Friday, April 04, 2008

Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison Made Electricity Useful

Nikola Tesla, left, and Thomas Edison, right, revolutionized American society by developing the first electricity distribution systems. Edison developed and promoted direct current (DC) and Tesla developed and promoted alternating current (AC) and they became rivals in commercializing their respective electrical systems. Tesla won. Unlike DC, AC could be stepped up to very high voltages with transformers, sent over thinner and less expensive wires, and stepped down again at the destination for distribution to users. Thomas Edison failed because he could not practically and economically send DC very far. Nikola Tesla developed and patented much of AC power generation and distribution technology used today.

Edison's company established the first investor-owned electric utility in 1882 and his generating station's electrical power distribution system provided 110 volts DC to 59 customers in lower Manhattan. George Westinghouse and Edison became adversaries because of Edison's promotion of direct current for electric power distribution instead of the more easily transmitted AC system invented by Tesla and promoted by Westinghouse. George Westinghouse purchased Teslas patents and profited from them. Even with these patents, the company Edison founded, General Electric, is many times the size of Westinghouse. Telsa fell into relative obscurity, he is rarely mentioned in the history books. Nikola Tesla does not get the kind of recognition he truly deserves, even though he is the creator of polyphase transformers and machinery. Nikola Tesla is the real reason why we use 3-phase distribution.

Edison did not invent the first electric light bulb, but instead invented the first commercially practical incandescent light. Edison patented an electric distrubution system in 1880, which was essential to capitalize on the invention of the electric lamp. Nearly all of Edison's patents were utility patents but the phonograph patent was unprecedented as the first device to record and reproduce sounds. The key to Edison's fortunes was the telegraph. This allowed him to make his early fortune with the stock ticker, the first electricity-based broadcast system. Edison was also granted a patent for the motion picture camera. (Wikipedia: Tesla, Edison) (Madhu Siddalingaiah)

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