Tesla Vs. Edison

The phrase “Tesla vs. Edison” conjures up images of battling titans, mad scientists, from a bygone age. We can easily picture the two of them facing off, backed by glowing corona with lightning bolts emitting from their hands. The reality is a little different though. Their main point of contention was Tesla’s passion for AC vs. Edison’s drive to create DC power systems to power his lights. Their personalities also differed in many ways, the most relevant one here being their vastly different approaches to research. Here, then, is the story of their rivalry.

Tesla’s Passion For AC

Gramme Machine
Gramme Machine

Nikola Tesla’s passion for AC started indirectly in 1876 while studying physics, mathematics and mechanics at the Austrian Polytechnic School in Graz, Austria. One of his professors showed him a direct current Gramme Machine that could be used as both a motor and a dynamo. It had a wire-wound armature and a commutator where it sparked a lot. Tesla inspected it closely and told the professor that he could improve it greatly by getting rid of the commutator and using alternating current instead, though he didn’t know how at the time.

For a long time, he felt he had the solution buried away in his mind but it finally surfaced in 1882 while walking in a park with a friend. He found a stick and drew a diagram of it in the dust, showing his friend how it worked as both a motor and a dynamo. It used a rotating magnetic field, rotated using two or more alternating currents out of step with each other. Tesla had come up with a true AC induction motor. According to his autobiography, “My Inventions”, within two months he had “evolved virtually all the types of motors and modifications of the system which are now identified with my name.”

Edison’s DC System

Around the same time across the Atlantic, Thomas Edison was busy working on incandescent light bulbs. Incandescent light bulbs work by running current through a material, called the filament, heating it up until it incandesces, or glows. One of the problems in the 1800s was that the filaments didn’t last long under the heat. Edison worked on solving this problem and started filing light patents in 1878. At the same time he formed the Edison Electric Light Company as a patent-holding company, one of many companies in which he had a business interest.

Pearl Street station showing the chimneys needed for burning coal
Pearl Street station – Note the chimneys needed for burning coal

Once he’d come up with a commercially viable light bulb, he needed some way for his customers to power them. In 1880 he formed the Edison Illuminating Company to build electrical generating stations, starting in New York City. In 1882 he switched on the Pearl Street Station’s electrical distribution system, the first of many, supplying 110 volts DC to 59 customers.

But at the same time, AC systems for arc lighting were popping up. AC systems had the advantage of being able to transmit over a longer distance with thinner wire. Using transformers, the electricity could be stepped up to high voltage but low current at the generator and then stepped down again to safer voltages near the customer.

No such good voltage conversion technology existed for DC at the time and so Edison had to keep the voltage reasonably low along the full route. This meant the current was relatively high and so the wires were thick to handle it. And to keep wire costs down, the generators had to be near the customers. That meant Edison could serve only areas with a high customer density, sometimes skipping pockets of lower density in between.

But for reasons we can only speculate about today, Edison refused to switch to using AC. Possibly this was because he may not have been able to understand the more abstract theories involved with AC, or maybe he was concerned with the high voltages involved with AC transmission, or possibly he simply had too much invested in his numerous DC stations. For whatever reason, though he did dabble in AC from time to time, outwardly Edison was staunchly against it.

Tesla Working For Edison In Paris

While 1882 was the year Tesla had his AC epiphany as well as being the year Edison powered up the DC Pearl Street Station, it was also the year that Tesla went to work for Edison’s telephone subsidiary in Paris, the Continental Edison Company. His job was basically troubleshooter for Edison power plants in France and Germany.

Early Edison dynamo - From US219393
Early Edison dynamo – From US219393

Tesla saw it as an opportunity to sell the company on the merits of AC but was disappointed to find that talk of AC was taboo due to Edison’s dislike of even the mention of it. That didn’t stop him from experimenting, though, and when going out on a job in Alsace he brought along materials and made his first AC induction motor, seeing an AC motor turning without a commutator for the first time.

In Strasbourg, the company had installed a railroad-station lighting plant. However, a large chunk of one of the station’s walls had been blown out due to a short-circuit when the plant was turned on during the opening ceremony, and in the presence of German Emperor William I. The Germans were not pleased and were having second thoughts about using the lighting plant. Facing a financial loss, the company offered Tesla a bonus if he would go improve the dynamos and calm the Germans down.

Tesla managed to improve the system and placate the Germans, helped by the fact that he spoke German. But when he returned to Paris to collect his bonus his three supervisors refused to pay, instead passing the buck from one to the other. Tesla resigned and so ended his first employment with Edison.

Tesla Working For Edison In America

The manager of the Strasbourg plant, Charles Batchelor, was impressed by Tesla and talked him into moving to America where he’d find more opportunities. He also gave Tesla a letter of introduction to give to Edison.

