Tesla and Edison: The War is Lost

We’ve previously looked at Tesla and Edison fighting the War of the Currents (Part I and Part II). Now we come to the final round in the battle.

Tesla vs Edison cartoon

Two events were major factors in deciding the war of the currents. In 1893 there was a competition to determine who would get the contract to light up the World’s Columbian Exposition. Also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, the six-month-long exposition was to showcase new technology from all over the world. Both the General Electric Company and the Westinghouse Electric Company (powered by Tesla’s alternating current technology) were among the competitors. Edison’s direct current was pitted against Westinghouse’s alternating current. Bidding was brutal as Edison and Westinghouse viciously undercut each other in an attempt to land the plum contract. Other competitors were quickly eliminated, and Westinghouse ultimately won. Tesla’s polyphase alternating current system lit up the fair.

The result was spectacular. Nicknamed the “White City” because of the white stucco buildings surrounding the central pool, the name also could have referred to the brilliant aura created by 92,000 outdoor incandescent lamps that lit the grounds for six months. Including all the interior lamps, the fair required 250,000 modified Sawyer-Mann “stopper lamps,” a competing bulb Westinghouse raced to produce because Edison refused to allow use of his patented long-life bulbs. Edison was not shut out completely, however, as he was able to display several of his own inventions in the showcase electrical building, including the dominating “Edison Tower of Light.”

Because of the success of alternating current at the Chicago World’s Fair, the team of Westinghouse and Tesla also beat out Edison for the next major contract at Niagara Falls. The Niagara River flows north from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, dropping up to 188 feet over some of the most spectacular falls in North America. Engineers had made only limited use of the power of the falling water until the newly formed Cataract Construction Company (led by former Edison Electric Board member Edward Dean Adams) chose to base its new electrical power plant on a dozen Tesla patents. Tesla’s polyphase generator system beat out Edison’s direct current, but Edison won the contract to string electrical wires from Niagara to Buffalo, nearly twenty miles away.

These setbacks effectively removed Edison from the electric power generation business, a process that had already begun back in 1892, when competition and J. P. Morgan’s maneuverings forced Edison to merge his Edison General Electric Company with the Thomson-Houston Company to form the new General Electric. While somewhat bitter at how he had been treated, Edison turned to other pursuits, including iron ore milling and the development of motion picture projectors. Edison was about to become a movie mogul, albeit a reluctant one. Tesla also turned to other pursuits, including Wardenclyffe.

[This is part II of a three part series on Tesla vs Edison in the War of the Currents, all adapted from my book Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World. Also check out my earlier book, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity. Both are available in Barnes and Noble stores nationwide. See links below. Part I of the series can be read here. And here is Part II.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (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. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.

Tesla and Edison: The War of the Currents Continues

As described previously, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla fought what has come to be known as the “war of the currents.” Tesla had developed his complete alternating current induction motor and all the associated transformers, then hooked up with George Westinghouse to compete against Edison’s already established direct current system.

Tesla vs Edison

Edison did not give in easily. He began a public relations campaign to discredit alternating current as too dangerous for public use. He had a point. Alternating current could be raised to incredibly high voltages, whereas direct current was held at relatively low voltages. Edison published pamphlets ominously titled A Warning from the Edison Electric Light Company suggesting alternating current was not safe. He also (falsely) suggested to suppliers and utilities that Westinghouse was in violation of Edison’s patents, and thus it would be unwise to rely on the soon-to-be-departed technology. Engineering societies debated the merits, although sometimes the charges and countercharges seemed more personal than professional, with combatants “fighting tooth and nail” for the future.

The battle between AC and DC also got bloody. While relatively rare, accidents sometimes occurred on the network of naked electrical wires strung on poles set alongside city streets. One particularly gruesome scene occurred when John Feeks, an electrical repairman sent up to remove dead wires, accidentally found a live one and fell into a nest of wires, where he “dangled for more than forty-five minutes.” Streaks of light flashed from his body as spectators gasped in horror below. Reporters raced from the scene to get quotes from Edison on the dangers of alternating current, which he duly provided without knowing whether the wires were AC or his own DC.

