Nikolas Tesla and AC Won the "War of the Currents."
Tesla should be recognised for the genius he wasClick thumbnail to view full-size
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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