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This article is the written script of an episode from our podcast series: Kandelaa – Conversations.

( Bu yazı,  podcast serimiz Kandelaa – Conversations’tan alınan bir bölümün yazılı metni


Humankind has been using the gifts offered by the Earth and actualizing many ideas to enlighten the darkest obscurities.

More specifically, the invention of electricity was one of the most significant achievements of the century. Over time, light entered both the urban household and the farthest country abode; civilization subsequently elevated.

The application of innovative studies in daily life could be a disputable process among scientists. One single idea doesn’t have the be the only right one, but science is to find the most convenient and advantageous model for humanity. Even so, when other factors get involved in the game, arguments can turn into fierce competition.

The rivalry between Tesla and Edison was one example. These bright men with conflicted ideas competed against each other for years; Tesla was clearly a futurist and advocated alternating current since he believed in its potential benefits. Edison, relatively old-school, clung to his direct current at all costs. A war broke out between the two inventors, and both sides strived to prove the eligibility of the currents they upheld.





Thomas Alva Edison was an inventor and a businessman who was broadly known for his contributions to electrical studies. Also, his career was very successful even though he had dropped out of school and had no university degree. Being the youngest of seven siblings, Edison was impressively curious about scientific concepts and set up a small laboratory to do minor personal studies

One outstanding feature of Edison was his business acumen, which had manifested itself since childhood. He set up a printing machine in a train’s freight wagon and started printing weekly newspapers when he was only 12. This aspect would forge him ahead of Tesla many times in business and patenting.

Nikola Tesla opened his eyes to Austria-Hungary Empire as the youngest son of Serbian parents. The classes at school evoked his interest in physics, particularly electrics. Besides, his visual intelligence was astounding: He could envision complex, three-dimensional structures easily and keep all their figural properties in his mind. Tesla believed that this talent came from his mother, Đuka, who was gifted for memorizing Serbian epic poetries and producing handicraft works at home – even though she had never received an education.

Tesla’s academic performance was just perfect. Still, he often had financial problems during his life; it was a fact that he became a gambling addict after he lost his scholarship at university, which kept him from giving weight to his studies. Unprepared for the last examination, Tesla was not assessed and never received his university degree.

Tesla worked in Edison Companies in several countries before Charles Batchelor, the inspector of the Paris installation, asked for him to come to the US. After his immigration, Tesla began working at the Machine Works on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was time for the duo to meet and soon start working together in Edison’s lab.

The War of the currents was a conflict between Edison and Tesla defending different lighting systems: arc lamp street lighting running on high-voltage alternating current (AC) and large-scale low-voltage direct current (DC), indoor incandescent lighting.

Besides, DC was adopted and marketed by Edison’s company.

Tesla saw AC as a more convenient alternative for urban infrastructures. What he had been designing could usher in a new age in electricity use.




Even though the direct current had become a standard in the US, it was not easy to adjust its voltage to higher or lower levels.

Undoubtedly, energy loss was DC’s other disadvantage while current passed through large and cumbersome wires. Transmitting electricity via alternating current proved to be more efficient if the long distances were the question.

Tesla based his model on this point:

AC changes its direction more than once per second, unlike the direct current, which flows either forward or backward – in a single way. But we can’t discredit direct current by asserting that it is far from eligibility. DC was then widely adopted and was one step ahead of AC in terms of its storability.

Yet, AC with immensely high voltage would come out from the grids, and the voltage would decrease when it reaches households. That would substantially eliminate the energy loss in DC use. But how can AC do this?

Simply because AC continuously reverses its direction, making voltage levels adjustable by transformers. That’s why alternating current is named so: it alternates direction.



When Edison didn’t share the same enthusiasm as Tesla did and contented himself with offering a salary rise for his endeavor, Tesla left working in Edison’s lab to accomplish his AC project independently. He was never wealthy, and the process required even more exertions when AC wasn’t as popular as DC. Besides, Tesla possibly had the hardest time of his life: He worked as a laborer and dug holes for wire installation to earn his keep.

Fortunately, their way crossed with the businessman and enterpriser George Westinghouse, who was genuinely impressed by the innovation that Tesla was to introduce. Westinghouse could certainly invest in this promising alternative, for he somewhat had an idea about AC from his minor studies and investigation. Okay, said the businessman to Tesla, let us begin making it real.




Edison never had faith in AC’s effectiveness- it would be highly hazardous to use it instead of his DC- and he opposed Tesla’s radical project. Furthermore, such high voltages could kill a man at any time, and changing directions could likely result in collisions. Converting to AC was not logical in Edison’s view. 

He was coming to boil slowly as the Westinghouse Company embarked on planting the AC generators, which was absolutely unacceptable for him.

Still emphasizing AC’s risks and impracticability, Edison began propaganda with one of his proponents, Harold P. Brown. They were uttering calumnies of the Westinghouse project for all to see. Harold even launched a smear campaign in which he held unimaginable demonstrations for the public: He was killing stray animals by testing DC and AC on them in order. By confirming its innocence after DC hadn’t done anything to the animal, Harold was then subjecting it to AC, and the crowd was witnessing how the current could kill.

