Friday, March 21, 2014

Mean Mr. Edison

10 Ways Edison Treated Tesla Like a Jerk

Thomas Edison has over a thousand patents in his name. Some of them
are even based on his own ideas. But more often than not, he was
working off another great innovator’s findings, and tinkering until he
produced something that could make a buck or two. He is often praised
for having invented a number of household items we take for granted,
and couldn’t live without. But considerably less credit is actually give
 to the genius scientists and inventors who worked under his employ to
make him rich (and a household name). One of those men is Nikola Tesla,
who got an incredibly short end of the stick, and whose brilliance often
goes unacknowledged and under-praised beneath Edison’s blinding
overcast. Here are ten ways in which Edison was a real jerk to Tesla.
Towards the end of Edison’s life, he was quoted as saying he wished he
respected Tesla and his work more than he had. Too bad, at that point the
damage had been done; Tesla died broke and lonely, while Edison died
wealthy and with great self-esteem. While they had worked together
Edison had often called his ideas "impractical" or mocked them (if he 
wasn't plain threatened by them). It seemed Edison knew that he had
this brilliant young mind under his thumb from the moment he came to
America to work for him. (At that point he already had a few patents in
his name, for devices that operated by rotating magnetic fields.)
Driven by Greed
Tesla once criticized Edison by saying in a New York Times interview, “He had
a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting
himself entirely to his inventor’s instinct and practical American sense.”
Wheras Tesla was an impassioned engineer who seemed to be utterly fascin-
ated by the technical aspects of his work. He had a photographic memory, could
memorize entire books, and used to have literal flashes of genius where he’d
conceive the solution to a problem, or visualize the detailed schematics of a
device he’d yet to invent. Edison insisted on developing (or replicating and
patenting) devices that had some practical utility (something that could make
him money), never just science for purely science.
Mocked Tesla’s Line of Thinking
Tesla Coil1
Not only did he call some of Tesla’s brilliant ideas impractical, or have
potential inventions of his shut down, he just didn’t seem to value Tesla’s
mind. Tesla, who worked late into the night, remained celibate until his
death at 86, was an eccentric and often obsessed over his work. Edison,
however, was more socially functional (well, he had a 16-year-old wife,
if that counts as proof), and didn’t take Tesla often highly esoteric
comments entirely seriously.
Took Credit for the Fluoroscope
Edison Sketch
The fluoroscope – a device for producing X-ray images – is something
Tesla had been working on prior to Edison’s pig-headed dabbling. In
the process, Edison managed to give his assistant terminal cancer
(who had to have his arms removed before he ultimately died),
and he almost blinded himself. But he sure got that patent all right.
Wouldn’t Pay Up
Edison backed out of paying Tesla $50,000 to fix his DC motor – which
Tesla did with great ease. He managed to turn an inefficient device into
something incredibly efficient that saved Edison all sorts of money (well
more than he agreed to pay Tesla). All he said was that Tesla failed to
“understand the American sense of humor” (Tesla was a Serbian im-
migrant). More like he failed to realize how much of a stingy two-timer
Edison was. Edison offered to up his pay from $18 a week to all of $25.
Tesla, not a moment too soon (but far too many too late), resigned.
Thereafter he wound up digging ditches, before starting his own
company and accepting investments to do some experiments in
his own right.

Meddling Fool
Edison has a Medal Named After Him, Which Tesla Was Awarded.
The Edison Medal is presented yearly by a group called IEEE, or 
the “Institute of Electrical Engineers” (a group of Edison’s friends)
 It is an outright slap in the face that Edison’s name is paraded by
an award in the field (one he is not truly a part of) of which Tesla is
an exceptional, shining example. A greater slap in the face still was
when Tesla was awarded the Medal in 1916.
Early Radar Technology Laughed Off
Ll Rad Tescoil02
If Edison hadn’t deemed one of Tesla’s most crucial radio wave-base
innovations to be “impractical” back during World War I– when he first
proposed plans for such–countless lives could have been saved for
having the advantage of being able to detect enemy submarines. Of
course it would be actualized until decades later. But just to think of
what damage Edison’s ego-driven meddling has cost time and again
is infuriating.
Fought against Tesla’s AC Power
Simply put Edison (with a few other moguls on his side) didn’t want to see 
Tesla’s Alternate Current succeed, because it posed a (fiscal) threat to the
viability of his Direct Current (which Tesla had previously souped up for
him). A bitter public battle took place, with George Westinghouse of the 
Westinghouse Company on Tesla’s side. Edison sought to use spineless
scare tactics to convince the public his AC units weren’t safe. In order to
“prove” this “fact,” he had a number of animals electrocuted, including a
circus elephant (which was to be put to death for killing a some people).
Ultimately, Tesla won this “War of Currents,” only because he indeed had
the better power mechanism. Although the current of success swept into a
place of high regard, he forewent obscene wealth so as to–in a show of 
unprecedented humility–save the Westinghouse Company (which would
have gone broke with the royalty payments). Instead, Tesla made a few
grand by just selling his patents outright. To view the full infographic
above, go here.
Killed a Man to Prove Tesla Wrong
Edison was known for his intimidation tactics (e.g. he used to hire a bunch
of goons to smash technology and make sure he got his dues for his
patents), but never did it get so bad as with his campaign against Tesla;
he went so far as to invent the electric chair, using Tesla’s AC power to
have a man on death row executed. The event was gruesome and messy,
drawn out. George Westinghouse was quoted to have said, “They would
have done better using an axe.” And so the first execution by electric chair
took place, just to prove Tesla wrong (and preserve Edison’s financial
Shared Virtually None of His Wealth
Edison was a wealthy man, and always finding new ways to get
wealthier. That meant rushing his crude discoveries and unoriginal
devices to the patent office to secure his royalties. While Tesla was
largely a one man technology-synthesizer, Edison had buildings
stocked with brilliant engineers and scientists who did all his bidding,
while he took the lion’s share of the revenue for himself. Tesla just
happened to be one more sucker to get trapped in his greenhouse
of genius, where all he need ask for is a few drops of water and sun-
light to churn out unrelenting yields.


  1. Sad tale. I'm glad people are realizing that Edison wasn't the hero he's cracked up to be.

  2. My electro-magnetic and radar professor in college (late 90s; he was 82), knew Tesla. I also heard that Tesla was working on transmitting energy wirelessly, thinking to use the Statute of Liberty. The oil companies did not like that! Tesla worked in a lab down in Colorado Springs as well. Helped create a minor earth-quake while fiddling with the resonate frequency of the earth!

  3. polymathis, that's pretty amazing! (having a prof that knew Tesla)
    I guess you probably know about his "pocket earthquake machine", about the size of an alarm clock, that had the capability of bringing down a massive building or bridge.
    Maybe I will share a few stories this summer when I am in the Colorado and without my Photoshop.
    Thanks for commenting!


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