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    First Electricity Power Station and Grid - Edison or Tesla?

    First Electricity Power Station and Grid - Edison or Tesla?

    10 July 2008

    Dear Webmaster,

    To be very clear about what is said on the site: Mr. Edison did NOT provide the power system we use today. Mr. Tesla did.

    Having been brought up reading and believing the baloney about Thomas Edison being a 'good scientist', and then spending a career of over 40 years in genuine high-tech science and R&D, I find it a huge disservice to the learners of today to continue this myth and to completely ignore the facts about his methods, abilities, and especially his relationship to the power grid we have today and to Nicola Tesla and George Westinghouse.

    Mr. Edison was, in fact, a terrible scientist if one wants to even use the term. Rather than using solid measurements and reasoning in the advancement of the incandescent bulb, he resorted to 'shotgunning'; it took over 1000 trials (they were not experiments), to figure out that a vacuum was a good idea. For the power grid, he had the opportunity to listen to Mr. Tesla's genuinely brilliant ideas, which were backed up by good physics, and he even employed Tesla for a time.

    He not only did not understand them, he nearly destroyed Tesla in his efforts to get his way. It took years for Tesla to overcome the various nasty tricks that Edison used to try to subdue what would in fact become the power grid, transformers, motors, and many other items that we use routinely today.

    Don't misunderstand me - Edison made some very significant contributions, mostly to the productization and commercializing of such items as sound recording, motion pictures, cement products, etc. I admire him in many ways. However, nearly of his patents were granted primarily as a result of his clear desire to commercialize work that various interested parties were working on as well, and he did so often before he had a clear view or understanding of any of the involved technology, let alone the science. The well-known 'Edison Effect', or diode, is probably the only real science that Edison was involved in, and by that time he had a number of good minds working with him. Nicola Tesla, on the other hand, continuously advanced his theoretical understanding of the physics of the day, and advanced it in a number of areas. Especially impressive and far ahead of his time was his 1905 use of pre-ionization of a column of air using UV photons in order to form a conductive path - A concept still thought useful but not fully complete for a variety of modern purposes.

    There are, of course, many examples of the self-centric and/or greed-motivated 'science businesman', Edison, unfairly assuming both public credit and financial reward for simply being able to form a perception of having done the work involved in science and invention, but I consider it extremely important to emphasize to all those that are interested in those fields that it is the truth of the thought process and difficult work that is most important in the long term. I have personally seen colleagues with truly useful and advanced ideas squelched by those who simply have louder voices, and as a result companies have failed and the society is poorer. How will a child that observes such things be able to separate the greed from the science?

    Charles U. Bickford

    Dear Charles,

    Edison and his colleagues had invented a practical light bulb and by doing so they opened up the way for the establishment of the electrical power system.

    It was this power system that became Edison's real achievement. It beget a huge new industry that would radically effect everyone.

    By September of 1882 he had opened a central station on Pearl Street in Manhattan and was eventually supplying electricity to a one mile square section of New York.

    It’s important to mention that Edison's method for generating and transmitting electricity employed direct current (DC) whereas modern power stations employ alternating current (AC ) introduced by George Westinghouse based on Nikola Tesla, and others’, patents.

    Nevertheless, this and other obstacles, Edison’s power station is regarded by many as the first practical power station ever because the Pearl Street station provided reliable central power generation, safe and efficient distribution, and a successful end use - Edison’s long-lasting incandescent light bulb - at a price that competed successfully with gas lighting.

    Julian Rubin,
    Science Fair Projects and Experiments

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