Laying the electrical tubes under the street
Laying the electrical tubes under the street – Pearl Street station June 21, 1882 Harper’s Weekly

On arriving in America, Tesla quickly located Edison and gave him the letter. Tesla told him of his work in France and Germany, and then proceeded to tell him about his ideas for AC systems and how an enterprising man could make a lot of money from it. Edison stopped him and angrily said, “Hold up! Spare me that nonsense. It’s dangerous. We’re set up for direct current in America. People like it, and it’s all I’ll ever fool with.” But overloaded with problems to solve, he set Tesla to working on one of them right away. Tesla of course solved it quickly and, sufficiently impressed, Edison kept Tesla on.

By 1885 Tesla saw ways to make Edison’s DC dynamos more efficient and save him a lot of money. Edison liked the idea of saving money but realised it would be a lot of work, so he told Tesla he’d give him $50,000 if he could do it. After almost a year working on it, Tesla completed the improvements and went to Edison to find out when he’d receive the $50,000. Edison, reclining at his desk at the time, straightened up with mouth gaping and said “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor.” Instead, he offered Tesla a raise of $10 on his $18 per week salary. Tesla walked out and resigned. Once again he’d been cheated while working for Edison.

After some difficulties, in 1887, along with two other men, Tesla formed the Tesla Electric Company. It was there that he began developing and patenting his AC induction motor and the rest of his polyphase system, quickly amassing a large number of patents: 40 by 1891.

War of Currents

Tesla's patent US381968 Electro Magnetic Motor
Tesla’s patent US381968 Electro Magnetic Motor

The War of Currents refers to a period from the late 1880s to the early 1900s when the battle between distributing electricity via AC or DC was at its fiercest. The battle was fought primarily between the Edison Electric Light Company and George Westinghouse’s Westinghouse Electric Company.

Westinghouse began his foray into AC electricity distribution in 1886 by forming the Westinghouse Electric Company. He’d already purchased the US rights to the Gaulard-Gibbs transformer and began installing distribution systems.

But he needed Tesla’s exhaustive set of polyphase and induction motor patents, and in 1888, he purchased all of the relevant US ones. The two of them shared the same dream of a new energy system, as well as a dream of harnessing Niagara Falls for power generation and so Tesla went to work for Westinghouse as a consultant for $2000 per month. When Edison heard of this he was furious and at that point, the War of Currents between Edison and Westinghouse was on.

Work began on the Niagara Falls generating station in 1893 and started powering Buffalo, NY in 1896. As to whether AC or DC won the War of Currents, you need only look at our electrical distribution system today to see.

Personality Differences

As Hackaday readers, we know it takes all kinds of personalities to make up our community. This is an area where Edison and Tesla differed greatly and often created strains on their relationships.

Tesla had a photographic memory and could simulate entire systems of working machines in his head. This caused friction between him and other engineers as, while he worked in his mind, they wanted blueprints. His approach to problem-solving was to do most of the work using theory and calculation. For this reason Edison thought of Tesla as an egghead and a theoretician.

According to Edison, ninety-nine percent of genius was “knowing things that would not work”. Edison’s approach to problem-solving was thus through trial and error. To do that, his Menlo Park lab famously had in stock a multitude of different chemicals and materials. Tesla once said, “If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.”

Conclusion

However, we can’t fault either for their different approaches, either to problem-solving or in choosing AC or DC, given the positive effects their respective accomplishments had, and still have today.

What are some of your favorite technology battles or battles of technological wizards? Some that recently came up here were the invention of the radio and the airplane. Let us know in the comments below.

176 thoughts on “Tesla Vs. Edison

  1. Unfortunately any discussion of the facts pertaining to this subject will become quickly obscured by the smoke from the incense that is going to be lit at the Tesla altar by his sycophants.

    1. I appreciate both but generally sympathize with Tesla. Tesla fanatics are a bit loony, though.

      “Tesla designed wireless power distribution to the home!”

      Yes he did… using either lightning-sized electrical arcs or an inductive field strong enough to jam all wireless communications and damage unshielded devices.

      1. Strange how those that wax on about his ideas for wireless power never seem to discuss the secondary effects of what living in the sort of flux-densities that would be required to do useful work with the transmitted energy would be.

        1. Flux density? You seem to be confusing induction with resonant oscillations. A 100mw resonant transformer broadcasts a resonant standing wave for hundreds of meters…it impinges on oscilloscopes with no direct connection and yet, has a minuscule flux density.
          The problem with radiating RF is forced oscillations…however, Tesla’s transmitters were spark gap powered (initially…moved to air powered mechanical oscillator later)…a spark gap is a producer of rich harmonics…a system, be it; biological, mechanical, or electrical will inherently enforce only the resonant harmonic and ignore the rest…the problem is when you target a select frequency and force a non resonant oscillation in a biological system…that causes dis-ease.

