History, Personal, Uncategorized, Writing Project Wednesday

Writing Project Wednesday: Tesla, Edison, and The War of Currents

While the feud between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison predates my novel-in-progress, it’s still a fascinating story that few people are familiar with in present day. If you’re a younger person, you’ve probably seen The Oatmeal’s lengthy comic which summarizes Tesla’s life and also mentions the famous feud. You can see that full comic here.

I’m going to summarize the issues and introduce you to the major players in The War of Currents. For an extended look at the issues, I recommend Tesla Vs Edison by Nigel Cawthrone, a well-researched book that really covers this issue in depth. Eventually, I’m going to do a post ranking all these different Tesla biographies since I’ve read so many of them.

Ok so first things first as we dive into The War of Currents:

-This is Nikola Tesla. Nikola Tesla was a genius inventor who was born in Serbia in 1856. He arrived in America in June of 1884. At this time, he had already been experimenting with the alternating current (AC) motor. After he failed to raise money to back his invention, he accepted an offer from Charles Batcherlor to go and work for the Edison company in New York.

-This is Thomas Edison. Thomas Edison was a genius inventor who was born in Ohio in 1847. Edison either invented or improved upon a number of things we still use today like the lightbulb. In 1884 his electric company was busy lighting up New York with direct current (DC) power.

-Nikola Tesla went to work for Thomas Edison in 1884 and stayed for nearly a year. All the while, Tesla continued to work on his AC motor.

-When Tesla left Edison’s employ, he became to file his own patents. Tesla applied for patents on his AC motors, which were ultimately granted in 1888.

-This is George Westinghouse. George Westinghouse was an inventor turned entrepreneur who was born in New York in 1846. Westinghouse invented the air-operated brake for railroad cars. In 1885, Westinghouse decided to develop an AC power system. In 1888, Westinghouse purchased Tesla’s AC motor patents. Tesla then became a consultant with the Westinghouse Electric Company.

-Meanwhile, Westinghouse and Edison were fighting The War of Currents with their rival electric companies and rival power systems.

-Edison claimed that AC power was dangerous. In February 1888, Edison published an attack on Westinghouse and AC.

-Enter a fourth player, Harold P. Brown. Brown was an electrical engineer who also published an attack on Westinghouse and AC power in June of 1888. Brown knew he needed an ally so he called on Edison, who accepted.

-Brown then began to stage demonstrations that involved shocking animals with DC and AC power. Brown electrocuted dogs, calves, and horses to prove his point that AC was dangerous.

-In 1888, New York adopted electrocution as its preferred method to administer capital punishment.

-Brown was then hired by the prison system of New York to design its electrical equipment. Naturally, he decided to use the Westinghouse AC generators.

-In May of 1889, William Kemmler was convicted of murder and was set to become the first person to be executed by electrocution. Kemmler’s lawyers protested that electrocution was an inhumane punishment and the defense team began to dig into Brown’s background which later revealed that Brown was working with Edison. Nevertheless, the sentence was upheld and Kemmler was executed in August of 1890.

-By 1890, The War of Currents largely began to wind down. The Panic of 1890 caused by the collapse of Barings Bank in London created havoc for both Edison and Westinghouse. Faced with financial trouble, Edison General Electric and Thomas-Houston merged, Edison was dropped from the name, and the new company become General Electric. At this point, Edison also stepped away from the electric lighting business to focus on other things. By the end of the century, AC would become the undisputed winner in The War of Currents. The rivalry between Tesla and Edison continued for the rest of Edison’s life, though not quite at the same magnitude.

* Some of you may have noticed I included AC/DC’s logo in my title image for this week’s Writing Project Wednesday. The story goes that Angus and George Young noticed the initials AC/DC on their sister’s sewing machine and thought that would be a cool name for a band!

Next week, I’m going to talk about one of Colorado Springs’ creepiest unsolved murders!


Personal, Writing, Writing Project Wednesday

Writing Project Wednesday: Nikola Tesla and Elon Musk’s Tesla Car

I haven’t talked about my writing that much on the blog lately. But, yes I am still writing! Slowly, but surely. I’m actually still working on my historical fiction novel about Tesla. Nikola Tesla, the inventor, not the car (more on that in a sec). I’ve been working on this book for five years now! Eek! Off and on because I wrote a draft of another book and worked on an older book during that time, but five years still.

One thing I find a lot is that most people haven’t heard of Nikola Tesla the inventor. The Tesla car, absolutely! But the genius inventor? Not so much. Internet cartoonist The Oatmeal has a great primer on Tesla here, if you’re curious.

Credit: The Oatmeal

In my new series, Writing Project Wednesday, I’m going to be talking about my writing projects a lot more going forward. Specifically, all of the random research that goes into them. Even if you’re not writing historical fiction, you’re almost always going to have to do a boatload of research and become an armchair expert on something or the other like knitting needles or postage stamps. Seriously, there is no escape.

I’ve always said, if going to school and accumulating degrees was a career, I’d probably be doing that. I LOVE learning stuff. I LOVE reading (duh) and I LOVE falling down rabbit holes on the internet on semi-obscure subjects (I’m looking at you Jonestown) so being a writer is a good fit. Another thing I really love doing, is teaching people. Thus, this new series!

Ok, back to Tesla and the Tesla car. One incorrect assumption I hear a lot is that people think the Tesla car was invented by a guy named Tesla…thus the confused train of thought I see pulling into the station when I talk about my book. The process goes something like this:

  • Light of Recognition: Oh I’ve heard of Tesla! That’s cool you’re writing about the car, it’s so popular right now. You know my neighbor has one. Did you know it can drive itself?
  • Dawning Confusion: Wait, you said historical fiction? But that doesn’t make sense, the company can’t be more than fifteen years old…
  • Apologetic Murmuring and Appreciative Nod: Oh, ok so there was an actual guy named Tesla. My mistake. I thought you were talking about the car. You said he was an inventor? Did he invent the car? Your project sounds cool by the way!

So many conversations roll like this, I’m honestly surprised when someone knows I mean Nikola Tesla and then can name an invention of his. That person immediately becomes at least 20% cooler in my mind. Sorry, not sorry.

Without further ado, allow me to give you the facts and unravel the mystery of Nikola Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Tesla car!

-This is Nikola Tesla. Nikola Tesla was a genius inventor who was born in Serbia in 1856 and died in New York in 1943. Nikola Tesla developed the AC current motor in the 1880s, which later put him at war with Thomas Edison and his Direct Current (DC) design. He also invented or conceptualized a bunch more things. A cloud of conspiracy surrounds him to this day.

-This is Elon Musk. Elon Musk is a businessman who was born in South Africa in 1971 and is still alive and kicking and currently dating Johnny Depp’s ex-wife, Amber Heard.

-Tesla, Inc. is an American car company founded in 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. Elon Musk is the face of the company as its current CEO. Fun fact about the logo: Elon Musk said it is intended to represent the cross-section of an electric motor!

-This is the Tesla Roadster, the first Tesla car. It used an Alternating Current (AC) induction motor so they named the company and the car after Nikola Tesla since the car’s motor is descended from Tesla’s original design.

-This is the extremely popular Model S. It also runs on an AC induction motor. It is the new status symbol of wealthy people who care about the environment and also want to drive a cool car. I want one, too. Elon, if you feel like sending me a Model S, I will gladly take it off your hands! Any color, my friend!

tl;dr Nikola Tesla was an inventor who invented the AC motor. The founders of Tesla named the car and the company after him because they use an AC induction motor in their cars that is modeled after Nikola Tesla’s invention patented in 1882.

Next week, I’m going to talk about lightning!