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INFO VINE * The History of The War of The Currents: AC vs. DC Power *

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INFO VINE *  The History of The War of The Currents: AC vs. DC Power * Empty INFO VINE * The History of The War of The Currents: AC vs. DC Power *

Post by Paul Tue 13 Feb 2024, 5:09 am

The History of The War of The Currents: AC vs. DC Power

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Photo Courtesy: [Ronald Cox/Energy War/Flickr]
The War of the Currents was a fight between Thomas Alva Edison and Nikola Tesla (with the help of George Westinghouse) that began in the 1880s. It was a series of events that started when they were both trying to bring electricity to the population through power transmission.

However, they got in each other's way by launching personal attacks on one another. It became a personal vendetta they each had against one another until their deaths.
This Energy War has been called "The Second Greatest Conflict In Human History." Second only to our first greatest war, the French Revolution.
At the time, Mr. Edison's direct current (DC) power was the standard for electricity in the United States. The war began with Mr. Telsa mastering alternating current (AC) electricity while Edison's DC system was experiencing serious drawbacks.

Thomas Edison Early in his Career

When Thomas Edison, an American inventor, and businessman, was merely 35 years old, he established the first investor-owned electric utility. It was built in 1882, basing its infrastructure on DC power.

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Photo Courtesy: [Elvirica/iStock]

The DC lighting system was developed in 1870. Yet, it was Edison who mastered using DC to power buildings as well as lighting streets and powering railways with electricity. This large-scale low-voltage DC was marketed by Edison's electric company. 

One of Edison's Power Stations, New York City, NY

One major issue with Edison's DC power system was that the currents could not travel very far. This meant that there needed to be a power station every mile or so to power the area it served.

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Photo Courtesy: [shaunl/iStock]

In large cities like Chicago or New York, this made electricity very expensive to provide to residents and businesses. Maintaining the power stations and the power lines to carry the currents to the substations was also troublesome. It cluttered residential areas, and cities had webs of unsightly powerlines everywhere.

Incandescent Light Bulb 1879

In the years prior to the War of Currents, Edison was known for his invention of the lightbulb. When it came to lighting, Edison and Tesla had experienced some rivalry that was more of a friendly competition until Edison decided to take it to the next level. In 1879, Edison was working on developing an incandescent light bulb. In that same year, Tesla was working on the same project overseas.

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Photo Courtesy: [Mondadori/Getty Images]

The image above is a picture of Edison holding his light bulb in 1910 during an interview where he spoke of his work on the illuminating inventions. A man never willing to be outdone, he told reporters he developed his lightbulb after a supposed 10,000 failed attempts. After doing so, he filed his patent and took the title of inventor of the lightbulb. But that wasn't all that he did. 

Nikola Tesla in 1886

Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American who had moved to the United States in 1884. He came to the U.S. from Paris, where he worked as an engineer in one of Edison's overseas companies.
Early in his career, Tesla had idolized Edison. He believed Edison was a brilliant man who was going to change the world. Tesla wanted to be a part of that. When he first came to the U.S., he once again began working for Edison. Only this time, he worked for him directly. 

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Photo Courtesy: [Roger Viollet/Getty Images]

Edison had said he would pay Tesla $50,000 to fix the issues he had with his DC motor. That was the equivalent of just over $1.4 million today. It was life-changing money that Tesla desperately needed to fund his own inventions.

Yet, shortly after Tesla completed the work, Edison said it was all a joke and had no intentions of paying Tesla. That was the first time (and certainly not the last) Tesla would realize what an unscrupulous man Edison really was. 

Tesla's Illuminating Invention

In the same year Edison patented the light bulb, Tesla was working on developing a lighting system of his own. Although his work wasn't in incandescents but in arc lighting. It was rumored that Edison had caught wind of Tesla's work and was determined not to be beaten by his rival. Tesla was unaware of how Edison felt about him until later years when Edison conned Tesla into working for him for free.

