The works below are the opinion of the author and not the official viewpoint
of the Edison Tech Center:
the Tesla Myth:
False facts about Tesla giving him more credit than he deserves.
today's world of infotainment, web pages and documentaries have popped
up proclaiming Nikola (Nicola) Tesla of being the inventor of practically
everything. The more sites that pop up, the more reinforced false facts
become. This is wrong because it denies respect for the true inventors
of the technology, as well as over simplifies history. Just as people
incorrectly understood what Edison actually did and believed in a simplified
idolization, Tesla seems to have taken his populist place in the 21st
century. Tesla suffered from narcissism through much of his life, and
this throws many of his claims of being "the first" into question.
We can only believe patent information, court transcripts and proven
Didn't your mother tell you not to believe everything you read on
the internet? So before you go back to the Tesla mania pages we
suggest you go to a library and dig up some facts from books and patent
applications, just as real historians have.
to debunk your inner conspiracy theorist yearnings, but here are the
1: Tesla invented polyphase AC power: FALSE.
First there was a hand-cranked AC generator developed by Hippolyte
Pixii in 1832. Single phase AC power was being used more in Europe
by many inventors in the early 1880s. As early as the late 1870's Germany
had developed a 2 phase AC generator. In New York City Tesla had approached
investors in 1886 with his AC system and did not have success. So in
the United States in New York there was little confidence in AC power
systems. From a world wide perspective there was many working on AC
systems. August Haselwander and C.S. Bradley(a former
Edison employee) created the first 3 phase AC generators(1887). Mikhail
Dolivo-Dobrovsky built the first full 3 phase AC generation and
distribution system in the 1888-1891 period. Tesla continued to be stuck
in his two-phase system which proved to be less effective than three.
Tesla invented the transformer: FALSE. The Ganz company
in Budapest was the first to create and use transformers in AC systems
in the late 1870s. Tesla was still in school then and hadn't
even began his first job in the field of telephony. His first job was
in Budapest in 1880, this is where he possibly observed/stole ideas,
and was convinced by the Hungarians that AC was viable and worth pursuing
while the west was still 5 years behind. William
Stanley invented the first modern transformer in 1885. His design
was based Gaulard and Gibbs design. Gaulard had used his transformer
in the 1884 Lanzo to Turin AC power demonstration. Also credit goes
to the Z.B.D Transformer in Hungary
The Z.B.D. Transformer was not practical in the system that Stanley
set up in Great Barrington, MA so he designed his own. This is backed
up by information at the Smithsonian and IEEE. It was in 1885 that Tesla
actually joined the minority of inventors working with AC in trying
to pitch his system. There is no proof that Tesla had any mature AC
systems designed and ready before then. (Tesla claims to have envisioned
his own full AC system in 1882 but there are no written documents of
any kind to prove this)
Károly Zipernowsky, Miksa Déri and Ottó
Bláthy invented the first transformer. William Stanley perfected
the transformer in monocyclic and 3 phase AC systems. Tesla and his
Westinghouse coworker Oliver Shallenberger developed the transformer
to work work with his 2 phase AC systems. Due to Tesla's egomania you
will never hear him thank Shallenberger or cohorts. It was clear he
was not a team player and it is no surprise Westinghouse didn't want
him around for long. His technical contributions were appreciated and
Tesla was generously paid by Westinghouse for his work.
Tesla invented the induction coil: FALSE. Absolutely false...
Induction was discovered by Michael Faraday, and the induction
coil was invented by Nicholas Callan in 1836, long before Tesla
Tesla invented the loudspeaker: FALSE. The loudspeaker as we
know it was invented by C.W. Rice and Edward Kellogg
with a working prototype in 1921, and patent in 1925. Decades before
this final success, Werner Von Siemens had toyed with the idea of a
magnetically controlled speaker while Tesla was in grade school.
Tesla invented radar in 1917: FALSE. This one is a real can of
worms, radar was made possible due to the work of Christian Hulsmeyer
(German)1903, Lee De Forest 1918, Edwin Armstrong 1918, Ernst
Alexanderson, Marconi, Albert
Hull, Edward Victor Appleton, and Russians who developed a radar
system to detect German planes in 1934. Sir Robert Watson-Watt demonstrated
the first HF radar system in 1935 which operated at 6 MHz and had a
range of 8 miles. There are many books on this subject.
6: Tesla invented the fluorescent lamp: FALSE. Alexandre
E. Becquerel first examined the phenomena of fluorescence in 1857. Some
say Edison invented the lamps. Others say George
Inman developed the modern fluorescent lamp in 1934. It is tough
to say who was first since there was a legal dispute. There is a possibility
that the German Edmund Germer preceded both of them. Many people worked
on the concept, Inman deserve the credit for building the first
successful and practical design. Even if Telsa had played with the theories,
he was not alone at any time, and didn't do squat compared to others
who had actually worked out the difficulties into a real working product.
