Nikola Tesla was a sometimes eccentric genius who changed the world. Thomas Edison was a sometimes eccentric genius who changed the world. Wait, can both of those be true? Yes, and here’s why.
As I’ve written before, Tesla and Edison were two very different men of invention. Tesla liked to work alone and think big, while Edison commanded an “invention factory” and tinkered improvements incrementally. Tesla dressed impeccably and received formal college education, while Edison dressed frumpily and had almost no formal education. Tesla focused on inventing and let others try to commercialize his work; Edison focused on commercializing his work quickly, often before it was even ready.
On the other hand, both were hard workers and both helped bring new technologies into existence. And while we often think we know all about the two men, each gives us a few surprises, as these two prior posts show:
It’s common for fans of Tesla to dismiss Edison, and vice versa. In reality their lives overlapped only briefly along one type of technology – AC vs DC power. Tesla (with George Westinghouse) won that battle. But outside of that issue their lives went in different directions. Tesla made significant advances in radio, wireless and renewable energy, neon lighting, rotary engines, bladeless turbines, and robotics, among others. Edison got into phonographs, film making and projection, iron ore milling, Portland cement, and a domestic source of rubber.
Interestingly, both had a connection to science fiction. Tesla’s friend Hugo Gernsback (after whom the science fiction Hugo Awards are named) adapted many of Tesla’s ideas and inventions in his Amazing Stories and other series. And Thomas Edison? Well, Edison began writing a science fiction novel himself, though he never quite got around to finishing it.
In 2013 I was honored to write a book about Nikola Tesla. Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity is now into its 7th printing and still selling well in Barnes and Noble stores, as well as translations around the world. This year, 2016, my new book on Thomas Edison is in the stores. Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World hit shelves in late July.
And now the battle is on. Can Edison beat out Tesla in the marketplace? Or will Tesla win the battle of the books? Frankly, I think both men – and both books – have a place in the world. Both made huge contributions to society along largely different paths. Both men are worth learning more about. I hope you’ll read both books.
David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.