          1. Maybe you should brush up on it….new “surface spiral winding”…hmmmm lmao…”new” :D circa 2013 lol

            “Using the feasible design space, the transmitter and receiver coil geometries which result in low flux density, high efficiency, high control stability, etc. have been calculated. The trade-offs between the system performances vs. transmitter and receiver coil geometries design have been demonstrated graphically. The optimal transmitter and receiver coils geometries have been selected from a new objective function. The proposed design methodology has been evaluated by means of FEA and experimental analysis. As a second focus of this research, a new magnetic component design methodology for improving power transfer efficiency at MHz operation has been investigated in this research. A new conductor layout methodology called surface spiral winding (SSW) was proposed and FEA models showed that it is effective in decreasing Ohmic losses and in increasing coupling coefficient between the transmitter and receiver. Design methodologies for the SSW coils have been proposed using analytical equations and FEA results. The proposed design methodologies have been evaluated via FEA and experimental analysis. Thermal modeling of the SSW coils has been developed and experimentally evaluated. In the last part of this research, the impact of coil misalignment is investigated. By assuming the transmitter and the receiver coils as filaments, the mutual inductance of large air-gap wireless power transfer systems has been calculated. The analytical mutual inductance calculation was evaluated by FEA and experiments.”

          2. Rubbish. Just like everything else you have written here. I will not respond to any more of your nonsense – arguing with the deluded is a monumental waste of time.

          3. Never asked you to reply :D
            Rubbish? Deluded are you?…that comes from published journal volume 2…2013

            Furthermore DV82XL…I have been on HaD since inception….you sir, are %100 a “company man”, and I couldn’t care less what you have to say about any matter :D

      2. P.S. If your resonant transformer is putting out arcs…it is a poor design, and only for show. Tesla went to great lengths to increase the curvature of the toroidal load to prevent this (toroid with many smaller hemispheres to hold charge).
        Furthermore, we currently live in a RF soup…RLC networks only oscillate at their harmonics…I think we could manage :P
        Newbs!!!! :D

        1. I used quotes because I didn’t write it…that’s kinda how it works lol
          I even wrote that I found it comical that they called SSW or Surface Spiral Winding (aka, pancake coil) “new”…circa 2013.
          No worries mate ;)

        2. RF soup indeed, but not RF strong enough to impart 100W of energy to a device like Tesla wanted to do.

          His technology lives on, with phone chargers that have a range of 5mm and inductive stoves with better range but still limited because what it does to cookware isn’t something you want happening to everything in your house.

          Now imagine an inductive power system like Tesla imagined, with a single source in the middle of town putting out enough power to light up every building, i.e. turning a whole city into an inductive stove.

          Then there’s his idea of sending electrical arcs over the city’s skyline and letting building harvest the energy by massive lightning rods. If you’ve ever stood within earshot of even a small Tesla coil, you realize why arcs are a terrible idea for energy transfer, regardless of how safe they can be. Picture constant lightning all day and night.

          AC over wires just makes more sense.

      1. In all fairness the distinction between ‘scientist’ and ‘inventor’ was not clear in the public mind at that time, and a great deal of good science was still being done empirically. Neither one of them could claim the title of scientist by today’s standards any more than they would be seen as engineers.

      2. Tesla was at odds with current electrical theory….I’m paraphrasing here, but, he said something like “They couldn’t do math to get them out of a paper bag”….He was purely empirical, and denied the current model. All the math is already here…ie, pressure gradients. Tesla believed in the Aether…and that electricity is a pressurized gas, made up of a smaller element not yet discovered.
        All his mathematical models were that of pressurized gas, nothing new…

      3. Furthermore, why use 1/4 wavelength math when winding a transformer, when you can just make both primary and secondary the same mass…and Pi takes care of the rest :D

      4. Tesla was a scientist, and used many equations. Why do you think he corresponded with Lord Kelvin? And how do you think he would be able to invent so many things, by himself, without mathematics?

        Now look at only 2 of mister Edison escapades:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Edison#Fluoroscopy
        :
        The fundamental design of Edison’s fluoroscope is still in use today, although Edison himself abandoned the project after nearly losing his own eyesight and seriously injuring his assistant, Clarence Dally. Dally had made himself an enthusiastic human guinea pig for the fluoroscopy project and in the process been exposed to a poisonous dose of radiation. He later died of injuries related to the exposure. In 1903, a shaken Edison said: “Don’t talk to me about X-rays, I am afraid of them.”

        Also about AC system:
        Thomas Edison began a pattern of striking out personally against his chief rival stating, “Just as certain as death, Westinghouse will kill a customer within six months after he puts in a system of any size. He has got a new thing and it will require a great deal of experimenting to get it working practically.”

        and

        Edison took advantage of the public perception that AC was dangerous and teamed up with the self-styled New York anti-AC crusader Harold P. Brown in a propaganda campaign, aiding Brown in the public electrocution of animals with AC as well as supported legislation to control and severely limit AC installations and voltages (to the point of making it an ineffective power delivery system) in what was now being referred to as a “battle of currents”.

        A real scientist indeed.

        Tesla own view of Edison, which agrees well with text above from Wikipedia:
        He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene … His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 percent of the labor. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor’s instinct and practical American sense.

          1. AC wiped the floor with DC. Tesla didn’t make a whole lot of money out of it, because he was better at science than business. Edison is well-known, at least among people who know their science history, as a shyster, thief, and general butthole.

