost" for a moment. It represented a threat to vested interests in the USA and was of interest in the "war games" department. Bob

BobbiRant profile image

BobbiRant 5 years ago from New York

There is a monument here in NY, where I live, at Niagara Falls to Tesla, who actually should have been given more credit for harnassing electricity. Great hub.

diogenes 5 years ago

Thanks Bobbi. He was treated really shabbily by the US government, Edison and the Nobel committee. He may have had one of the greatest minds in history. Certainly much smarter than Edison. Very interesting character and his coils, etc., are still being investigated today. Thanks for comment....Bob

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Did you know that Tessla's Death Ray has been considered as the "answer" to the Siberian Tunguska event? Or maybe that was from a fiction novel I read somewhere. At any rate, Tessla was quite the genius.

diogenes 5 years ago

Yes, I heard that too, and read a book about it recently, which gave me the idea for this article. There had to be good reasons why the US government was so loath to give up the documents and why they would't let anyone look at them for many years...Bob

PS Book was "Dance of Death," by John Case.

Christopher Price profile image

Christopher Price 5 years ago from Vermont, USA

I am a great admirer of Tesla. This was a fine breifing for those wishing to become familiar with this amazing man.

His name graces a noteworthy electric sports car currently (!) available, produced in California.


diogenes 5 years ago

Live and learn! An electric car, eh? Apt name. Thanks for that, Chris....Bob

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

The Tessla electric car ( uses battery packs and a Lotus body! It's a sweet car. Top speed - 125 MPH! Goes from 0 to 60 in less than 4 seconds! I want the red one....

diogenes 5 years ago

Yeah...come to mention it, I think I saw it on top gear. I wonder how much longer the oil cartels are going to curb the electric and electric/hydrogen car industry? No one can afford gas (petrol) in the UK now...nearly $2 a liter!!! Bob

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 5 years ago from TEXAS

I've long been a Nicholas Tesla fan. His brilliance and work are outstanding. He was eccentric but above reproach as a scientist and inventor. Glad he's getting more attention finally. Thanks, Diogenes - I vote this up, up, up!

diogenes 5 years ago

Hi Nelleanna: Quite a character for sure. He left more than 300 patents! But being foreign born and eccentric; a man who didn't tolerate fools gladly, he caused a lot of animus in the USA. He was head and shoulders above everyone else in his field and he was soundly resented for it by people like Edison...Bob

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

Thank you, Bob, for teaching me such a lot. Most of the information never anything about it. You wrote an excellent hub.

diogenes 5 years ago

KInd of you HH. Bob

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 5 years ago from TEXAS

Wow That's it exactly, Diogenes. He was good, he knew he was good, away ahead of them and they just shut him out. Couldn't stand the competition. At best it was poor sportsmanship and Tesla wasn't into defending himself. Sad.

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 5 years ago from TEXAS

He contributed not only to electrical advancement of his time in the 19th century but to more modern electronic developments which are still growing and building on his amazingly advanced ideas. They were so far ahead that he was considered a nutty mad scientist in his own time.

Wonder how many people who benefit from his ideas realize his importance?

diogenes 5 years ago

Hi Nellieanna. Yes, he's having a bit of a renaissance I think...'bout time! Cheers and a happy Christmas...Bob

Manna in the wild profile image

Manna in the wild 5 years ago from Australia

I'll bookmark and come back to read this. I've read a lot on Tesla and even drawn his portrait. He was quite a character by some accounts.

diogenes 5 years ago

Thanks for the interest. Sourcing this article was an eye-opener for me. Bob

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