War of the Currents AC vs DC

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Oct 16, 2016 | Electrical

How would you feel if you came up with an invention that completely revolutionized the way the whole WORLD operates yet someone else received the credit for it?

Such is the case for one man named Nikola Tesla. Nikola was a brilliant but eccentric inventor who worked for a time as an assistant to Thomas Edison. Thomas Edison is famous for inventing the lightbulb, the phonograph and moving pictures. Our school history books are almost completely silent though about Tesla’s contributions to society.

If you were to ask most people today, “Who discovered modern electricity?” they would without doubt answer: “Thomas Edison.” Most aren’t aware that Nikola Tesla and his nemesis, and former boss actually waged a War of the Currents AC vs DC. In the 1880s Tesla and Edison spat over whose electrical system would power the world, Tesla’s alternating-current (AC) system or Edison’s direct-current (DC) electric power.

In 1882 Thomas Edison introduced a low voltage DC electric distribution utility designed for indoor business and residential use, as an alternative to gas and oil-based lighting. In 1886 George Westinghouse began building an alternating current system (after buying Nikola Tesla’s patented designs) that used a transformer to step up voltage. This was useful for long-distance transmission and was then stepped back down for indoor lighting. This was a more efficient and less expensive system that directly competed for the market the Edison’s system was designed to serve.

Feeling threatened by the rise of AC, Edison launched a propaganda campaign to discredit AC and convince the public it was dangerous. As part of this campaign, animals were publicly electrocuted with AC power, and when New York State sought a more humane alternative to hanging its death-penalty prisoners, Edison, once an opponent of capital punishment, recommended alternating current-powered electrocution as the fastest, deadliest option.

Ultimately, however, Edison failed in his efforts to discredit AC. Westinghouse won the contract to supply electricity to the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago—beating out rival General Electric, which was formed in 1892 by a merger involving Edison’s company—and the expo became a dazzling showcase for Tesla’s AC system. The achievement was regarded as the unofficial end to the War of the Currents AC vs DC, and AC became dominant in the electric power industry. To this very day we utilize aspects of Tesla’s AC system to power our homes and businesses, so he is truly the Father of Modern Day Electricity!

Did you know?

  • Tesla had a photographic memory and often memorized entire books.
  • Tesla was known to have OCD (Obsessive Compulsion Disorder) and a fear of women’s earrings.
  • Even though Tesla won the War of the Currents AC vs DC, when he died he had 300 patents to his name as compared to Thomas Edison’s 1,093.

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