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Photo Courtesy: [Jacques Boyer/Roger Viollet/Getty Images]

There is no way to know exactly how much knowledge of Tesla's work Edison was privy to. However, as could be seen in later years, Edison was all too quick to steal the ideas from Tesla and make them his own. While illuminating the world was a passion of both men, Edison was clearly prepared to win at all costs. 

Tesla Coil, 1891

Tesla shook off his first encounters with Edison and moved on to bigger things. In 1884, he partnered with a man by the name of George Westinghouse.
Westinghouse had his own electric company and was a rival to Edison. Westinghouse was trying to perfect AC power and brought Tesla on to help him at the dawn of the War of the Currents.

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Photo Courtesy: [Albert Harlingue/Roger Viollet/Getty Images]

It was by using AC power that Tesla invented the Tesla Coil. It was a breakthrough that helped him go on to invent other technologies using an AC power supply. His inventions included wireless radios, AC motors, transformers, and remote-controlled devices (a toy boat, to be exact). In his early days working in lighting was what led to his passion for supplying power to the people.

George Westinghouse

George Westinghouse was the founder of his own power company. He was an American inventor and manufacturer. For many years, Westinghouse had disliked Edison. He stated Edison was a savvy businessman but lacked integrity and moral virtue.

In 1886, Westinghouse began competing with Edison using his AC power system. With the help of Tesla, they discovered a way to generate AC power at a voltage that could be used for indoor lighting.

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With the development of transformers, they were able to convert high-voltage AC electricity. This discovery meant they could transmit power over greater distances from the power station.
No longer did a power station need to clutter city streets. This also meant that some rural areas were able to use electricity. Edison was quick to claim that AC power was hazardous and should be outlawed.

The Dawn of the Battle, Westinghouse Electric Co. 1886

In 1886, George Westinghouse founded the Westinghouse Electric Co. He had studied the AC power system that was being developed in Europe at the time. When Tesla moved to America and began working with Westinghouse, the two men knew they were on the precipice of changing the world.

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Photo Courtesy: [Unknown Author/1888 Westinghouse Catalogue/Wikimedia Commons]

Westinghouse was a bit nervous going head to head with the great Thomas Edison. But with Tesla's genius, he felt confident they could make their mark in the electrical business. He hadn't wanted to battle with Edison, however, Edison's ego was what ignited the feud between the men. 

Chicago World’s Fair 1893

The entire War of Currents was battled for many years. At the height of the war, there was a clear winner of the conflict. It was at the Chicago's World Fair in 1893, held to celebrate the 400th anniversary of when Christopher Columbus discovered the New World.

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One company placed a bid to power the fair for $554,000. The other (and the clear winner) bid to light the event for $399,000. But now, we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before you can appreciate who won, you must know about some key people who influenced the entire war. 

The invention of the Rotary Converter, 1888

In 1888, a man named Charles S. Bradley invented the rotary converter. These converters were used to convert AC to DC or DC to AC power as needed. In the early days of the War of the Currents, Bradley knew there would be a need for a solution for converting the two power systems to make a more cohesive transition between the battling currents.

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Photo Courtesy: [Andy Dingley/Wikimedia Commons]

Bradley wasn't on either side of the battle, but he saw an opportunity to get involved. And, of course, to make some money of his own. He knew that municipalities, corporations, and residential developments would choose one of the two power sources. He wanted to provide the solutions when a conversion needed to be made.

Working on the Railway, 1888

The rotary converters were used to provide power for industrial, commercial, and railway electrification. It provided DC power from an AC power source on the railways that had all been designed to operate on DC power.

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DC generators, motors, storage batteries, electric wiring and lighting, and even welders all needed to be converted. As trains began to move from coal-powered to electric-powered, Bradley's invention became more and more necessary.

William Stanley

William Stanley was another key person in the War of the Currents. After Westinghouse had founded his electric company and shortly after bringing Tesla into his business ventures, Stanley helped lay the groundwork for developing the AC power infrastructure.

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Stanley installed the first multi-voltage AC power system in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. With the help of Oliver B Shallenberger, the first commercial AC power system was built in Buffalo, New York.

