Thomas Edison may have pioneered the use of electricity and the electric lamp (light bulb). But it was the genius of Nikola Tesla that created the modern electric power infrastructure we use today. His accomplishments when compiled completely overshadow the 1879 accomplishments of Thomas Edison in electric power distribution. Never the less, it was Edison’s company General Electric that profited the most from Tesla’s genius. When all the legal and political wrangling had finished, General Electric had dumped Edison and went on to become one of the largest and most profitable corporations in the world.
For all his genius and creativity, Tesla never won the Nobel Prize. His work with alternating current rivals the genius of Einstein, Bohr, and Marconi. Tesla throughout his long career filed hundreds of patients on both direct current and alternating current engineering applications. He received patents for dynamos, generators, alternators, transformers, motors, wireless transmissions (radio), x-rays, and florescent lights. Yet, he is the forgotten man in the annals of United States history. A Google search of the Internet shows that only two schools were named in his honor, while every major city in the United States has at least one school named in honor of Thomas Edison.
Nikola Tesla was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire on July 9, 1856 in a mountainous area of the Balkan Peninsula known as Lika (Cheney, 198, p. 25). Tesla began his education at home and later attended school in Carlstadt, Croatia where he excelled in studies. At an early age, Tesla demonstrated his genius by solving mentally problems of integral calculus (Cheney, Uth, & Glenn, Tesla, master of lightning, 1999, p. 9).
How alternating current became the staple of energy in the United States begins with the arrival of Nikola Tesla in New York City in 1884. Armed only with a letter from a colleague of Edison, Charles Batchelor, as means of introduction, Tesla was able to gain an interview with the great Edison in Menlo Park. At first, Edison scoffed at the recommendations Batchelor made in the letter. However, after Tesla was able to elaborate his experiences with electricity and electrical engineering, he won Edison’s favor and received a conditional job offer to work at the Menlo Park laboratory. The stipulation for employment required Tesla to repair the dynamos Edison had installed on the USS Oregon moored at the New York shipyards.
“Yes indeed,” replied a confident Tesla who hastened to the shipyards and went to work immediately making all the necessary repairs. Tesla worked feverishly through the night repairing the countless short circuits and broken circuits on the ship. By dawn, with the assistance of the ship’s crew, he had finished job (PBS, 2004).
Stunned by Tesla’s speed and efficiency, Edison gave Tesla a job at his Menlo Park laboratory. Tesla’s first assignment from Edison was to redesign the Menlo Park shop. Tesla completed the task in about a year. Although an avid proponent of alternating current, Tesla dampened his enthusiasm with innovations to make Edison’s direct-current dynamos more efficient. Tesla convinced Edison to let him redesigned the DC dynamos to make them more efficient. Edison—a shrewd, irascible businessman—and always interested in making money, agreed to Tesla’s proposition. In exchange, Edison agreed to pay Tesla $50,000 if he improved the efficiency of the dynamos.
Several months later, Tesla completed the work on the dynamos and then to his dismay Edison reneged on his payment. When Tesla asked him to explain, Edison stated he thought Tesla understood the offer was made in jest. Tesla did not see the humor in the explanation and immediately resigned his Menlo Park position (PBS, 2004) (Morgan Reynolds Inc., 2005, p. 47) (Cheney, Uth, & Glenn, Tesla, master of Lightning, 1999, p. 20).
After leaving Menlo Park, his reputation preceding him, Tesla was able to form several business partnerships. The first of these partnerships was with a group of crafty investors who established the Tesla Light and Manufacturing Company. The investors wanted Tesla to focus on improving the system of arc lights already in place in many American and European cities (Jonnes, 2003, p. 11).
On March 30, 1885, Tesla filed for his first patent, a design improvement for the arc lamp that addressed the major problems with its use, the annoying flickering, maintenance costs, and reliability. The newly formed Tesla Light & Manufacturing Company was a success and making money. However, when Tesla attempted to persuade the investors fund the building of an electric motor, they balked. Informing him, they were not interested in such a project. To compound his difficulties with his new company, the investors refused to pay him for his improvements to the arc light. Penniless and desperate, Tesla took a job as a ditch digger to provide himself with food and shelter during the winter of 1886-1887 (Seifer, 1998, p. 41) (Morgan Reynolds Inc., 2005, p. 48).
The complete story of Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, the incandescent lamp and the War of the Currents are found in the book A History of the Computer and Its Networks now available at these retailers Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and More Books and other fine booksellers on the Internet worldwide