Thomas Edison is commonly referred to as one of the greatest inventors in history, with 1,300 patents, and work with direct current (DC) that still impacts society. Despite this, Nikola Tesla has impacted the world through his work with alternating current (AC), which are used to supply power to homes, and his creation of the first hydroelectric power plant. Thomas Edison made a monumental impact with his alteration of the electric light bulb, although he did not invent it himself.
Tesla and Edison raced to prove that their type of current was more effective, in the “War of Currents,” which is still fought between supporters of both Edison and Tesla to date. Commonly, Thomas Edison is seen as the winner of this war. Edison’s alterations to the light bulb may have proclaimed him victorious in the great “War of Currents” involving AC and DC, yet Nikola Tesla has been more monumental with regard to modern technology. Nikola Tesla was born to a clergyman and an illiterate mother on July 10, 1856, in Croatia.
From a young age, Tesla was exposed to invention, as his mother created many devices to be used around her home. Tesla attended multiple universities, harnessing degrees in mathematics, engineering, and philosophy. A passion for the study of electricity drove Tesla to a career as an electrical engineer. In this position, he created the first polyphase synchronous motor, capable of safely delivering high voltages over long distances. At his workplace, none of the other workers understood the power of the alternating current, which was used in the motor Tesla invented.
As a result, Tesla left his position at the company and was hired by Thomas Edison. There he worked developing the AC method, and although he was respected by Edison, he found himself in an altercation with his employer regarding AC and DC. Tesla left his position at Edison’s laboratory afterward. Thomas Edison was born approximately a decade prior to Tesla, as the seventh child of Samuel and Nancy Edison, on February 11, 1847. Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, but later moved to Michigan where he began his schooling.
Although he was incredibly bright, Edison’s mother withdrew him from the school program after only three months, as he was not understood by his teacher, and was failing the grade. Nancy began to homeschool Edison, where she taught him to read, and about the sciences. Thomas Edison became particularly interested in chemistry and began to conduct his own experiments. As a child, Edison also began his first job, working at a railroad. Later in life, Edison became deaf, which created a drastic change in his personality.
He began to spend longer hours working and quickly acquired his first patent. He then went on to improve the incandescent light bulb, one of the patents he is most well-known for. Edison was a strong supporter of the use of direct current. At one point, Edison and Tesla were recommended to be recipients of the Nobel prize. Due to their lasting dispute, Tesla refused to share the prize with Edison, and neither of them received the award. Alternating and direct current both have definite benefits and drawbacks, yet AC is more effective than DC.
A direct current “is electricity flowing in a constant direction, and/or possessing a voltage with constant polarity. DC is… made by a battery (with definite positive and negative terminals), or… generated by rubbing certain types of materials against each other” (What is Alternating Current (AC)? Chapter 1- Basic AC Theory). Direct current is the source of power in any product that uses batteries and is used in most electronics. Meanwhile, alternating current “naturally produce voltages alternating in polarity, reversing positive and negative over time.
Either as a voltage switching polarity or as a current switching direction back and forth…” (What is Alternating Current (AC)? Chapter 1- Basic AC Theory). Due to the ability to produce alternating polarity as voltage, AC is used to power almost all homes and businesses. AC is more efficient, losing less energy at higher voltages, in addition to generating less heat, which makes their use safer. Alternating current serve many other purposes as well, as they can be used to power electrical motors, which are essential to many large household appliances.
Thomas Edison proposed the idea that individual power plants could be used to provide DC power to neighborhoods and towns. Despite this, his idea was flawed: those who wished to use the plant’s power must be located within one mile of the plant. In addition, Edison lived during a time in which direct current could not be brought to high voltage levels safely. Using Nikola Tesla’s method of AC, power plants could be located many miles from each other, and transformers could allow high voltages to be brought safely to levels suitable for use.
Alternating current is the most effective and safe method of distributing energy at high voltages to far distances. Both Edison and Tesla acquired an abundance of patents in their lifetimes. As inventors, they dedicated themselves to many life-changing projects. Edison is very well known for his improvement to the incandescent light bulb. While working on the incandescent light bulb, Edison discovered “that electrical current flowed from the filament to the wire. He saw no practical application of this discovery, so he did no further work on it.
The Edison effect, as the discovery is now called, later had important applications as a way of directing electrical current. ” (Thomas Alva Edison, Scientists: Their Lives and Works) It is rarely recognized that Tesla made another monumental impact to the world of energy. Tesla created the first hydroelectric power plant, using alternating current. Hydroelectricity is continuously becoming more important in society, as it is a renewable resource, is relatively inexpensive compared to other energy sources, and helps to combat climate change.
Despite the many benefits of hydroelectric power, it is largely dependent on geography, making it difficult to attain in mountainous or dry areas. With technology such as this, it is clear that Tesla was ahead of his time. “Tesla was bursting with creativity. He… built a machine that produced frequencies of up to 25,000 cycles per second. Machines of this type would play an important part in the development of radio…Tesla had demonstrated the principles of wireless transmission of signals as early as 1893.
In 1898, when Guglielmo Marconi was just beginning to send crude Morse code messages over long distances, Tesla was demonstrating a radio-controlled model boat at Madison Square Garden. This early forerunner of robots was so far ahead of its time that the baffled United States Navy could not see any use for such a device. ” (Nikola Tesla, World of Invention) The debate between Edison and Tesla with regard to alternating and direct current is today known as, “the War of Currents. ” It has greatly impacted modern technology, and the battle still occurs today as methods of utilizing AC and DC improve.
Thomas Edison made many scientific advancements in his lifetime and should be recognized as a brilliant inventor. Despite this, Nikola Tesla has made a greater impact in terms of his work with electric currents. Nikola Tesla created the first hydroelectric power plant, a method of generating power which is becoming continuously more important in the modern-day, and helped to develop alternating current as a major power source. Both Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla have made a lasting impact on current technology, yet Nikola Tesla was more significant to our society.