Oliver Blackburn Shallenberger

Oliver Blackburn Shallenberger was an electrical engineer and inventor who saw the importance of the development of AC power systems. In 1889, he and Stanley worked around the clock to help build this AC infrastructure in Northern New England.

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Photo Courtesy: [Lewis Historical Publishing Company/Wikimedia Commons]

He and Stanley bid to build an electric company in Nigra Falls. With the full backing of Westinghouse, the two men dedicated their careers to this mission. During their ventures, they discovered the first successful AC electrical meter. It was a vital first step in the acceptance of AC power.

Guillaume Duchenne

Shallenberger and Stanley carefully studied the work of Guillaume Duchenne, the man who had first spoken about the development of AC power in the 1850s. At that time, no one had yet successfully developed a way to conduct electricity using AC.

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Photo Courtesy: [Wellcome Collection gallery/Wikimedia Commons]

With the contributions of Duchenne, the development by Tesla, and the financial backing of Westinghouse, Shallenberger, and Stanley succeeded in the mission to power U.S. cities with AC power systems.
Yet, those weren't the only men with their hand in the development of the AC power systems infrastructure in America. The birth of AC power would require the genius of Gramme, Ferraris, and de Ferranti.

Zénobe Gramme

Zénobe Gramme, with the help of his associates, Galileo Ferraris and Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti, began working with concepts that furthered the advancements of AC power in the late 1870s. By the mid-1880s, it was these three men who would work with Tesla to develop transformers.

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It was clear that these transformers were needed to make AC power adaptations a reality. So, with his team of engineers, scientists, inventors, and visionaries, Westinghouse focused his efforts and invested his own money on the AC power infrastructure.

Galileo Ferraris

Galileo Ferraris was one of the three men who worked with Tesla to develop the first transformers used in AC power systems. He was the first to recognize that the voltage needed to be "stepped up" to significantly higher voltages before being dropped to lower voltages for the end-user.

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Ferraris knew this would be the only way to provide power to businesses and residential buildings. The high voltage transfer allowed a central station to generate power for up to seven miles.

Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti

Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti was an electrical engineer from Liverpool who had developed an electrical generator when he was only 16 years old. This young genius was only in his twenties when the War of the Currents took place. Yet, he was an integral part of the advancement.

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He had done less to develop the AC power technology than he did in mastering its use in the United Kingdom. In 1887, while collaborating with Gramme and Ferraris on their developments in the U.S., he was hired by the London Electric Supply Corporation. He applied the "stepped down" approach for AC power adaptation for residential use when he developed the power station at Deptford in the U.K.

New York Blizzard of 1888

While advancements in AC power were being made, another major drawback of Edison's DC power systems was brought to light in March 1888 during a freak snowstorm in New York City. It had been one of the worst the city had ever seen.

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The biggest issue was the impact the storm had on the powerlines that carried the electricity to the people. The entire city lost power because the lines had snapped, and little could be done to restore power. Long after the snow was gone, many remained without power until the lines could be repaired. It was a very slow process.

Thomas Edison on a Phonograph, the Early 1890s

As the war raged on, Edison would not take kindly to having competition in supplying electricity to the masses. Especially after Bradley had invented a way to convert AC/DC power. He immediately began a smear campaign. Not only did he attempt to discredit AC power, claiming it was unsafe, but he also took to speaking ill of both Westinghouse and Tesla.

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Photo Courtesy: [mikroman6/Moment/Getty Images]

During his rants regarding AC power, he stated that the design was inferior. He also claimed that it infringed on the patents behind his DC system. A man named Harold P. Brown agreed with Edison and helped spread the false narrative regarding AC-based power supplies.

Harold Pitney Brown

Harold P. Brown was an electrical engineer who emerged in June 1888 as a crusader for the anti-AC power application. On June 8, 1888, he sent a letter to the New York Post ranting about how AC power was dangerous and should not be used in the United States as a power source.

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Photo Courtesy: [Unknown Author/Electric Railway Review/Wikimedia Commons]

He seemed to have no connection to Edison at the time. But when Edison got word of Brown's disdain for AC systems, the two men began to collude to bad mouth the technology.
While Edison had backed Brown's claims that AC power was dangerous, people were quick to point out neither of the men had any scientific evidence to support those claims. As Brown ranted on, rumors spread that he was being controlled by Edison.