            Edison had a huge lab full of clever people, and a ton of money. Tesla had his own brain. Tesla’s support of AC was based on what he knew of the science behind it. Edison’s support of DC was based on stubbornness, and his methods involved fearmongering and spreading bullshit. And poor unfortunate elephants of course. Trying to replace the word “electrocuted” with “Westinghoused” is just desperate! If Edison had had his own reality TV show, the Americans would’ve have made him President.

            Edison was Barnum, except not likeable. The Jobs to Tesla’s Woz.

    2. “Unfortunately any discussion of the facts pertaining to this subject will become quickly obscured by the smoke from the incense that is going to be lit at the Tesla altar by his sycophants.”

      Indeed. And failing to mention the extremes Edison went to in his efforts to ‘destroy’ Tesla and his work only serves to give them more ammunition.

      Not that they actually need more of course…

    3. If you strongly believe that, you should stop using your refrigerator, furnace, washer and dryer. They all contain motors invented by Tesla. Then you might realize the errors of your ways.

      1. I’d just like to interject for moment. What you’re refering to as Linux, is in fact, GNU/Linux, or as I’ve recently taken to calling it, GNU plus Linux. Linux is not an operating system unto itself, but rather another free component of a fully functioning GNU system made useful by the GNU corelibs, shell utilities and vital system components comprising a full OS as defined by POSIX.

        Many computer users run a modified version of the GNU system every day, without realizing it. Through a peculiar turn of events, the version of GNU which is widely used today is often called Linux, and many of its users are not aware that it is basically the GNU system, developed by the GNU Project.

        There really is a Linux, and these people are using it, but it is just a part of the system they use. Linux is the kernel: the program in the system that allocates the machine’s resources to the other programs that you run. The kernel is an essential part of an operating system, but useless by itself; it can only function in the context of a complete operating system. Linux is normally used in combination with the GNU operating system: the whole system is basically GNU with Linux added, or GNU/Linux. All the so-called Linux distributions are really distributions of GNU/Linux!

          1. “Is that a modern day correlation to the Edison vs Tesla rivalry?”

            Nope. Linus may get a bit shouty from time to time but he is quite sane. Unlike Herr Himmler… er… I mean Richard Stalin… er… Napoleon Stallman…

            Oh bugger it. You know who I mean. The lunatic with the beard…

          2. I attended a “GNU fair” when I was in grad school.
            It was 6 guys over 60, swapping stories about how they use multi-layer encryption schemes with 4GB key files and self-destruct failsafes they’ve compiled into the kernel to keep Obama and the Illuminati out. One guy was an apparent meth addict (super skinny, almost no teeth, shaking and itching the whole time) and spent the entire event trying to convince me to switch from Lubuntu to Puppy Linux.

            Then we watched an interview with Stallman, where he went on to pick off a toenail and eat it during the interview. Stallman explained why it is necessary that all software be free but not necessarily open source, and why he doesn’t wear shoes, have a bank account, or ever use a phone.

            Right about then is when I decided not to be involved in the GNU community. On the bright side the pizza was good, and everyone there agreed that anchovies are an underrated topping.

          3. Err, accidentally clicked on report comment – and there isn’t a way to undo that. I have no problem with this comment! [Hackaday – could you add the “I didn’t really mean it” link to undo an accident like mine?]

          4. You really don’t need to worry about reporting comments.
            Need multiple users to click it before anything goes into moderation, and then some mod would just release it back.

          1. Yes, except for VI. That is something I have difficulties in just terminating it when I started it accidently. I prefere something more modern with menus and mouse usability. Be it Notepad++ or Textpad or similar.

        1. I was actually going to mention the TP orientation issue; the Wikipedia page on it is fascinating.

          Hot water on the left of course, and you are supposed to drive on the right side of the road.
          P.S.: Feet and inches… and yards, miles, acres…
          TP roll from the back.

          1. NonononoNOOOOOO! Strong practical AND theoretical reasons why TP_BACK is the ONE TRUE WAY. Roll-off-front plus active, curious cat equals big pile of TP on floor.

            So There, I’ve run rings around you logically.

        2. Coffee!, not that other sissy beverage they have in the UK. And colombian strong, not that dirty water they drink in USA. And intravenously. And Vi. And TP from the front (duh!). And tabs instead of spaces in code.
          And the right-left hot water issue is moot: the temperature is voice controlled, of course.

    1. Oh please! Tesla could throw a good pitch when he needed to, even if he was a bit short on facts, and Edison had more than a few orginal ideas that he brought to fruition. There is nothing gained by trying to paint these guys black and white. They both had their moments of genius – and they both had their flaws.