Edison also actively lobbied for use of the electric chair to replace the usual means of execution, an overdose of morphine or hanging. He felt the chair would be more humane because it would provide a quicker, cleaner kill. More important, it would use alternating current, further bolstering Edison’s claim that alternating current was too dangerous for humanity. Some members of the committee set up to evaluate the methods were skeptical until Edison sent a letter of support. “I certainly had no doubt after hearing his statement,” one committee member said, and the recommendation was implemented. Unfortunately for Edison, and for the poor axe murderer William Kemmler on which it was first used, the execution did not go smoothly. After supposedly being electrocuted to death, Kemmler suddenly let out a loud cry of pain, to which the attendants responded by turning the power up to full for two minutes, long enough for “the stench of burning flesh” to fill the room.

Edison also allowed electrical engineer Harold Pitney Brown to use his laboratory for a series of experiments. Brown paid neighborhood boys to collect stray dogs, which he then electrocuted in Edison’s lab using Westinghouse’s alternating current. He then wrote letters to the press exclaiming the dangers of that “damnable” alternating current. To denigrate his main competitor completely, Edison called the electrocutions “getting Westinghoused.”

Two huge events were major factors in deciding the war of the currents. More on that in the next installment.

[This is part II of a three part series on Tesla vs Edison in the War of the Currents, all adapted from my book Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World. Also check out my earlier book, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity. Both are available in Barnes and Noble stores nationwide. See links below. Part I of the series can be read here. Here is Part III.]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (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. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.

Third Year Reflections of a Science Traveler

DominicaThis month marks the third year anniversary on the best decision ever made. In 2013 I made the decision to leave my long-time scientific career to become a science traveler. I didn’t leave the science, merely the part that paid well. I took up traveling and writing and in other ways bringing science and history to life. Last year I reflected again on reaching a second anniversary. And suddenly it has been three years. As they say, time flies.

It has been an amazing experience. I’ve seen places I had never thought I would see, met people I never knew existed, and written books I never thought I would write. Along the way I’ve grown as a writer, a traveler, and a person. At least I hope the latter is true.

One of the major uncertainties of a writing life is whether anyone will ever read what you write. I’ve been lucky. That first book on Nikola Tesla published just as I was embarking on this adventure is now into its 7th printing, has been translated into several foreign languages, and is a continuing success (figuratively) flying off the shelves at Barnes and Noble. Because of its success I now have a follow up book on Thomas Edison, which now sits side-by-side in Barnes and Noble with Tesla and has had strong initial sales. And now I’m working on a third book in the same style on my other major interest – Abraham Lincoln. That book should come out in 2017.

When I’m not writing (or reading), I’m traveling. This year saw two epic trips in the sense of adding to my “countries visited” list. Early in the year I took a sailing cruise to the Caribbean. Not one of those huge floating hotel ships, this was a smaller sailing cruise liner with only about 250 passengers. The second was to the Balkan countries of Serbia, Montenegro, and Croatia. While there I got to meet with the Prince and Princess of Serbia (technically they are King and Queen but go by the lower titles due to the politics of their former exile). There were other trips as well, including San Antonio/Carlsbad Caverns and a research visit at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. I’m going back out to Illinois next week to see other Lincoln sites in New Salem, Lincoln (the city), and Bloomington.

There were some glitches this year as well. After decades of generally good health I found myself in and out of hospitals and doctors offices for a variety of mostly unrelated issues. The biggest was eye surgery to remove a tumor (benign!) in my right orbit that had my eye bulging out like Marty Feldman’s Igor from Young Frankenstein. Because of I’m still officially in recovery (surgery was less than a month ago) it led to postponement of a planned October trip to China. No worries, I’ll do it next year.

Speaking of next year, the tentative travel plans include not only the aforementioned China (and South Korea), but hopefully Machu Picchu and one or two of a dozen other possibilities on my list. The Lincoln book I’m writing now should be in the stores next year. As soon as that manuscript is submitted I’ll return to my original Lincoln and science book project, which should put it on a schedule to come out in 2018. I already have the next book topic lined up; more on that when it gets closer.