Westinghouse’s Letter to Edison, 1888

When the attacks on AC power systems began, Westinghouse wrote a letter to Edison on June 7, 1888. The day before Brown had written his letter to the New York Post.
Westinghouse attempted to defuse the situation and invited Edison to meet with him in Pittsburgh. He wrote, "I believe there has been a systemic attempt on the part of some people to do a great deal of mischief." He went on to say that whoever was attempting to "create as great a difference as possible" between the electric companies they each owned should stop.

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He hadn't implicated Edison directly but made pleas for Edison to do his part in stopping the person bad mouthing his company. Edison replied by thanking him for the invitation but went on to say he didn't have time to meet with Westinghouse because his "laboratory work consumes the whole of [his] time."

Thomson-Houston Electric Company, Another AC Rival

It was no secret to the public that Edison and Tesla were beginning to go mad over their desire to prove they could provide a better power system. Tesla spent his days trying to advance his discoveries in the lab. Edison rallied even more support by colluding with another one of Westinghouse's rivals, the Thomson-Houston Electric Company.

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Photo Courtesy: [Digital Collections of Helsinki University Library/Wikimedia Commons]

The Edison Electric Company, Brown, and Thomson-Houston worked together to limit the use of AC. They attempted to pass legislation to restrict AC voltages and installations. 

Alternators at Westinghouse Electric, Fall 1888

In the fall of 1888, Tesla and Westinghouse had continued to make advancements in their AC power systems and began using small alternators driven by belts to efficiently power their plants. Unfortunately, two people at one of the plants died in an accident.

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Photo Courtesy: [Bettmann/Getty Images]

As a result, Brown anonymously claimed that 30 men had died at the plant in a letter to The Electrical Engineer. Westinghouse was flabbergasted that the attacks on his company escalated with such an egregious claim.

Westinghouse cooperated in the investigation the magazine had made about the claim. They reported on the facts of the tragic event of the two deaths and not the false reports Brown had made of 30 men dying. 

Power Going Underground, 1888

Despite the many false claims and accusations regarding the safety of AC power, the truth was, people had been hurt. Tesla and Westinghouse continued to make advancements to make their power source as safe as possible. Edison made no such attempts.

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In many U.S. cities, the solution was to begin burying the wires unground to make them safer. However, in New York, legislation was passed that the utilities were not allowed to move their wires underground. Even though the residence of the city felt as though the wires were an eyesore, and many were still upset about the power loss from the snowstorm in March 1888.

Execution by Electricity, 1888

In that same year, execution by electricity had emerged as a humane way to kill both man and beast. The public had mixed feelings about whether it was humane or not.
Since there was so much controversy around the practice, Edison decided to speak out about the practice. But instead of taking a side, he simply stated scientifically speaking, the best way to electrocute someone was to use AC.

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Photo Courtesy: [Unknown author/Scientific American/Wikimedia Commons]

He knew this controversy would lead many to join his anti-AC campaign. He had hoped to end the War of the Currents and have DC power declared the best source of electricity.

Associating AC and Westinghouse with the Electric Chair, 1889

By the beginning of 1889, New York had passed a criminal procedural code regarding the use of electrocution for prisoners sentenced to death. Although the law did not specify which power source was most appropriate to use.

A panel of doctors and lawyers came together to create an informal society called the New York Medico-Legal Society. Their purpose was to work out the details of how to electrocute someone humanely. They discuss what the appropriate power source would be and at what voltage. They conducted these experiments on horses.

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Photo Courtesy: [Unknown Author/New York Medico-Legal Journal/Wikimedia Commons]

The society's chairman was Frederick Peterson, a former assistant and long-time friend of Brown. He attempted to influence others on the panel to declare that AC power was the best way to execute someone.
However, in November of that year, the society had stated that 3,000 volts of electricity were needed to effectively and humanely kill someone. Yet, it was decided that any type of electricity could be used. 

