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The War of Currents between Thomas Alva Edison and Nikola Tesla Although given credit for a number

of inventions, Thomas Edison's actual hand in developing many of those that bear his name is questionable at best. Certainly, William Dickson should be considered the inventor of the movie camera rather than Edison. The role that his assistant played in harnessing direct current may never be known, but what is beyond question is Edison's attempt to prove that the superior alternating current was too dangerous to be trusted. The primary reason for Edison's obsession with undermining what was clearly a better means of providing electricity to the masses was money, of course, but a large part of Edison's quest to discredit alternating current had to do with the fact that Nikola Tesla became one of the few people whom Edison had not been able to steal an idea from and take the credit. Nikola Tesla arrived in the United States in 1884 as a great admirer of Thomas Edison and eventually found employment to redesign dynamos intended to generate direct current electricity for Edison's company. Very early on, however, Tesla became convinced that alternating current was superior to the means that Edison was spending his time trying to perfect. Edison's response was that Tesla was wasting his time and talent because he considered alternating current to be far too dangerous for public consumption, especially in comparison to direct current. Edison tried to convince Tesla that the danger inherent in alternating current had to do with the potential for high voltage wires to come loose and act almost as a lightning strike, killing a person on impact. After spending several months working long hours for Edison, Tesla eventually made the decision to strike out on his own in search of financial backing to continue developing alternating current. The sheer volume of hours that Edison required from Tesla to work on his own direct current plans lend credence to speculation that Edison may simply have hired Tesla to keep him from having any time to develop his own alternating current theories. The financial support Tesla was looking for came from a variety of sources and allowed him to found the Tesla Electric Company. Immediately, Tesla began spending as many hours working on his alternating current theories as Edison had made him spend working on the direct current theories that he found clearly inferior. The primary backer of Tesla was George Westinghouse. Westinghouse was fascinating with Tesla's ideas and even more fascinated with the idea of actually buying exclusive rights to Tesla's patents. With one million of Westinghouse's dollars pumped into his research, Tesla was ready to reveal the potential of alternating current. The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 gave Tesla his opportunity to prove to the world the superiority of his theories. Every single exhibit using electricity on display at the World's Fair was generated with alternating current. Unable to challenge AC electricity on technical merits, Edison turned to using scare tactics instead. Leaflets about the dangers of AC current were printed and distributed. Edison paid local children 25 cents for each stray dog or cat they could bring him. Dogs and cats began disappearing from the neighborhood around Edison's laboratory. Then he would hold press conferences and electrocute the frightened pets stolen from the streets to scare people and to demonstrate to the press that alternating current was more dangerous than Edison's system of direct current.

Edisons least favorite of Teslas impractical ideas was the concept of using alternating current (AC) technology to bring electricity to the people. Edison insisted that his own direct current (DC) system was superior, in that it maintained a lower voltage from power station to consumer, and was, therefore, safer. But AC technology, which allows the flow of energy to periodically change direction, is more practical for transmitting massive quantities of energy, as is required by a large city, or hub of industry, say. At the time, DC technology only allowed for a power grid with a one-mile radius from the power source. The conflict between the two methods and their masters came to be known as the War of Currents, forever immortalized by the band AC/DC. Tesla insisted that he could increase the efficiency of Edisons prototypical dynamos, and eventually wore down Edison enough to let him try. Edison, Tesla later claimed, even promised him $50,000 if he succeeded. Tesla worked around the clock for several months and made a great deal of progress. When he demanded his reward, Edison claimed the offer was a joke, saying, When you become a full-fledged American, you will appreciate an American joke. Edison offered a $10/week raise, instead. Ever prideful, Tesla quit, and spent the next few months picking up odd jobs across New York City. Nikola Tesla: ditch digger. The path to Tesla's revelation of how much better alternating current than direct current was not easy since Thomas Edison put was willing to put 98% of his perspiration not into any aspiration to improve direct current but rather into inhumane experiments designed to frighten the public away from Tesla's work. Edison's attempts to discredit the validity of alternating current included the public execution of a variety of elephants . Despite repeated attempts by Edison to convince the public that alternating current was dangerous, it was the fact that Tesla was right and Edison was wrong about the superiority of alternating current over direct current that allowed Tesla to pull off that rarest of accomplishments: besting Thomas Edison. Tesla eventually raised enough money to found the Tesla Electric Light Company, where he developed several successful patents including AC generators, wires, transformers, lights, and a 100 horsepower AC motor. Always more of a visionary than a businessman, Tesla ended up selling most of his patents (for the healthy but finite sum of $1 million) to George Westinghouse, an inventor, entrepreneur, and engineer who had himself been feuding with Edison for years. In fact, Westinghouse was a more economic participant in the War of Currents than was Tesla. Their partnership, one can imagine, made the eventual popularizing of AC that much more bitter for Edison. In the end, AC won out. Mostly. Westinghouse fulfilled Teslas dream of building a power plant at Niagara Falls to power New York City, and built upon its principles the same system of local power grids we use today. Edisons original point about the practicality of DC is well-taken, however: The average person cant have alternating currents flooding massive amounts of energy into their household appliances, so most plug-in devices must internally convert AC back to DC (thats whats going on inside the brick of your laptop cord). That conversion wastes a lot of energy (think of all the heat coming from

the brick of your laptop cord). Major studies are beginning to examine ways in which AC and DC power can work together with modern energy-harnessing technology, to run our overall grid more efficiently. The real turning point in the war of the currents took place at the honeymoon capital of America, Niagara Falls. Using Tesla's alternating current system, Westinghouse was awarded the contrast to generate power at Niagara Falls. Tesla faced considered opposition and doubt as to his system's ability to generate the amount of electricity required just to service nearby Buffalo, New York. Tesla remained confident to the point of suggesting that Falls could generate enough electricity to meet the needs of the eastern seaboard. Tesla's confidence was based upon successful testing of his system at Mill Creek, California and the World's Fair. While all the previous testing had been successful, none had been of the magnitude of what was needed at Niagara Falls. November 16, 1896 witnessed a revolution in the still burgeoning industry of providing electricity when power was directed from Niagara Falls to a hydroelectric generator in Buffalo located at the Edward Dean Adams Station. Those hydroelectric generators were created using the alternating current patents filed by Nikola Tesla. Thomas Edison continued to devote an unhealthy amount of his energies into further attempts to discredit Tesla and his alternating current system, and the so-called current wars would continue for several years, but the wild success demonstrated by using Tesla's system at Niagara Falls essentially represented the nail in the coffin for direct current. From that point on the dangers of alternating current espoused by Thomas Edison came to be viewed as acceptable in comparison to the far more impressive benefits and advantages. Niagara Falls acted as a vindication for Nikola Tesla and by the early 20th century direct current had become a footnote in the history of the mass generation of electricity for public consumption.