Daniel McFarlan Moore developed the Moore Tube which was the first commercial
ancestor of the fluorescent lamp.
Above graphic: just some of the inventors of the standard fluorescent
light. Missing from this graphic is Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla who
both contributed but were not key contributors. Tesla was more important
in promotion and development of the of the induction lamp which
also used fluorescence. Johann Wilhelm Hittorf, J. J. Thomson, Nikola
Tesla, Peter Cooper Hewitt and John Anderson were the top 5 contributors
making the induction lamp possible.
7: Tesla invented microwave transmitters: FALSE. Albert
W. Hull invented a type of magnetron which lead to many inventions,
including today's microwave oven, the microwave communications link,
and radar. You can dig deeper on this and find many early pioneers even
before Albert Hull.
8: The 1895 Niagara Falls Hydropower Plant was the first
commercial AC hydro power plant: FALSE. This is absolutely false.
AC power sites were developed first in Europe from 1878-1885. After
1885 Westinghouse hired Stanley, Oliver Shallenberger, Benjamin Lamme,
and others to build AC power systems in North America. Tesla didn't
join Westinghouse until 1888. See our list of early AC power sites here.
Power Plant build in 1893 was the first 3 phase AC power plant built
for commercial purposes in North America. Elihu Thomson, Almirian Decker
and Dr. ,Louis Bell worked together to design this site a few years
before in Lynn, Massachusetts. Dobrovsky had build the first full hydroelectric
three phase AC power system at Frankfurt
in 1891. Also, at the time Charles P. Steinmetz was the only one
to understand the concept of hysteresis and related physics concepts
that helped run the AC generator. Steinmetz was a humble man, and like
many technical men, loved teaching and connecting to other humans just
as much as the technology. People with a teaching spirit have often
let others take the fame and patents. Fame and business success are
the focus of only a percentage of engineers. The love of the craft is
common among all of them.
9: Tesla was the underdog who did not promote himself:
If you begin to read at all about history of technology at the time
you will find that inventions and ideas spread like wildfire from as
far east as Hungary and Moscow, to the U.S. For someone like Edison
or Tesla it was important to keep up the show and wizardry to captivate
the public. And they both did that very well. In the ruthlessly competitive
environment of New York City the game was, (and still is) about fame/success
at any cost. Tesla, when living on Fifth Avenue was at the epicenter
of this pressure. Tesla was business natured, he understood he
had to relentlessly promote himself to become like the more successful
Edison. Most inventors at the time did not have the relentless need
for attention that both of them had.
10: Back in the late 1800's the conflict for AC vs. DC
was Tesla vs. Edison, or Westinghouse vs. General Electric: FALSE.
General Electric was formed in 1892 and by that time Thomas Edison had
a minimal role in the workings of the company. While Edison promoted
DC power from his home down in New Jersey/New York City area, Elihu
Thomson, William Stanley, and C.P. Steinmetz promoted AC as the future.
The company was not "for DC". Tesla and Edison did
not get along, that's true... but of course! Popular media likes to
promote the AC vs. DC conflict in a simple easy-to-digest package simply
because all the Mass Communication majors and journalists have been
taught that the public loves to watch and read about conflict. One page
reads: "Edison also hated Tesla because Tesla invented..."
and so on, the quote highlights once again the conflict aspect. If conflict
and drama is your focus of interest, than study the World Wrestling
Federation, not engineering.
Who invented the polyphase electric motor?: Tesla was first to patent
the 3 phase AC motor in the USA 1888, but read on: Galileo
Ferraris had come up with the same design months before in Italy.
Ferraris was a university professor with no interest in making money
from the invention. We know that Tesla was extremely intelligent and
was able to memorize entire books after reading them. It is entirely
possible that Tesla had obtained a copy of Ferraris's publication to
the Royal Academy of Sciences in Turin and was able to understand Ferraris's
design. He would be able to copy and clarify the design on paper and
submit that to the patent office with the help of Tesla's well-paid
team of lawyers. If this was the case than it is just another case
of how businessmen with their well paid lawyers have crushed an academic
person's claim on being the first. History was almost rewritten here
but documents have proven Galileo's claim. Tesla had no evidence to
support his self-made claim that he envisioned the motor in 1882. In
addition to this Mr. Ferraris had a track record of being an innovator
in the greatest events of European AC development in the early 1880's.
Tesla had limited experience in AC and was not picked up by Westinghouse
until 1888, after his claim of inventing a three phase motor. Read
more on the trial here.
Free Electric Power:
Many Tesla fans claim a conspiracy
theory stopped Tesla from making "free" electric power distribution
wirelessly. First of all infrastructure is still needed and there is
no way power will ever be "free". Wireless power distribution
is not practical since it is extremely inefficient with huge losses
over even a short distance. The final killer of Tesla's idea is the
enormous danger of wireless power transmission for wildlife (birds)
and damage to humans. Given the big debate on danger of cellphones to
humans, and cellphones contain very low power levels, you can only imagine
the danger of high powered wireless transmission.
vs. Edison - An attractive human story, but this isn't engineering.
