THE CURRENT WAR: The Tale of An Early Tech Rivarly

We will begin the story of current war with two genius that worked together -and hated each other. Let’s take a look at their pictures.

Thomas Alva Edison

Born in Millan, Ohio, 1847.

Called as Wizard of Menio Park.

Never get formal education, only home-schooled and self taugh.

Transmission idea: DC (Direct Current)

Research method: trial and error

Nikola Tesla

Born in Smiljan, Croatia, 1858.

Called as Wizard of the West.

Studied math, physics, and mechanics at Gratz Polytechnic Institute

Transmission idea: AC (Alternating Current)

Research method: scientific method (imagine, calculate, and construct)

The falling out: beginning of current war

At the age of 28 Nikola Tesla immigrated to New York, where electricity had already been present for about 23 years. At the time, Edison has been known as an American inventor and businessman.  Upon arriving in New York, he was shocked to find long stretches of sagging wires and exposed wiring strung all across New York, a result of Edison’s DC system. He sought work in Edison’s laboratory to attempt to improve upon Edison’s DC system.  During the  years alternating current has been start to first developed in Europe due to the work of Guillaume Duchenne (1850s), Ganz Company (1870s), Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti (1880s), Lucien Gaulard, and Galileo Ferraris.

Edison’s direct current was the standard for the United States. At the time and he did not want to lose all his patent royalties, feeling threatened by Westinghouse, an American entrepreneur and engineer that financially backed the development of a practical AC power network by William Stanley and Oliver Shallenberger.  Edison was a brute-force experimenter, lacked formal training in mathematic and physics that very useful to understand AC powers. Edison see young unadorned Tesla and decide to hire him to fix his dysfunction patents. Edison also promised Tesla a generous reward if he could sooth out his direct current system. Tesla took on the assignment and ended up saving Edison 100,000 USD (convert to today standard). When Tesla asked for his rightful compensation, Edison declined to pay him.Tesla did improve the dynamos after nearly a year’s worth of work, but Edison did not pay him the promised money. Edison went as far as trying to say he was joking, saying “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor”. Tesla resigned shortly after and perfectly invent AC power by Westinghouse grant.

Edison Evils Campaign

“Direct current is like a river flowing peacefully to sea, while alternating current is like a torrent rushing violently over a precipice” (Thomas Alva Edison)

Edison carried out evils campaign to discourage the use of alternating current, including spreading disinformation on fatal AC accidents, publicly killing animals, and lobbying against the use of AC in state legislatures. Edison directed his technicians, primarily Arthur Kennelly and Harold P. Brown  to preside over several AC-driven killings of animals, primarily stray cats and dogs but also unwanted cattle and horses. Acting on these directives, they were to demonstrate to the press that alternating current was more dangerous than Edison’s system of direct current. He also tried to popularize the term for being electrocuted as being “Westinghoused”.

death of Topsy

In order to prove the dangers of Tesla alternating current, Edison also staged a highly publicized electrocution of the three-ton elephant named “Topsy” that died instantly after being shocked with a 6,600 volt AC charge and also recently killed three men. His desire to disparage the system of alternating current led to the invention of the electric chair. Harold P.Brown  who was being secretly paid by Edison, built the first electric chair for the state of New York to promote the idea that alternating current was deadlier than DC.

When the chair was first used, on August 6, 1890, the technicians on hand misjudged the voltage needed to kill the condemned prisoner named William Kemmler.  The first jolt of electricity was not enough to kill Kemmler, and only left him badly injured. The procedure had to be repeated and a reporter on hand described it as “an awful spectacle, far worse than hanging.” George Westinghouse commented: “They would have done better using an axe.”

Misanthropic Tesla

Tesla is a misanthropic person and he never reply Edison’s dirty work again him directly. Maybe it was the results of his father orthodox education 😛 . He only reply what Edison’s has said when he try to invent AC motor.

Edison said that, “(Tesla’s) ideas are splendid, but they are utterly impractical.”

and soon after AC motor has been invented, Tesla said:

“If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once..until he found the object of his search. I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him 9% of his labor.”

Tesla said that because he know that Edison faith-ed “Genius is 1% inspiration & 99% perspiration” . Beside that, Tesla was also know that Edison is not good at math, and the fact that Edison prefer to conduct thousand experiments by mobilized thousands employments to get the right result for his products.

