A short history of DC and AC

Nicola Tesla as a young, 28-year-old Serbian Engineer arrived in the US in 1884 with a recommendation letter to see Mr. Thomas Alva Edison, who as an inventor and business man propagated the features of Direct Current (DC). Edison hired Tesla who claimed that Edison promised him $50,000 if he succeeded with the mission to improve their existing DC generation plants.

Young Nicola achieved the task beyond expectation and improved the efficiency of Edison’s synchronous motors. He tried to persuade Mr. Edison to also consider using Alternating Current (AC), as it would be much easier to transmit at long distances. Several months after Edison employed him, Tesla announced that his work was successfully completed. When Tesla asked to be paid however, Edison seemed astonished. He explained that the offer of $50,000 had been made in jest. “When you become a full-fledged American you will appreciate an American joke”, Edison said. Shocked and disgusted, Tesla immediately resigned.

Word began to spread that a foreigner of unusual talent was digging trenches for the ever-increasing sizes of DC cables in the City to stay alive. After another disappointment his luck was about to change.

Mr. A.K. Brown of the Western Union company, agreed to invest in Tesla’s idea for an AC motor. “The motors I built there,” said Tesla, “were exactly as I imagined them”. Tesla quickly developed all the components for the system of AC power generation and transmission that is used universally throughout the world today. But the struggle to introduce it commercially was only just beginning.

An adventurous Pittsburgh industrialist named George Westinghouse, inventor of railroad air brakes, heard about Tesla’s invention and thought it could be the missing link in long-distance power transmission. He came to Tesla’s lab and made an offer, purchasing the patents for $60,000, which included $5,000 in cash and 150 shares of stock in the Westinghouse Corporation. He also agreed to pay royalties of $2.50 per horsepower of electrical capacity sold. With more inventions in mind, Tesla quickly spent half of his newfound wealth on a new laboratory.

With the breakthrough provided by Tesla’s patents, a full-scale industrial war erupted which would’ve determined whether Westinghouse’s AC current or Edison’s DC current would be the chosen technology for industrial development in the U.S.

All fears and misconceptions had been defeated by Nicola and from 1892, the electrification of the US using the AC system began in earnest, despite Mr. Edison’s abortive attempts to discredit AC as very dangerous during various demonstrations, one of which included killing an elephant with high AC Voltage.

The Columbian Exposition opened on May 1, 1893. That evening, President Grover Cleveland pushed a button and a hundred thousand incandescent lamps illuminated the fairground’s neoclassical buildings. This “City of Light” was the work of Tesla, Westinghouse and twelve new thousand-horsepower AC generation units located in the Hall of Machinery. In the Great Hall of Electricity, the Tesla polyphase system of alternating current power generation and transmission was proudly displayed. For the twenty-seven million people who attended the fair, it was dramatically clear that the power of the future was AC.

In 1893, Tesla’s childhood dream of harnessing the power of the great natural wonder, the Niagara Falls, became a reality when Westinghouse was awarded the contract to create the powerhouse. The worries of the investors were unwarranted and the first power reached Buffalo at midnight, November 16, 1896. Even the Edison systems converted to alternating current after Tesla’s successful Niagara Project.

In America, no one realizes the enormous benefit the country gained from the arrival of this penniless migrant Nicola Tesla. Imagine, if Nicola Tesla for some reason ended up in Argentina, Brazil or Australia and had the luck of running into someone like George Westinghouse? This begs the question, “who would be the world power today? “

There’s no doubt that Nicola was a tremendous inventor who stood on the shoulders of giants like Ampere, Volt, Hertz, Webber and Maxwell.

Thanks to Tesla, the Robber Barons where unsuccessful with stock market manipulation etc. with the intention of starving out Westinghouse and buying the Tesla patents. Thanks in part to Tesla, this did not happen. Westinghouse called on the inventor, pleading for an escape from the initial contract that gave Tesla generous royalties. In a magnanimous and history-making gesture, Tesla said he tore up the contract. He was, after all grateful to the one man who had believed in his invention. The survival of Westinghouse with his inventions were far more important for human kind than him owing Millions. He was convinced that greater inventions lay ahead. The Westinghouse Electric Company was saved for future triumphs. Tesla, although sharing the glory, was left forever afterward in recurring financial difficulties.

Nicola Tesla died penniless in a New York Hotel in 1943.

Credit  to www.pbs.org/tesla/ll/ll_america.html
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Quotes of Nicola Tesla
Our virtues and our failings are inseparable, like force and matter. When they separate, man is no more.

The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane.

The present is theirs; the future, for which I really worked, is mine.

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