Brown's Collusion Exposed, 1889

The New York Sun ran a headline on August 25, 1889, that read: "For Shame, Brown! – Disgraceful Facts About the Electric Killing Scheme; Queer Work for a State's Expert; Paid by One Electric Company to Injure Another."

Up to this point, it had remained a well-kept secret that Brown and Edison were colluding to defame the Westinghouse Electric Company and AC power. While Brown had spoken out against AC power, he had remained anonymous when he wrote to papers and other publications about the dangers of AC.

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Photo Courtesy: [NY Sun/Wikimedia Commons]

It was revealed that it was he who had attempted to discredit Westinghouse through a series of letters that were stolen from Brown's desk. The letters were between him, Thomson-Houston, and Edison Electric. One letter even contained a pay verification note of $5,000 paid to him by Edison.

The letters also proved Edison's direct involvement with the defamation. Yet, Brown was not deterred from his actions. He said he made every effort to expose Westinghouse. He felt that AC power was dangerous even though there was no evidence it was more harmful than DC power. 

Power Stations of the Late 1800s

While Edison and Brown worked together to make false claims about the AC power system, what people were saying about DC power stations did the most damage. Being a neighbor of the power station brought down property value because no one wanted to deal with the sound and unsightly views.

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Photo Courtesy: [Bettmann/Getty Images]

As you can see in this image, the New York Edison Company Power Plant smoke-stacks were large, generated a lot of noise, and took up a lot of space. There were no benefits of being neighbors with an Edison power plant. Even the substations were a nuisance to the surrounding residents and businesses. 

Safety Issues 1890s

While Westinghouse and Tesla battled Edison for the lucrative rights to electrify the cities in America, safety became a major concern to the public. Thomson-Houston was so concerned about the hazards of AC power that they developed a lightning arrestor that could shut down the system in a power surge.

Westinghouse did not have such technology. For that reason, it was easy for Edison and Thomson-Houston to point out how unsafe AC power supplies were to the general population.

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Although, it was clear that DC power supplies posed safety concerns of their own. The New York skies were littered with powerlines carrying high voltage. If one snapped, as they did in the storm of 1888, it posed a concern of what the live wire might do to a bystander.

One thing was very clear, both power sources created a hazard to the public that would need to be addressed.

Electricity Transformers (still used today)

Even though Edison was working to discredit Tesla, Westinghouse, and AC power supplies, Tesla worked on solutions much as C.S. Bradley had done. In the early 1890s, with the invention of the Tesla Coil also came the advancement of transformers. The very transformers we see at the top of power poles today.

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Tesla took his work with Gramme and Ferraris to improve upon the transformers they had developed in the dawn of AC power systems. These new and improved transformers were how Tesla was able to take high voltage and transform it into low currents more suitable for transmitting power safely. 

Even though Edison was focused on smear campaigns rather than advancing his own DC systems, Tesla didn't waste too much time talking about Edison. But he would often comment about how Edison was more worried about gossip than invention. He reportedly said it was a waste of a brilliant mind to focus on speaking ill of others. 

The War's Toll on Thomas Edison

Edison was a proud man. The stress the War of the Currents placed on him took its toll on his appearance. A man still in his thirties, he looked like he was aging more rapidly than his rivals, and the press noticed.

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Dark circles, deep wrinkles, and the look of a man who had been to battle in a real war caused people to wonder if Edison was a well man. The Currents War brought the worst out in Edison and that may have been the cause of his premature aging. 

Tesla the Eccentric

Tesla, an eccentric man who reportedly slept less than two hours a day, was also known to be a bit off. While it didn't seem to take much away from his appearance, the public knew he was odd.

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However, Tesla didn't care what people thought of him. Unlike Edison, he wasn't worried about public scrutiny. He wasn't even in it for the money. His only motive was to provide scientific advancement to the very society that had begun to reject him. 

At the Height of the War, 1891

As the 1880s closed and the 1890s began, it seemed that AC power was finally getting recognized as a safe power source, despite the efforts of Brown, Thomson-Houston, and Edison. AC was catching up to DC in the War of the Currents to become the preferred power source in America.

