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Nikola Tesla - Master of Lightning
Videos for Engineers

 - RF Cafe  - RF Cafe Tesla Tower in Russia - RF Cafe

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?

See Nikola Tesla in 19th Century Newspapers, Nikola Tesla - Master of Lightning, and Inventors of Radio: Nikola Tesla, The War of the Currents

Videos for Engineers - RF CafeThis archive links to the many video and audio files that have been featured on RF Cafe.

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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 use of.

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 Currents) - RF CafeThe War of the Currents (aka The Battle of the Currents)

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 batteries.

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             (original 5/7/2012)

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RF Cafe began life in 1996 as "RF Tools" in an AOL screen name web space totaling 2 MB. Its primary purpose was to provide me with ready access to commonly needed formulas and reference material while performing my work as an RF system and circuit design engineer. The World Wide Web (Internet) was largely an unknown entity at the time and bandwidth was a scarce commodity. Dial-up modems blazed along at 14.4 kbps while tying up your telephone line, and a nice lady's voice announced "You've Got Mail" when a new message arrived...

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