Tesla responded to the propaganda by his counterdemonstrations: He was inserting himself into the experiments and running a high-voltage current (250.000 V) through his body. Nothing was happening! Astonishing the people around him, Tesla was confidently assuring them: It wasn’t the high voltage that killed in those shows but rather was the high current. AC wouldn’t take lives only because of its high-voltage transmission lines.

Off and on, some deadly incidents happened during the installation of AC wires in cities. They were naturally to the detriment of Tesla, and the other side kept furiously insisting on its risks. The competition heated more and more over time; both the men were decisive in their cases.

Edison made an unusual yet predictable move:

The American government then sought an alternative execution method to hanging, something more humane and direct, because it used to take nearly half an hour for convicts hung by their broken necks to finally asphyxiate.

Although Dentist Alfred P. Southwick was known for inventing the new mechanism, Edison suggested the idea of using AC generators for execution – that was another part of the defamation. The invention was developed under his guidance. Finally, the electric chair was completed and confirmed by authorities for execution.

But was it really more innocent than any other way? Committing to murder his girlfriend, William Francis Kemmler was the first person on whom the chair was tested. As Edison and Southwick suggested, executions would be quick and at once.
In the first 17 seconds, 700 volts were given to Kemmler’s body, and despite the burnt cloth and flesh smell, the convict was obviously still alive.
The voltage increased to 1030, and the second shock engulfed Kemmler for almost 2 minutes.

Only after the rising smoke from his head his death was assured. According to the autopsy records, an electrode attached to the convict’s head had burnt through the spine and ended his life.

Southwick gloried in the new method and praised the level that the American civilization reached that moment. But his applauds aside, Westinghouse, who could not prevent his generators from being exploited, was thinking the opposite: “They would have done better with an ax.”




Edison withdrew from the competition.; the number of the other competitors also gradually decreased. Companies were either closing or mostly embracing AC as their new standard. Even his corporation, General Electric, was sold to another businessman to soon adopt the alternating current. Edison left the electrical power business and occupied himself with an iron ore refining project.

Tesla had the last word:

In May 1892, the Westinghouse Company signed a contract to supply the electrical power via AC for the upcoming World’s Columbian Exposition event. It was merely a demonstration of the current’s efficiency and reliability from which the corporation didn’t profit, but AC left a positive impression on the people. From now on, this success paved the way for AC’s greater future projects.

The company agreed upon building a station that would utilize hydroelectrical power for energy generation in Niagara Falls. General Electric would have had to afford thousands of dollars for electric transmittance through the weighty-copper wires; but AC, prevailing it, supplied the electricity with much less cost.

Namely, AC won the war<, it was adopted as the new standard power in the US.

Voltage and frequency values may differ among regions; many European countries have increased their standard values to 240VAC 50Hz whereas the States use 120VAC 60Hz. There are not many reasons for that; it rather depends on governmental options. Back then, households used to enlighten with bulbs that worked best between 100 or 110 volts. Also, this voltage level was relatively more affordable. Thus, we can say that the country just adhered to the first electric grid.

However, the DC lines, which worked with 110V, were already planted across the States, and wires-plugs were specialized in compliance with them. To remove all the systems and start laying suitable wires would be tedious and costly. So the state added the AC lines where it was necessary. 



Which innovator you find more successful depends on your criteria and perspective. It is nonetheless possible to compare these two men from different aspects:

Edison tended to consider the financial and commercial sides of the invention business; he had a firmer grasp of the capitalist process and used to monetize his findings as much as possible. He was playing his pawns to the right square as a trader. Tesla, on the other side, was busy with his imaginative and idealist world by leaving earnings aside.

Edison was more occupied with licensing than Tesla: he kept a total of 1093 patents while Tesla had 196, 112 of which were  U.S registered. Edison made his mark among the people with the most patents. Though, it does not mean he was more devoted to the scientific field.

Tesla’s ideals were formed upon more prudential innovations. He had faith that the alternating current was more effective and could maintain the power with initial high voltage between destinations.

He was right in his argument.

On the other hand, Edison probably thought that his inventions could lose the favor of the users if DC was substituted, so he upheld the prior system till the end.

Describing Tesla as having poor social skills would be sketchy; quite the opposite, he could make healthy contacts with different circles including high society and well-known figures. Attentively analyzing people, Tesla used to notice the talent and give its credit. That was most likely another personality trait that was favorable in social circumstances. Sources denote that Mark Twain, an American author, was affected by Tesla’s words when he explained how Twain’s books helped him overcome the rigor of his early years.

Both had worked tremendously, and both dedicated themselves to their field.
This war of currents had stretched to a commercial extent from a scientific base. Right, these two ideas clashed with one another; both the innovators showed their ambition in this rivalry. However, the real factor that flared up the duel was the entrepreneurs and trading. In science, after all, it is always eventual to see new ideas- discoveries supersede the old ones. First comes a comparison in between, then a discussion of the benefits, and lastly, a determination on the best.