    2. I mean come on…Edison had such brilliance…He designed the hinged 5th leg for leaning back in chairs and not falling over…..I mean, he developed a light bulb that would last a whole day!! Sure Edison just took Galvani’s discovery and ran with it….but that’s true genius…lmao
      I mean…sure, Tesla’s light bulbs work to this day, and everything you touch in modern day tech is his legacy…but he was a kook who didn’t believe in performing extraneous math…as to say “Look at me ma’ I can do math”
      *rolls eyes* :D :D :D

      1. What Edison actually did with the lightbulb, he solved one of the major problems of the carbon filament: carbon has a negative temperature coefficient of resistance which means it goes into thermal runaway if the voltage increases beyond a critical treshold. The stable region due to V^2 relation of the power is a narrow range where the original bamboo carbon filament just barely glows – above that it just flashes and burns.

        Edison figured out a way to “metallize” the filament once in the vacuum of the bulb, so it turns into graphite on the surface which has a positive temperature coefficient, and that stabilizes the bulb against voltage fluctuations in the power grid and lets you run the bulb brighter, which made them markedly more efficient and won Edison the market over competitors like the Nernst bulb even overseas.

        It was a major improvement over earlier bulbs and the enabling technology that made cheap commodity lightbulbs possible in a commercial scale.

  2. There was another competitor of Edison, George Westinghouse who invested between other things the air break used on trains.

    Interesting to know, George Westinghouse allowed his employees to put their names on their inventions while working for him.
    Tomas Edison on the other hand, requested that his employees would put his name on the patents of inventions they created.

    That is the piece of history I know. It may be wrong; therefore, I encourage you to check this yourselves.

    1. At Edison they put the company name on everything. It was branding. Like Standard Oil, which comes from standardizing what kerosene is so it won’t blow up – as if everyone else’s lamp oil will.

  3. Good article! Edison once challenged a new college graduate to tell him the volume of an odd-shaped container. The man used measurements and integral calculus to estimate the volume, only to be answered by Edison’s scornful instruction to just pour water into it and weigh the contents. He may not have been able to understand the mathematics of sine waves, but his business and organizational skills were phenomenal. Do you know why our billions of light bulb bases have their specific dimensions? Because Edison used existing kerosene container screw top machines making that shape and size.

    1. Whenever accolades are directed Edison’s way sometime I ponder as to how much more he could done if he took the time to figure out what failed, failed. Edison would be a nobody if it wheren’t for the work of those he may have scorned. In the event Edison has scornful ways as reported, those scornful ways cost him dearly. The man that designe the system that would power industry was in his lab, But Edison had to be cheat and a skinflint

        1. that is great.
          I have a good portion of the pictures from hackaday and they are set as my wallpaper.
          every one that comes into my work shop are blown away.
          I think that this is the first high res picture anyone has given away.
          I will ask again.
          I wish that you would give us access to all the drawings from the site.
          Thanks for this one at least.

  4. Without the feud and unfairness, would we still be talking about the pioneers of electrification today? The human story keeps us interested long after the technology has been replaced with improvements.

      1. …and these comments are the friendliest and most enjoyable I’ve seen in a long time.

        Now, put and Arduino in the article someplace. THAT’S how you bait the comments into an angry frenzy of hate, venom, and rhetoric.

  5. Tesla was brilliant… but like many brilliant adepts, they often are short changed in other areas where they can get ridiculed and taken advantage of. Tesla was an idiot when it came to business and understanding human nature which is something Edison had in excess which gave Edison a supreme advantage over Tesla. Based on reading I have done about Tesla (yes books), I came to the conclusion that Tesla was an autistic savant. Many would argue that my conclusion is wrong… but to me.. the shoe fits.

    1. Maybe you have seen a paper by Tesla with an equation in it. I have never found one. I concluded he was a tinkerer who worked by intuition. He had some profound misconceptions and did not check them with experiments (that made sense).

      1. He was anti-math…believed that mathematicians were doing math in circles. He believed in the Aether theory, electricity is a pressurized gas…consisting of a tiny element yet discovered. All his models were that of pressurized gas, and nothing new…he didn’t use any 1/4 wavelength math either…all his transformers were wound with equal mass primary and secondary…Pi took care of the rest.

        Math does a great job at modeling almost all of the real world…but, when it fails, oh does it fail….so, is math real, or is it an invented tool that works most of the time?

          1. Einstein’s theory came in 20th century only, and same with photoelectric effect theory. It was disputed for some time afterward. Tesla was already over 50 then. Edison could not even do calculus.

          2. Einstein’s theory IS photoelectric effect in 1904. That is why he got the Nobel Prize in 1921. Not Special or General Relativity. The photoelectric effect and work functions were being measured long before – that is how Einstein had something to work with. There was the Ultraviolet Catastrophe and many other things, all related to E&M. Gibbs statistical mechanics and thermodynamics (and later, vector calculus) was in the time frame for Tesla. All the greats from Kichoff to Maxwell were giving free lectures in Paris and Berlin when Tesla was young.

            People would serve themselves well to revere or wish to emulate someone like Gibbs instead of Tesla.

