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Thunderstruck: Tesla vs. Edison

Graphic with the title "Thunderstruck: The Tesla Edison Feud"

One studied alternating current (AC), and the other, direct current (DC). And yet, the world would not be where it is today without their contributions to science and electricity. In light of Nikola Tesla’s birthday on July 10, Mr. Electric is taking a look at the electric Tesla vs. Edison feud.

Tesla and Alternating Current

The main focus for Tesla was alternating current: an electric charge that periodically reverses its direction and is delivered to customers through a transformer. It travels at a much higher voltage than direct current and is more effective because of its ability to travel greater distances while maintaining a constant voltage.

Edison and Direct Current

Edison focused his research of electricity on direct current. A key difference between alternating current and direct current is that direct current only flows one way. The voltage of direct current is also constant but it is better when the electricity produced has to travel in short distances.

The Feud

Edison was working on a system to generate direct current. When he could not get it to perform correctly he hired Tesla, an engineer and graduate of The Polytechnic Institute, who studied electromagnetism, promising him $100,000 if he could correct the problems Edison was having with his research and invention. Tesla corrected the problems but was not given the money. Tesla resigned and Edison spent the rest of his career trying to discredit Tesla’s research and work with electricity.

The Outcome

Today, nearly every home and business in the world is powered using Tesla’s alternating current. The ability of alternating current to travel over long distances and efficiently power everyday home and business electrical equipment eventually overtook Edison’s research on direct current. Edison did not lose out completely, as most battery-powered devices, fuel cells and light emitting diodes use direct current. As the push for alternative energy sources is on the rise, many manufacturers are looking at how batteries and electricity can change the way we look at fuel and the way goods are produced. Whether the electricity being used is AC or DC, Tesla helped us get where we are today.