Thomas Edison's company frustrated and short changed. This is a popular
story, but Tesla wasn't the only one who left Edison the same way.
Edison the Stubborn:
the Tesla popular myth states: Tesla had approached Edison with the
idea of trying AC development, and Tesla was the lone visionary, however
Edison scoffed and said AC would never amount to anything. The truth
is he wasn't alone. Others approached Edison and got the same results.
C. S. Bradley had worked for Edison, he was convinced about AC's
future, he left and invented the three-phase generator in 1887. Otto
Blathy who invented the ZBD Transformer in Hungary came on a business
trip to meet Edison in 1886. He tried to sell his patent to Edison,
again, Edison scoffed at him. This was clearly a poor business decision
because by this point Westinghouse had already built and demonstrated
a working AC system at Great Barrington, Mass. Elihu Thomson
of Thomson-Houston in Massachusetts was already trying to build his
in the Tesla vs. Edison debate which Tesla fanatics use to energize
support for their "cause" is the electrocution of Topsy
the elephant in 1903. Thomas Edison or his PR team, working independently
of General Electric wanted to show the dangers of AC power by killing
this innocent animal. Tesla is unlikely to have done the same to his
credit, but most people in the population at the time had little regard
for the fair treatment of animals. It is unlikely Edison stood out from
other innovators who used animals to test medical treatments or conduct
painful experiments. It was clearly a dark time for animals in industry.
In 1903 General Electric had already been making revolutionary new AC
power systems for 18 years and had some of the world's best engineers
working on AC. Tesla fanatics are more known for their passion than
their "historian" side, they fail to have the slightest understanding
of the business atmosphere at the time or the wealth of OTHER great
minds working on AC. While Edison was living in the past in 1903
promoting DC, the company he created which had led to the formation
of General Electric (1892) was already a leader in AC power. The board
of directors cast off Edison as a "non team player" and nut
just as Tesla was cast off by Westinghouse as "unpredictable"
and a nut who would sink the company financially with non-practical
pursuits. So who cares if Edison the nut was still promoting DC in 1903?
Siemens-Halske, General Electric, Oerlikon, Westinghouse had already
moved on into an AC world. There was no War of Currents in 1903. That
war had ended in 1891.
was no "lone visionary" of AC power, he was simply smart
enough to keep his eye on great developments of AC in Europe during
the early-mid 1880s. He was one of a small group (the minority) of engineers
working on AC in America in the mid 1880s. Tesla's first opportunity
to work for a real company on AC power came after he "stole"
or simultaneously invented the polyphase electric motor in 1888. At
a public presentation Elihu Thomson and Westinghouse both thought that
Tesla had potential. Thomson (later became GE) offered him a lower position
to start. Tesla's ego lead him to decline the opportunity. Lucky for
him later on Westinghouse offered him a position with his already established
team of engineers working on AC. Westinghouse then got control of Tesla's
induction motor patent which helped make them hundreds of millions of
dollars. When the induction motor patent was contested in 1905 Westinghouse
put it's best lawyers to work defending this cash maker. Let the induction
motor fall into public domain and make Tesla loose credibility? The
corporate might of Westinghouse would never let this happen!
I could go
on listing all of the false attributions and conspiracy theories regarding
Tesla, but this would be a waste of time. The important thing is painting
a true picture of ALL the wonderful and amazing personalities of
technology in our history. Nikola Tesla was an inventor, and did
share a love of engineering and science. And for this he deserves to
be honored, but don't fall for the populist rhetoric. I'd recommend
visiting the Deutsches Museum in Munich where many of the original first
motors and dynamos are on display with accurate listings of attributions.
other inventors of AC Power HERE.
This is not a blog, there is no place for comments. If it was
it would be saturated with replies by conspiracy theorists and irrational/angry
Tesla fanatics. Their passion creates an automatic bias. There is no
room for passion in analysis of science and history.
administrator and ETC staff is not responsible for this content/viewpoints,
doesn't care, and will not answer/read any emails that smell of Tesla
-Electrification in Western Society 1880-1930. by Thomas Parke Hughes.1993
-Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany
-Historisches Museum, Frankfurt Germany
-The General Electric Story - A Hall of Electrical History Publication.1999
-Archives of the Schenectady Museum: William Stanley files, E.W. Rice
-Great Barrington Historical Society
-Hawkins Electrical Guides (book series)
-Men and Volts. by John Winthrop Hammond. 1941(book)
-Folsom Powerhouse Museum. Folsom, California
-Biography of Elihu Thomson, prepared by E.W. Rice Jr.
-Archives of the Edison Tech Center: Rice Family Archives
-MIT website: Inventor of the Week" William Stanley
-IEEE Global History Network: Milestones: Alternating Current Electrification
-wikipedia: Nikola Tesla
-wikipedia: Hippolyte Pixii
-wikipedia: Mikhail Dolivo-Dobrovsky
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