So on to the fourth year of a Science Traveler life!

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.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.

Thomas Edison and the Talking Doll

Edison talking dollThomas Edison is well known as the inventor of the phonograph. But did you know he also marketed a talking doll? As I note in my book, Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World:

In bit of fancy, Edison and Batchelor made a reproducing mechanism small enough to fit into the torso of a child’s doll. Pulling a string would engage “a small phonograph…with an automatic return motion so that you simply turn always in one direction and it always says the same thing over and over again.”

What a great idea? Think of all the fun young children could have with a talking doll in their playroom in 1890. What a thrill! What an experience!

What a bomb!

Unfortunately, the mini-phonographs were easily damaged in transit and rarely remained in working order. This was perhaps for the best, as the high-pitched, tinny voice, when it worked, shrieked out creepy versions of child’s nursery rhymes.

Okay. Not such a thrill.

The talking dolls were one of many “failures” of Thomas Edison. Even his phonograph was left behind as competitors such as the Victor Talking Machine Company (producer of the Victrola) out-designed and out-competed Edison. The iconic Edison wax cylinders (which I heard in last year’s visit to Menlo Park) were replaced by flat disks featuring Enrico Caruso and other famed singers. Ironically, the nearly deaf Edison insisted on picking out all the music for his phonographs, then refused to put the names of the singers on the disks. In the end, people wanted to listen to famous artists, not famous arias.

What they did not want to listen to was the screechy sounds coming out of the dolls. Kids were more scared than entertained. Luckily, the dolls rarely worked at all, so Edison closed down production after only a few weeks. In addition to what I say in the book, you can read more on the dolls here and see one in person at a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

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. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.

[Daily Post]

Tesla and Edison in Barnes and Noble

I’ve been offline a lot lately due to a major eye surgery and ensuing inflammation. But while I’ve been a bit down and out, my Tesla and Edison books have been in Barnes and Noble bookstores.

Tesla and Edison in BN August 28 2016

Tesla bottom middle; Edison top right

For a while they weren’t being displayed because B&N wanted to promote their ridiculously overwhelming selection of “adult coloring books.” Yes, we’ve reached the point where adults actually have regressed to the point where any words are too many words. Luckily the coloring book phase seems to be winding down and they’ve put out both of my books. So run down to your local store and check them out.

Meanwhile, I’m busy working on my next book in the same style – on Abraham Lincoln!

I’ll write more shortly. The swelling of my eye has gone down enough for me to make short forays onto my laptop, but I should be up and writing full time again in the next few days.

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.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.

Thomas Edison the Movie Mogul

Along with his many other inventions, Thomas Edison invented (or at least marketed) motion picture cameras and films. I cover the history of the inventions in my book, Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World, but one fascinating aspect that most people may not be aware of is that Edison was the first movie mogul.

Black Maria

The first experimental films were shot in the West Orange laboratory, but as motion pictures gradually became more professional, Edison needed a professional studio in which to film. In December 1892, construction began behind Building 4 on a studio that Edison later remembered as “a ghastly proposition for a stranger daring enough to brave its mysteries.” Covered in black tar paper inside and out, it was dubbed the Black Maria after the slang term for the police paddy wagons of the day it resembled. Not coincidentally, it looked like Marey’s “barnlike studio” Edison had seen during his 1889 visit:

“It obeys no architectural rules, embraces no conventional materials, and follows no accepted schemes of color,” boasted the sometimes flamboyant Dickson of the Black Maria. He did admit it had “a weird and semi-nautical appearance.”

The Black Maria was a “fifty-by-eighteen-foot wood building with a twenty-one-foot-high pitched roof.” It also had two rather unique features. The first was the roof: “Half of the roof could be raised or lowered like a drawbridge by means of ropes, pulleys and weights, so that the sunlight could strike squarely on the space before the machine [i.e., the motion picture camera].” The studio had to allow in sunlight, even though it was outfitted with electricity; Edison’s incandescent bulbs were not bright enough for filmmaking, and arc lighting was too harsh. This need for light led to the second odd feature: The whole building was mounted “on a graphite pivot that allowed the staff to turn the studio on a wood track.” As the sun arced across the sky during the day, they simply turned the building to keep pace. Edison wistfully noted in later years how the building could “turn like a ship in a gale.”

