AC/DC: Alternative Current vs Direct Current

Tesla and Edison

Everybody knows the light bulb‘s father was Thomas Edison. We read about him all the time and he is often remembered as the greatest inventor in American history. The truth is light bulbs had already been invented; what he did was buy the patent and refine the product. The incandescent light bulb would be groundbreaking, but only if Edison or someone else could succeed in getting power to America’s homes.

The least favorite of Tesla’s “impractical” proposals was the notion of using AC technology to deliver energy. Born in the Austrian Empire in 1856 (now known as Croatia), Nikola Tesla inherited his love for electricity and invented from his mother, who would make small appliances in her spare time as he grew up. Nikola went to school and studied architecture and physics, while his father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become an orthodox priest. He invented an idea for an induction motor and a means of using alternating currents, but since there was nobody in Europe interested in his inventions, he moved to America, where the power boom was taking place.

Edison insisted that his own direct current (DC) system was better, maintaining a lower voltage from power station to user, making it healthier. Yet AC technology, which enables energy flow to change direction regularly, is more realistic to transfer vast quantities of energy, as a large city or industry center, say, needs. At the time, DC technology only permitted a one-mile radius power grid from the source.

Tesla insisted he could improve Edison’s prototypical dynamos’ output, and finally wore down Edison sufficiently to let him try. Edison, Tesla later said, offered $50,000 if he succeeded. Tesla worked for several months around the clock but when he finished and requested his payout, Edison reneged, claiming, “If you’re a full-fledged American, you’ll understand an American joke.” Instead, Edison offered a $10/week increase. Tesla quit and spent the next few months taking up minimum wage jobs.

Tesla eventually raised enough money to found the Tesla Electric Light Company, where he established many successful inventions including AC generators, cables, transformers, lights and an AC motor with 100 horsepower. Tesla ended up selling most of his patents to George Westinghouse, an inventor, entrepreneur, and engineer who had been feuding with Edison for years. In fact. Their relationship, one can imagine, made AC ‘s eventual popularization even bitterer for Edison.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *