Nikola Tesla - Master of Lightning Videos for
Nikola Tesla's "wireless power transmission" experiments, codenamed
"Wardenclyffe," were financed by J. Pierpont Morgan (another notable who was originally
scheduled to travel aboard the Titanic). Does the structure to the right, located
in Russia, look familiar?
I ran across this full-length
video of the documentary titled, "Nikola Tesla - Master of Lightning," which was
aired by PBS in 2000. It is the most extensive visual resource of information on
Tesla that I have seen. Most people, if they have ever even heard of Nikola Tesla,
associate him with gigantic high voltage generators making his hair stand on end,
but his contributions to the world of electricity go far beyond that. Aside from
the lightning machines, he also developed almost single-handedly the basic concept
of alternating current (AC) power generation, distribution, and motors. The battle,
both personally and corporately, with Thomas Edison and his proposed direct current
(DC) system is epic and tragic. Documentaries like this one tend to flourish the
tale a bit with exaggerations that build sympathy for the featured good guy du jour,
so keep that in mind when viewing. A similar documentary on Edison likely conflicts
a bit when relating who tried to hose whom in the AC-DC battle.
One of the most interesting aspects of the long-running contest (aka "The War
of the Currents") Tesla had with Edison was how down and dirty the fight got. If
you think mud slinging in business and politics is something new, wait until you
see how public demonstrations were conducted to "prove" how dangerous one form of
voltage was compared to the other. Actual footage is presented where Edison's camp
electrocuted an elephant and told the grim tale of a convicted prisoner being put
to death via AC electrocution. That, per the purveyor of DC, was inhumanely cruel
when compared to a direct current application of deadly voltage. Maybe Tesla's people
did not respond in kind to the slanderous campaign since the video does not show
anything, but my guess is if you want to see the dirty deeds committed by Tesla's
people (if they existed), you will have to watch the commensurate pro Edison documentary.
In today's world of ubiquitous cellphone, security camera, and camcorder videos
capturing every (seemingly) event happening on Earth (and even in the universe via
telescopic recordings), the uniqueness of witnessing the actual footage of the moment
of lighting of the 1893 World's Fair held in Chicago, IL, and the internal operations
of the Niagara Falls power generation plant is awe-inspiring. Still photographs
(even more proliferous than videos today) were a rarity at the time, so PBS' collection
of and access to such rare movies and stills are an asset advantage they make good
Tesla was the master of public demonstrations with "wow" factor of displays of
electric arcs shooting off his coat to metal spheres spinning wildly on a table
with no apparent means of force to action-at-a-distance that represented a form
of communications that would later be exploited and commercialized by Marconi's
spark gap transmitters. He successfully hobnobbed with leading politicians and wealth
investors in order to gain financial and regulatory backing for his research and
development. Transportation magnate George Westinghouse became one of his greatest
promoters. As a result of Edison's company losing the bid to electrify the 1893
World's Fair, their lawyers managed to get a judge to prohibit the use of any commercially
available single-component incandescent bulb, so Westinghouse, who won the bid,
frantically developed and produced a two-component bulb for use at the fair. Score:
Westinghouse 2, Edison 0. Enjoy the video - all 92 minutes of it.
The War of the Currents (aka The Battle of the
The War of the Currents, also known as the Battle of the Currents, was a historic
event in the late 19th century that pitted two prominent inventors, Thomas Edison
and Nikola Tesla, against each other in a bid to establish the dominant form of
electrical power transmission in the United States. At the center of this battle
was the question of whether direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC) was
the best way to transmit electricity over long distances.
Thomas Edison was a famous inventor, entrepreneur, and businessman who had already
achieved great success with his invention of the incandescent light bulb. Edison
was a staunch supporter of direct current (DC) as the most effective method for
transmitting electricity. Direct current is a type of electrical current that flows
in a single direction and is typically used for low voltage applications such as
On the other hand, Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer,
and physicist who had immigrated to the United States in the early 1880s. Tesla
was an advocate of alternating current (AC) as the most effective method for transmitting
electricity over long distances. Alternating current is a type of electrical current
that changes direction periodically and is typically used for high voltage applications
such as power grids.
The stage was set for the War of the Currents in the late 1880s when a number
of companies, including Edison's General Electric, began developing electric power
stations to provide electricity to homes and businesses. Edison was convinced that
DC was the only way to transmit electrical power safely and efficiently, while Tesla
believed that AC was the future of electrical power transmission.
In 1887, Tesla was hired by the Westinghouse Electric Company to work on the
development of AC power systems. Westinghouse saw the potential of AC power and
recognized Tesla's genius in this area, and so they brought him on board as a consultant.
Edison, who had a vested interest in DC power, was quick to launch a smear campaign
against AC power, claiming that it was unsafe and that it posed a serious threat
to public safety. Edison even went so far as to stage public demonstrations in which
he electrocuted animals using AC power, in an attempt to convince the public that
it was dangerous.
However, Tesla and Westinghouse continued to develop AC power, and by the early
1890s, it had become clear that AC was the future of electrical power transmission.
Tesla's AC motor was a significant breakthrough in this area, as it made it possible
to transmit electrical power over long distances without significant power loss.
Despite this, Edison continued to fight against AC power, and in 1893 he launched
a campaign to discredit AC by introducing the electric chair as a method of execution.
Edison argued that the electric chair should use AC power, claiming that it was
more dangerous than DC power.
However, this backfired on Edison when an electric chair using AC power was used
to execute William Kemmler in 1890. The execution was botched, and Kemmler was subjected
to a prolonged and painful death, which only served to further discredit Edison's
claims about the safety of AC power.
By the early 1900s, AC power had become the dominant form of electrical power
transmission, and Tesla and Westinghouse had won the War of the Currents. However,
the battle had taken a toll on both men, and Tesla's work on AC power had left him
in poor health and financial ruin.
In conclusion, the War of the Currents was a significant event in the history
of electrical power transmission, and it pitted two of the most brilliant minds
of the late 19th century against each other in a battle for supremacy. Despite Edison's
best efforts, AC power emerged as the clear winner, and it remains the dominant
form of electrical power
Posted September 9, 2019
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