        1. “Math does a great job at modeling almost all of the real world”

          Math is simply the expression of the systematic relations of things, so to complain that math fails at modeling the world is simply to admit that you fail in math. Even if the world were to work by magic, it would be possible to formulate a mathematical description of it – the only thing that math doesn’t do is pure chance; yet if there’s many such events, it becomes statistics.

          The idea that math somehow “fails” to describe the world probably comes from television Science with a capital S where some Brian Cox or other Name Scientist fawns about how the universe is foundationally mathematical – that is a misconception. Mathematics is the study of absolutely everything and anything that operates by any sort of rule or reason, and it’s simply a matter of discovering what that rule is.

      1. The response by the oatmeal author is interesting as well. I tend to agree with the quote by Twain that leads the linked article that points out that we tend to give credit to the last guy and ignore those that worked prior, and yes it is both interesting and instructive to dig down into the whole story. However I have to say I am bemused by the level of vitriol directed at Edison and mostly by his own countrymen. While no angel, he was certainly no worse than many great men of his era and in many respects, far better. I simply don’t see the point of these constant attempt to belittle his contributions, especially to support a man who seemed to never quite get the results he promised himself.

        1. “Wasn’t much worse than other late-19th Century mega-capitalists”. If that’s the way we’re judging people, Pol Pot was an okay guy compared to Hitler and Stalin. Plenty of the great industrialists were greedy immoral douchebags. It’s no excuse for anything.

          As far as “countrymen”, what does that matter? Welcome to the Internet! “Country” means less than nothing here. In truth it never really meant much to start with.

  6. Ediaon is nothing more than a theif and a lier who obly cared about money. Tesla main fualt was trying to make humanity advance far beyond its time he loved his work and only xared about the people. Despite edison burning down his labs and trying gia best to discredit tesla. After tesla died the federal government got hold of his files and has been using them since. Tesla intelligence surpassed edison tesla rivialed einstein somthing edison can never do.

  7. Not sure the war between AC and DC has actually been won, just a battle. DC is making a comeback for long range electrical transmission. What was required was a efficient method of step up/down which modern power electronics provides

    1. Pulsed DC maybe (which Tesla had moved on to, but barely known)…which, when applied to an inductor becomes AC…the negative spike manifests for free on collapse of inductor field. ;)

      1. Don’t need to thanks. Work developing inverters for a living. Most of the big money these days are in DC transmission lines (those offshore windfarms won’t work unless you have an efficient way of transmitting the product). The AC end bit is what we see, but not necessarily the most important part of the picture

  8. Edison had an antisemitic policy of not giving too many licenses for movie cameras to Jews.
    In New York State the police were vigorous in enforcing his patent licensing regime.
    The Jews went out to California where enforcement was lax and surprise there are many Jews filming in Hollywood to this day.
    But even after the move to Hollywood there was a time where Edison would hire snipers to destroy improperly licensed grey market movie cameras as they were filming.
    Tesla was an eugenicist as many Americans and white Europeans were and sometimes a douche but what can you expect in that time period, at least he wasn’t hiring anti-material snipers or refusing to license his inventions to a specific race or ethnic group.

      1. If by “invented” you mean “sat around being an asshole, taking credit while other people did the actual work”, then, yes. By that standard Edison was a great inventor.

  9. Never mind these two, Charles Proteus Steinmetz is mostly invisible. I read about him in elementary school, in a Scholastic Book, “The Man Who Tamed Lightning”. He apparently was fairly important in t development of electricity, but in the background.

    Michael

    1. Nevermind these two?…Edison? sure…lol
      Except, there is NO ONE in history with more influence on modern man than Tesla…period! His influence is in almost EVERY aspect of modern day life :D

      1. except he doesn’t really Tesla’s importance to today’s world is majorly over blown. tesla was honestly insane and disagreed with most of what makes up the driving principles behind the tech we use today (foremost of those being the theory of relativity and that electricity is not a gas). people give him credit for coming up with abstract idea that wireless power when it works nothing like he thought it would.

        honestly the truth is humanity is not moved forward by special people, its moved forward but the collective group. you can see this using how the basics of radar were independently developed around at the about same time. people like tesla because he make good “underdog characters” to rewrite history around the idea of the lone inventor story line.

        1. You sound like a Borg….Assimilation is futile…… :D

          Tesla’s revolutions are in every single thing you call tech today…
          P.S. Even though he didn’t beat Marconi to transmit across the channel (because he was making wireless power) Tesla invented radio control (ie, the basis of RF networks), his AC transmission lines haven’t changed much to this day (just better conductors and insulators have been made)…you know, that infrastructure that makes modern world possible??, Hot plasma ozone, cold plasma ozone (which he gave to public domain…for human health), multiple types of cathodic ray tubes (same basic design still used in x-ray machines)….lets see, shall I go on? :D
          Newb!

          1. P.S. Marconi’s patent for radio was thrown out by the Supreme court 1903, when it found Tesla had invented it years prior. RF was just a higher frequency of Tesla’s previously demonstrated transmitters and receivers he had debuted at the 1893 National Electric Light Association event. They reversed their decision in 1904…seems RF isn’t just a higher frequency EM wave…hmmmm?? Rumors surround Marconi’s backers Carnegie and Edison….hmmmm??.

