The Current War
Edison and Tesla Fight Over How to Power the World
would be the final showdown. After months of battle through propaganda
and demonstrations, the victor of the war would be determined through
one event: the Columbian Exposition. On one side of the duel stood
Westinghouse and Tesla, armed with the novel and superior alternating
current system. One the other side stood Thomas Alva Edison and the
General Electric Company, trying desperately to retain direct current as
the dominant current system. The duel would be simple: who would power
the Chicago World's Fair? But how did this intense and extreme rivalry
At the age of 28 Nikola Tesla immigrated to New York, where electricity
had already been present for about 23 years. 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. He already had
a design idea for an alternating current motor, but Edison knew and
cared little about alternating current. However Edison decided to hire
Tesla, offering him a healthy reward if he could improve upon his
electric system, believing it an impossible task.
The two men soon found that they had little in common: Tesla was a visionary who thought through problems and solutions before acting, while Edison's motto was:
the differences between these two men lead to conflict. When Tesla
announced to Edison that his work had been completed, Edison was
astonished. Upon asking for payment Edison
explained that the reward he offered was no more than an American joke.
The infuriated Tesla immediately resigned.
“The motors I built here were exactly as I imagined them. I made no attempt to improve the design, but merely reproduced pictures as they appeared in my vision and their operation was always as I expected.”
A man named George Westinghouse noticed the young foreigner's invention
and saw it's potential for success. He went to Tesla's lab and quickly
made a deal with him to purchase the alternating current system. With
his newfound wealth Tesla decided to build a laboratory for himself.
Despite the superiority of Tesla's motor, Edison's DC system still dominated the market. Edison knew, however, that Tesla's motor had significant advantages, and with George Westinghouse's purchasing of the system, it became a powerful competitor to his own. Edison wasted little time to launch a major propaganda war against Tesla's AC system. Edison advocated against AC, comparing it to DC by saying:
current is like a river flowing peacefully to sea, while alternating
current is like a torrent rushing violently over a precipice.”
addition, a murderer was about to be executed in the first electric
chair. Professor Brown, an advocate of DC, had illegally purchased an AC
generator for use in this chair, to prove the extreme danger associated
with AC. The spectacle was described as:
awful spectacle, far worse than hanging.”
recriminated, saying that AC was perfectly safe, as long as proper
precautions were taken.