Life of Abraham Lincoln still

Using this odd studio, Edison’s team – led by William K. L. Dickson, a natural showman – created thousands of films. Most were short; Fred Ott’s Sneeze was all of 5 seconds long. But eventually they grew to longer, though “longer” meant 10 minutes for The Great Train Robbery and 15 minutes for The Life of Abraham Lincoln.

Motion pictures quickly became a huge money maker for Edison, but just as quickly dropped off in value as competitors focused on longer movies while Edison was distracted by his many other endeavors.

]The above is adapted from Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World, in Barnes and Noble stores and online now. Read more about Thomas Edison and the book by clicking here.]

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. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.

 

Tesla to Edison to Lincoln Redux

Early in the history of Science Traveler I wrote a post called “Tesla to Edison to Lincoln – Connecting the Dots.” It turns out that post was more prophetic than I ever could have imagined.

At the time I was still writing my book on Nikola Tesla, which was released in the summer of 2013. Three years later Tesla is into its 7th printing, is still selling well in Barnes and Noble stores, and has been translated into several foreign languages.

The success of Tesla led the publication of my book on Thomas Edison, which hit Barnes and Noble stores a couple of weeks ago (late July 2016). Future books in the series a possibility.

The popularity of my science series books has inspired the publisher to expand into a series on key historical figures. Among the first to be tackled is Abraham Lincoln. Since I’ve long been a history buff, in particular Abraham Lincoln (I have over 1200 Lincoln books on my shelf), it looks like I’ll be writing the first in the series.

Tesla to Edison to Lincoln!

Tesla Edison Lincoln

I’ll have more details once they get ironed out. The anticipated release date is sometime in 2017, but keep checking back here for updates. And look for my Tesla and Edison books in stores now!

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.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.

Tesla vs Edison – The Battle Begins

Tesla vs Edison cartoonNikola 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:

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Nikola Tesla

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Thomas Edison

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.

Tesla alwaysInterestingly, 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.

Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World

Nikola Tesla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.

Now Available! Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World

Edison: The Inventor of the Modern WorldMy newest book, Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World, is now available.

You can purchase it on the Barnes and Noble website as either the hard cover book or a Nook e-book.

It will also be displayed prominently in the front of Barnes and Noble stores across the country. If you don’t see it yet, be sure to ask for it.

As with Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity, the books are expected to sell out fast so get your first edition while they last. [For Tesla fans, you can get the book for half price this month in honor of his 160th birthday]

Check out this preview of Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget you have only a week left to enter to win free copies of both Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World on Goodreads.

Nikola Tesla

Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.

Thomas Edison is Here!

There was an ominous knock on the door around 7 p.m. last night. By the time I opened it there was nothing to be seen except a package, a manila envelope the same size I generally use to send out books to those who request signed copies via my website. And then it dawned on me – Edison was here!

Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World

I finished the writing of Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World just as summer was turning to fall. Then copy editing, design, printing, scheduling (all thankfully done by my great editorial team and publisher). It seemed it would be forever before I would see the book in print, and now the day had come. I was holding it in my hands.

The book was an advance copy sent by my editor. “Congratulations!,” the card inside said. More copies would come when the printer’s shipment reached the warehouse. That would be in July. Next month. It was finally happening.

I’ve been through this before, of course. Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity followed a similar schedule and my heart raced when I held that first copy. That thrill returns, just as I hope it will for every advance copy of every book I write.

Check out a preview of Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World.

Monday had been a bad day – it seemed everyone had their hand in my pocket, the roof was leaking, and nagging problems just didn’t seem to want to go away. But Tuesday made up for all that. A day later, I’m still thrilled.

I’ll be doing a Goodreads giveaway of both books, Tesla and Edison, shortly so check back soon for details. The Edison book in both hardcopy and e-book formats will be available for pre-order on the Barnes and Noble website any time now, and you’ll find the book in Barnes and Noble bookstores in late July.

Stay tuned!

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.