            So, just for the record…ya…add, radio in general to that list :D

  10. Except…in his later years, Tesla abandoned AC for superior pulsed DC (inductors swing negative for free on collapse) following observations made when the knife-switch was thrown on his hydro-electric dynamos.

  11. Most of you guys are forgetting that Tesla was an immigrant and the limits that came with that status. The fact that he was coming from a country where German was one of the main languages (Croatia was then part of Austro-Hungarian Empire) and the fact that he spoke Serbo-Croat language (people in US frequently mix that language with Russian) at least subconsciously made him an enemy (WWII against Germany and later Cold War against Russia). If he was of Anglo-Saxon origin, we would see different things written about him today, such as hero, American Leonardo da Vinci, etc.

    And quick explanation of the apparent lack of equations in his work:

    1) He was a one of a kind genius who could tweak all his inventions in his imagination to the point that they worked without a need of a prototype.
    2) With everybody around him stealing his ideas (Marconi being number one example), there was a need to hide the basic principles of his inventions.
    3) Where have you seen someone who started with a whole bunch of equations to invent something significant – those equations come later when the idea is already solidified in a concrete prototype?

    He was a man of principles – how many of you critics would be willing to spend a full year digging ditches because somebody robbed you of your hard-earned money and then laughed at your face as how you do not understand the American sense of humor (Edison’s words).

    Another major invention that came when Tesla was attacked by Edison during the War of the Currents was Tesla Coil. This device uses high frequency and high voltage to demonstrate so called skin effect or the fact that currents of high frequency flow on the surface of skin and in that way he could survive all this by being part of the electrical circuit and having neon lights glow in his hands by being connected to his hand by a long spark. If that same current was DC, that would mean instant death. Or check the famous photo from Colorado Spring where sparks are flying all over him, while he is calmly reading a book – this was no trick photography, but a real thing.

    That was Tesla’s way of showing the world how AC is not as dangerous as it was claimed. And what was Edison’s response – killing an elephant!! And that is the basic difference between them – plain and simple.

    1. Edison killed the Elephant, to which Tesla responded by upping the frequency, melting a conductor, then grabbing the now open circuit to complete it with no harm….Skin effect ;)

  12. Does anyone recommend a balanced book on this subject kind of on the order of the McCullough The Wright Brothers book, (which I just finished and really enjoyed)? Science history books are a particular favorite of mine.

    1. “Does anyone recommend a balanced book on this subject kind of on the order of the McCullough The Wright Brothers book”

      I don’t think anything like that exists. One of Edison’s nastier habits was smashing up publisher’s offices and burning print works. Now we’ve got the ‘Teslarites’ doing digital equivalent…

  13. Electricity: a form of energy resulting from the existence of charged particles (such as electrons or protons), either statically as an accumulation of charge or dynamically as a current.

    We define electricity by the result, not the cause….how asinine is that?
    Here’s a simple experiment…get a 555, set it up as an astable monovibrator with variable resistors and rig up a rotary switch with a variety of tuning caps. Get an UNGROUNDED 5kv transformer…put a full wave bridge on the output…now, power the transformer straight from the 555 (200ma max before it pops)…now, tune to resonance…read the couple KV output…ok, now hook up ONE LED….now two….now fifty….congratulations, you just witnessed the truth :P

      1. Their luminosity goes up with the more you add (single LED barely lights up)…furthermore, ungrounded transformer, putting out 2kv…electrically isolated from source, only magnetic coupling ;)
        Just do it…

        1. Seeing as how I have some of these components I’m willing to give it a shot for just shits and grins, but need a little elaboration on the setup. By ungrounded you mean only connect the one lead of the primary winding to the 555 and leave the other end open? On the secondary winding, I assume the additional LEDs are added in parallel?

          1. So, you have two circuits….the 555 driving the primary inductor with a square wave, and the secondary inductor is full wave bridge rectified having the LEDs in series with it…the two circuits are electrically isolated and only coupled by the magnetic flux in the core.

          2. Yup, that’s clear to me now. So what’s the explanation for why adding additional LEDs in series result in brighter LEDs? Does this work on any other loads?

          3. There is no explanation, per se…if you try to use an inductive load it will disappear.
            Do the experiment and come to your own conclusions (doesn’t happen enough anymore in my opinion).

            There are two very different, very real parts to electricity…and, it is possible to separate them from one another. One is longitudinal, one is sinusoidal…the first is the cause, the latter is the effect.

  14. I think in the future we will have an AC to DC conversion for the home from AC line transmission. It makes sense since just about every appliance we use is DC, We have solar panels which give out DC too. I don’t know if this will ever happen but it should happen.

      1. I actually forgot about washing machines etc We could easily go for DC lighting and wall sockets and have AC for the garage/kitchen area’s. Having DC in a house also brings extra cost doubling the wiring, but if done properly I think we would waste less electricity having nearly every device we use no longer needing to convert AC to DC.