The end of the war

columbia international exhibition

The Columbian International Exposition was held in a building which was devoted to electrical exhibits.  General Electric Company (backed by Edison and J.P. Morgan) had proposed to power the electric exhibits with DC originally at the cost of 1.8 million USD. After this was initially rejected as exorbitant, General Electric re-bid their costs at $554,000. However, Westinghouse, armed with Tesla with AC system, proposed to illuminate the Columbian Exposition in Chicago for 399,000 USD and Westinghouse won the bid. It was a historical moment and the beginning of a revolution, as  Tesla and Westinghouse introduced the public to alternating-current electrical power by illuminating the exposition. All the exhibits were from commercial enterprises.

one of Tesla presentation

The Columbian Exposition was soon to be held in Chicago, and the search was on for some method of powering the fair. On one side stood Edison with his large, obtrusive DC system. One the other stood Tesla and Westinghouse, with the novel, more manageable AC system. Edison asked for 1 million USD to power the all-electric fair. A demonstration of the setup resulted in a dark, heavy, hazardous spider-web of copper wire. Westinghouse offered to power the fair at half the price and without the spider-web, an easy accomplishment for AC. AC had won the battle. But AC had not yet won the war. Both systems set up a display at the exposition. At the fair, Tesla unleashed the beauty and power of AC through an amazing spectacle of man made lightning. Sparks flew everywhere as large bolts of lightning jumped and exploded between wires. To demonstrate safety of this system, he used himself as a conductor to light an incandescent tube, and walked away unharmed. AC was the power of the future. As for Edison’s demonstration? All the lights of the “white city” dimmed, as Edison flipped the switch and lit his incandescent bulb. Tesla and AC had won. The public observed firsthand the qualities and abilities of alternating current power.

No Happy Ending Story

physics nobel

In 1915, both Edison and Tesla were to receive Nobel Prizes for their strides in physics, but ultimately, neither won. It is rumored to have been caused by their animosity towards each other and refusal to share the coveted award.

Edison continued to be promoted by media as a famous scientist and remembered as the greatest American inventor. Tesla, if public still remember his name, often associated with pseudoscience because his mysterious style, whereas he hate pseudoscience when he still alive.

Ironically, Edison named was used by IEEE as a medal for a career of meritorious achievement in electrical science, electrical engineering or the electrical art. This Edison medal was awarded toTesla. In 1975, after Tesla died, IEE began to awarded Tesla award for the most important innovations in the field of power engineering. Tesla name also used as a unit of magnetic field.

Edison Medal

Edison passed away in 1931 in his New jersey home, surrounded by friends and family. Tesla died in 1943, lonely and in debt in room 3327 at the New Yorker Hotel.

Today we worship Thomas Alva Edison as a god of electricity, and we give no credit to Tesla who gave us today’s source of power for our own incandescent bulbs without taking no credits.


1. Cheney, Margaret (2001). Tesla: man out of time. Simon and Schuster

2. Munson, Richard (2005). From Edison to Enron: the business of power and what it means for the future of electricity.  Northeast-Midwest Institute


31 thoughts on “THE CURRENT WAR: The Tale of An Early Tech Rivarly

  1. I suggest patience in these matters. For who knows what they would have created together if either had sacrificed to become friends. For in death there is no victory whether surrounded by friends or by yourself, only you will be doing the dying. It was the family members that were blessed to see Edison off, not vice versa.

    • Hi Hardin, thank you for visiting kofegeek and share your opinion 🙂

      Everyone has their opinion and their definition. Nietzsche seems prefer to facing death while laughing at other people, but not for others. Sartre happy to be an existentialist, but not for Heidegger. This is a victory of current battle not a victory in any other field 🙂

  2. No matter who has won the war, it’s thankful for electrical science they invented.
    I quote this phrases “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”, and ethics in my addition.
    It’s such a great post.

  3. Pingback: Homepage

  4. A student of mine wrote an essay on Nikola Tesla and I never heard of the name until he wrote about him. Now that you wrote this with a lot more shocking information, I was like, “Whhoaaa!” There are so many things I don’t know.

    And you’re right, wer have given so much credit to Edison without even acknowledging the labor and contribution that Tesla had given to all of us. Thank you so much for sharing! I learn something today! : -)

    Subhan Zein

  5. Excellent publish, very informative. I ponder why the opposite specialists of this sector don’t realize this. You should continue your writing. I’m confident, you have a huge readers’ base already!|What’s Going down i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve discovered It positively helpful and it has aided me out loads. I’m hoping to give a contribution & help other customers like its helped me. Good job.

  6. The story of Nikola Tesla is a classic tale of power play.

    If Tesla had his way, the world would have enjoyed free energy!
    We would have no problem with fossil fuel; nor feel the need for it.
    Sad to say, many of his “inventions” were never directly credited to him.
    Many of our state-of-the-art gadgets today are the fruits of his genius.
    While others got the credit, reaped profits from commercialization of
    his “works”, he remains obscure, “unwept, unhonored and unsung”.

    By the way, thanks for following my blog and liking my posts, “Bamboo
    Revisited” and “The Music of Our Teens”.

    You have a very informative blog. I follow it now.

  7. What an interesting and varied blog you have here and a really interesting article.

    If you may recall the film ‘The Prestige’ also did its bit to remind people about the genius that Tesla was :-)…

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