That was until a series of unfortunate accidents involving four-line workers, a New York fruit merchant, and the two men who had worked at Westinghouse who had been killed. The Board of Electrical Control had declared that AC power was, in fact, quite dangerous.

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Photo Courtesy: [D. Dumon/Wikimedia Commons]

Sadly, a Western Union lineman had gotten his foot tangled in a power line and was electrocuted to death high above the city streets for anyone nearby to see. It was never determined whether it was a DC or AC line he had touched. But the negative publicity was directed towards AC power supplies. It was a blow for AC power and supporters like Tesla and Westinghouse.

Henry Villard

Just when it seemed that the propaganda against Westinghouse was working, the War of the Currents was beginning to wind down. But it wasn't because there had been a clear winner. It was because Edison himself began to step back from the electric power business.

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Rumors of a pending merger of Edison's electric companies began to circulate when Edison's trusted friend, Henry Villard, had told people that Edison spoke of retiring. It was meant to be kept a secret, but Villard was eager to spread the news. Reportedly he leaked the rumors for financial gain when he told his friend J.P. Morgan.

Edison Machine Works

Without knowing he had been sold out by his friend, Edison gladly stepped down and allowed Villard to become president of both Edison General Electric and Edison Machine Works. With Edison out of the way, Villard began the mergers of several small utility companies. 

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These mergers also included one very large electricity provide, Thomson-Houston. The only problem was that Edison still had the majority of the decision-making rights and would need to sign off on any significant merger of the company.

J.P. Morgan

J.P. Morgan was another shrewd businessman that Edison had known and worked with for years. Edison had gone to Morgan for financial advice and had even requested funding from the man he thought was a friend.

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Unfortunately, karma was about to find Edison for the many years of his unscrupulous business practices. Morgan had convinced Edison the merger was a good idea and encouraged him to sign off on the deal. It was a deal that would make Morgan a significant amount of money.

When Edison realized what had happened, he put on a brave face for the media. Yet, in private, the man was quite bitter about the turn of events.

The Merger, 1892

As each year of the War of the Currents continued, mergers of smaller electric companies began to reduce competition. In 1892, the merger between Edison Electric and Thomson-Houston took people by surprise. The two companies formed General Electric (GE). GE went on to become the multinational conglomerate we know today.

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The merger in 1892 made the new company the most dominant electricity provider in the U.S., giving them three-quarters of the electrical business at the time. It seemed that DC power was going to win the war.

The image shown here is the GE Power Station and office complex in Schenectady, New York, 1896. It was the largest utility provider complex at the time. 

General Electric, 1893

In the late 1880s to early 1890s, GE began to merge (or take over) as many smaller electric companies as it could, and Edison was encouraged to merge all of his business ventures. Edison General Electric Company eventually consolidated with his other business ventures, including Edison Lighting Company and Edison Machine Works. It was J.P. Morgan who had convinced Edison to merge those companies.

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Photo Courtesy: [Souvenir Photo Company/Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images]

By the end of 1893, GE had become the dominant force it still is today. These mergers would leave Edison with only one company to manage without other business partners, Edison Illuminating Company. That is the company that would later become Consolidated Edison, widely known as ConEd.

Charles Proteus Steinmetz

With Edison out of the game, it seemed that AC power had won the War of the Currents. Yet, GE was not about to let AC dominate DC power.
GE focused its efforts on promoting DC electricity. Now that GE was the dominant force in electric power, it seemed that AC had an ill-fated end awaiting.

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However, in the years after the mergers, a man by the name of Charles Proteus Steinmetz, a Prussian mathematician, was one of the first people to understand AC power from a mathematical standpoint.
As a result, GE began signing contracts to build AC transmission lines and transformers. With the help of Steinmetz, GE built a team of talented engineers to improve the designs of AC power systems.

Niagra Falls Power Company, 1897

GE had a specific reason for building AC power stations once they realized how lucrative it was as a source of electricity. It was cheaper to provide AC power, and they could charge the same rates.

