One of his most important inventions was the AC power generator. The energy generated with alternating current made it possible to transport electricity over a longer distance with a much higher power than Thomas Edison’s conventional DC (direct current) power at the time – towards the end of the 19th Century. He was Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer and physicist.
Edison’s company was by the end of the 19th century the largest player in the field of electricity and its distribution. With his good marketing sense, he managed to get a lot of contracts for city lighting projects and the use of electrical equipment in factories.
Tesla was not a brilliant student and did not successfully complete his education. By 1880, one year after his father’s death, he had gambled away his allowance and after doing some menial work he got a job at Edison’s business in Paris, where he soon became involved in the development of dynamos.
ch laboratory he developed all kinds of improvements in the field of electricity generation and transport. But he focussed on the DC method.
The boss’s joke
To motivate the developers of these generators, a $50,000 bonus was promised for anyone who could make it even more efficient.
Tesla took this challenge very seriously and put a lot of energy into it. Eventually he came up with some improvements for this machine and when he presented it to Thomas Edison to claim the promised bonus, Edison refused to pay up and said that Tesla did not understand American humour. Tesla did not appreciate Edison’s supposed sense of humour and quit to begin his own business with Edison’s competitor George Westinghouse.
The War Of The Currents
With his invention of the light bulb, Edison already had a good lead on his AC power competitor. In the winter of 1879 he gave a night-time demonstration of his light bulbs in New York to light up Menlo Park.
This demonstration was a great success and soon the orders streamed in for his DC energy-generating system that could provide such lighting.
But the DC grid system that Edison brought to the market had one minor problem – that the scope of power supply was quite limited.
Tesla had already developed good methods at George Westinghouse and his AC system was able to transport his alternating current thousands of miles without the power dropping off.
This was for Edison a real smack in the face, and therefore he started a defamation campaign that claimed that alternating current was a dangerous phenomenon that could cause electrocution.
He held many public demonstrations to show the danger of alternating current, electrocuting all kinds of animals, from stray dogs even to an elephant.
This elephant called Topsy worked in the Forepaugh Circus and spent her old age on Coney Island until this poor animal was filmed in 1903 being electrocuted with a 6600 volts charge.
Although these demonstrations were initially successful in sowing fear in the population about the risk of alternating current, Edison eventually stopped them.
By the end of the 1880s, alternating voltage was widely used in metropolitan areas due to the increasing development of the transformer, which made transport of electricity considerably cheaper.
Tesla had many patents in his name whereby he could have earned me a lot of money. He turned out to be a bad businessman. Thus, he sold several of his patent rights to save the financially troubled Westinghouse Electric Corporation.
He never become rich with his inventions. Westinghouse, on the other hand, after the hard times were over, thrived. Today, the company is one of the largest media companies – the CBS Corporation.
Some inventions of Nikola Tesla that we still use today:
The induction motor.
The remote control.
Towards the turn of the 20th Century, Tesla developed a device that was able to communicate via the ether.
His ultimate goal was to extract energy from the ether with this device, which would mean free electricity. The financier of this project, J.P.Morgan, stopped this project immediately when he heard of these plans because free electricity would harm his profit margins.
Around the first decade of the 20th Century, Tesla’s big investors went elsewhere, and so he became oblivious to the general public. In his later years, he lived in relative poverty in a cheap New York Manhattan hotel until his death in 1943.
Two days after his death, the US Office of Alien Property seized all Tesla’s documents and possessions to prevent them from falling into the hands of the enemy (it was in the middle of the Second World War).