Father of the Electric Age: Thomas Edison Vs. Nikola Tesla

Renuka Savant Jan 27, 2019
Tap to Read ➤
There is a different kind of paternity suit doing the rounds of the Internet. The 'child' at the center of the storm is Electricity, with vehement netizens battling over who actually fathered it. Nikola Tesla or Thomas Edison? Let's find out.
If your hate could be turned into electricity, it would light up the whole world.
-Nikola Tesla
It is certainly nice to begin on a philosophical footing, considering we have a lot of hate, malice, and conspiracy theories to deal with, through the course of this ScienceStruck write-up.
Nikola Tesla, the man credited with the aforementioned quote, has been well-chronicled as a fall guy for the cat-who-got-all-the-cream fella, Thomas Edison. Their epic rivalry has all the ingredients fit for a comic book series on the lines of The Dark Knight Returns, or a movie like Godzilla vs. Rodan.
What was it with these two geniuses, that has harrowed supporters on either side going insane lengths to claim victory? As it is with all battles that rage on the premises of mind against moolah, the Tesla-Edison saga too has a sordid tale to tell.
But, before we get down to the dirty task of taking sides, let us begin with taking an (as far as possible) objective view of these brilliant, but rather cocky personalities.

Who's the Big Daddy of the Electric Age?

Meet the Eccentric Scientist, Nikola Tesla

Let the future tell the truth and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I really worked, is mine.
Nikola Tesla. Pop culture's unsung hero. A man wronged by his peers. A genius swindled. Nikola Tesla cuts a sorry figure for all his newfound fans, and his nondescript, lonely death provides for some good-natured Edison bashing. The Internet loves a wronged genius, and Tesla fits the description to the T.
The brilliant mind that he was, Tesla was an innovator at heart. He found favor with George Westinghouse, who licensed Tesla's patented AC induction motor and transformer. Westinghouse also hired Tesla to create a power system using alternating current.

The 'American Brand of Humor' Episode

As an employee of Continental Edison Company in France, Tesla's job was to design and fine-tune electrical apparatus. After he moved to New York, he was hired by Edison to work in his company, Edison Machine Works. It was here that Tesla claimed that he could improvise on Edison's motors and generators, increasing their output and cost-effectiveness.
Tesla's version has it that Edison offered him the princely sum of USD 50,000 if he could pull it off, which he did. Only to have Edison give him a weekly raise of $10, and a reminder that American humor was something that Tesla could never comprehend. Hell certainly hath no fury for a disgruntled employee, which Tesla became, and an epic rivalry was born.

Tesla's Stronghold on Alternating Current

Tesla made it his life's mission to develop ideas for alternating current transmission systems and motors. Alternating current made it possible to transmit electrical power using high voltages over long distances. Edison's direct current system, however, required power stations at short distances to be able to do the same.
Having said that, alternating current needs to be transformed to direct current for many of our home appliances to work, indicating that a merger of these concepts was the logical solution.
Tesla's dream of demonstrating wireless transmission of electrical energy across the Atlantic remained a dream with J. P. Morgan abruptly pulling the plug on the funding of the Wardenclyff Tower. 1917 was the year it was demolished to make way for real estate space, and it was around the same time that Tesla was honored with the Edison Medal.
Working as a consultant for Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company, his job was to help create a viable AC system to power Pittsburgh's streetcars. This project, of course, didn't quite work out.
But the fact remained that in his later years, the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company paid Tesla a sum of USD 125 per month, and took care of his living expenses at the Hotel New Yorker, and continued doing so for the rest of Tesla's life. Just goes to show that the man must have done something right in his life.

Hail the Hotstepping Inventor/Businessman, Thomas Edison

We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.
Internetizens have this obsessive-bordering-on-the-insane will to unearth the proverbial skeletons out of a hero's closet. They do not stop at that, of course. The next step is to find boundless joy in washing his dirty linen in public.
Thomas Edison is thought by many of these netizens to be a (formally) uneducated boor who electrocuted animals in public to simply prove his unwavering allegiance to direct current. He also allegedly subjected himself and his employees to life-threatening experiments.

Edison's Impeccable Acumen

Like Tesla, it would be too easy to say that Edison was the brain behind phonographs, incandescent light bulbs, cement making technology, motion picture cameras, DC motors and electric power generation systems, batteries, and several other things that we routinely take for granted in our everyday life. Easier said than believed, right?
Edison ran a successful corporation that hired some of the brightest minds of the scientific world. For everything that is worth detracting about him, his kickass entrepreneurial skills can never be doubted, considering that he even had Tesla on his payroll, albeit briefly. And we all know how that ended.

The Undisputed Father of the Electric Age

Edison and Tesla never shied away from taking potshots at each other in public. In the end, however, it was Edison who took home all the credit, with several schools, colleges, towns, public places, and monuments bearing his name. He's the one who finds the honorable mention in textbooks.
The one who officially ushered in the electric age. The person who founded one of the largest American multinational conglomerate corporations, Edison General Electric, or GE as we now know it. The undisputed Father of the Electric Age.
In 2003, a bunch of brilliant engineers from Silicon Valley revolutionized the automobile industry by designing the most awesome, practical car powered by electricity. They're fighting to reduce our planet's dependence on petroleum-based fuels by creating technology that will enable cost-efficient electric cars, giving us an emission-free future.
Tesla Motors is what these guys call their company, in honor of Nikola Tesla, the same mad scientist. A design of the AC motor which he designed in 1882 can be found in the company's first set of wheels, the Tesla Roadster.