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That was when GE placed Niagra Falls in its sights in hopes to win a bid to build an electric power station at that location. However, it was Westinghouse who won the bid for a power station at Niagra Falls.

Nikola Tesla at Niagra

Once Westinghouse had won the bid at Niagra, just four short years after placing the winning bid to power Chicago World’s Fair 1893, it was clear that AC had won the War of the Currents. Westinghouse knew he would never have had the success that he did without the help of Nikola Tesla.

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Today, backlit by rays of light overlooking Niagra Falls, is a statue of Telsa to honor his great achievements. The mist from the falls illuminates the beams of light to make the statue one of the most beautiful sights at the falls.

Buffalo, New York: Lafayette Square, 1896

In the year before winning the bid for Niagra Falls, Westinghouse also had several smaller yet significant successes. One of which was the bid to light the city of Buffalo, New York.

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On November 16, 1896, Westinghouse signed a contract to light up Lafayette Square in Buffalo with AC power from the Niagra Falls Power Station. Seems that the Powers That Be knew Westinghouse would succeed in his bid for Niagra. 

The Decline of DC Power

Slowly AC power stations took over where DC power plants had once been. Well into the 20th century, several U.S. cities still used DC lines. Yet, in 1998 ConEd began eliminating DC service to its customers, converting the AC power.

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Photo Courtesy: [Noah Friedlander/Wikimedia Commons]

By 2006, there were only 60 ConEd customers still using DC power. On November 14, 2007, ConEd shut down its last DC distribution station. Today, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is one of the last utilities to still offer DC power and only in San Francisco (mostly for their elevators).


ConEd never batted an eye when it came to switching to AC power. Decades after Edison stepped away from the electric business and long after his death, AC-powered advancements made sense even to the (once) DC powerhouse.

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The United States was one of the last countries to turn off most of its DC power stations. In the U.K., modern AC power systems were built in the 1980s. And in 1981, the last DC station was decommissioned. 

Edison’s Admission, 1908

By 1897, when Westinghouse was the clear winner of the War of the Currents, Edison was still known as a wildly successful inventor, entrepreneur, and businessman. Yet, the feud between him, Tesla, and Westinghouse still ate at him.

While he had left the electric business completely after his retirement, he remained the chief stockholder of Edison Electric Illumination of New York. He did this to finance his iron ore refining plant.

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In 1908, Edison had lunch with George Stanley, the son of William Stanley, the AC transformer inventor. During the meal, Edison leaned in and said, "Tell your father I was wrong." A clear admission that he now recognized AC power and the superior power source. 

Tesla's Hydro-Electic Power Plant in Europe, 1908

That same year, Tesla was still working on advancing AC power throughout the world. In collaboration with other scientists, he developed the first hydroelectric power plant off the gorge of Sićevačka near Niš.

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It was the first in Europe and one of the largest in the world. Tesla's dream was to provide free electricity to the people. He was eager to work on whatever project he could to advance his ambitions.

Tesla at the End of His Career

Tesla was nine years younger than Edison but worked decades longer than he had. Tesla was a man with a passion for technological advancement.

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Unlike Edison, he was never in it for fame or money. He even discovered that a man was using his patents and instead of getting upset, he simply stated, "Let him use them. He's doing good work."

Tesla, the Year He Died, 1943

Tesla passed away on January 7, 1943. Sadly, Tesla died penniless and alone. Edison had scammed him, defamed him, and even stole many of his ideas and inventions.

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He was never given the recognition he deserved for all that he did for modern technology. He invented X-rays, radar, wireless transmissions, and electricity, to name only a few. It's safe to say, this man changed our lives for the better. 

The First Electric Car, Invented by Edison, 1895

There is some justice besides the fact that Edison eventually admitted the superiority of AC power. Edison was the first to develop an electric car. It didn't drive very far, but it ran solely on battery power.

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Due to its limitations, it wasn't well-received by people and never made it to the mass assembly line. Yet, it is a bit ironic that one of Edison's innovative technologies, created a hundred years before its time, is now on the road; a completely electric car - named Tesla.

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