        1. Let’s not forget the issue of switching DC. AC is self-extinguishing every 100th/120th of a second, so switches in appliances, miniature circuit breakers etc can be made a lot smaller and cheaper than the equivalent DC switch.

          1. I’m not saying AC doesn’t have advantages It really does have quite a few, But if we had DC coming out at a few standard voltages think about the likes of PSU’s they would not need half the circuitry.

  15. one thing: you measure the magnetic field strength in tesla, but you don’t measure anything in edison :)
    the other is that tesla started the whole heavy industrial revolution with he’s ac current

  16. If your opinion of Edison isn’t based upon facts printed prior to the 40’s, then you are probably focusing on events that Anti-Edison geeks seem to focus in on as the reason why everyone should hate Edison. Biographies on Edison that come out now are laden with too many debatable opinions and are barely worthy of being called a biography. I have a biography that was printed in the ’20s, by someone who had close friends that worked with and for Edison, and it paints a much different picture. And, no, it is not all “pro-Edison” as it does detail the War of Currents, Tesla, the dreaded elephant fiasco, etc.

    On the flip side, Tesla was an extremely brilliant man who had a flair for just “doing” brilliance rather than contemplating or justifying it with math or scientific fundamentals. That was the key thing that made him so intelligent and successful at bringing ideas to the world. Unfortunately, the cards were against him in actually profiting from his ideas and that fact seems to help pro-Tesla geeks having such hatred for Edison. His ideas were great ideas, period. Profit or not has no impact on the importance or value of the idea.

    So, hopefully it comes across clearly that I am a big fan of both men, albeit for different reasons. The great “War of Currents” is only one little piece in the grand scheme of things, but if it behooves you to focus on just that, then well, there you are….

    In regards to the clickbait comments about AC vs DC or the War of Currents, I no longer debate that concept because it is unnecessary to do so. It comes down to this: At the time, AC was a better solution due to technology available. However, nowadays, you are seeing more and more work done with DC at high voltages and currents because the technology exists to support it. So, with that stated, which is better? Well, depends on what century you ask that question….

      1. We DO know how many people Edison killed: zero. What an idiotic thought!! Edison killed nobody, ever – and his quest was never for a “large bank account” – he could have been many times more wealthy than he was, but his goal was never to be filthy rich – he wanted money mainly to fund the joy of his life: experimenting & inventing.

        He didn’t even own his home – he put his beautiful mansion & 14 acre estate in his wife’s name (Mina Miller Edison) so that she & the children would be safe from any failures on his part. He supported numerous family members for their entire lives, including all 6 children, his father, various aunts & uncles, and even nieces and nephews. Edison was heartbroken at the death of a particularly beloved Nephew, Charlie Edison, who was apparently “gay” and died in Paris (as a result of traumatic abuse from his sadist boyfriend, disgustingly) just when Edison was at the final stage of developing his practical electric light.

        Anyway, this modern nonsense of peeing other people’s Hero Parade is nothing but know-it-all arrogance; the Whole World was fooled, but not you – Edison stole it all, the Wrights did not fly, Bell invented nothing, Shakespeare was a fake name, etc etc. We get it and stand corrected. Right.

  17. Reflecting on the matter, I have come to an insight as to why Edison is vilified and Tesla is canonized, especially by the unprovable claims brigades. Edison represents the STEM Establishment and every educated individual that dismisses their silly ideas, or worse, takes the time to detail why they are wrong. He is every boss or employer that refuses to see their great potential and won’t give them a chance. In Tesla they see the hero that they wish they could be, or see themselves as: the marginalized genius whose only revenge is history proving him right. Aggrandizing Tesla is the ointment they use to salve their wounded egos.

  18. A modern-day technology battle that I’m keeping an eye on is that between battery electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Toyota and a couple others are going down the hydrogen route, while Tesla, BMW, Nissan, etc are sticking with batteries. Will be very interesting to watch how it plays out.

      1. Toyota Mirai
        Honda Clarity

        I agree, BEVs are winning, even if only because charging infrastructure exists. Personally, I believe hydrogen is the oil industry’s attempt to maintain a hold on the transportation industry under the guise of environmental friendliness.

  19. Here is proof that there was no bitter rivalry at all: When Tesla’s laboratory was destroyed by fire in March 1895, Edison invited Tesla to use his own lab facilities in West Orange, New Jersey. Tesla accepted the offer & worked in Edison’s lab for several months, free of charge.

    When Edison’s factories burned in a spectacular fire in 1914, Tesla sent a very sympathetic telegram to Edison. Not the work of “enemies”, methinks.

    Tesla and Edison were not ever enemies. If anything, it was Westinghouse vs Edison, for a brief time before Edison was pushed out of his electric companies when Edison General Electric & Thompson-Houston were combined in 1892.

    I swear that claiming Tesla as a hero is Serbia’s way of apologizing for starting World War One, or just trying to divert attention from that fact.

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