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War of Currents

During the late 18th century the conflict between using Alternating current and Direct Current lead an era of Inventions and commercialization of electrical energy and applications using the electrical energy.

Thomas Alva Edison (Feb'11,1847-Oct'18,1931)

Inventor and businessman having 1093 patents, He always invented for necessity, with the object of devising something new that he could manufacture. The basic principles he discovered were derived from practical experiments, invariably by chance, thus reversing the orthodox concept of pure research leading to applied research.

He is credited with developing many devices in fields such as electric power generation, mass communication, sound recording, and motion pictures.


389 for electric light and power, 195 for the phonograph, 150 for the telegraph, 141 for storage batteries, and 34 for the telephone.

Nikola Tesla (July'9,1856-Jan'7,1943)

Serbian American inventor and engineer who discovered and patented the rotating magnetic field, the basis of most alternating-current machinery. He also developed the three-phase system of electric power transmission.

He immigrated to the United States in 1884 and sold the patent rights to his system of alternating-current dynamos, transformers, and motors to George Westinghouse. In 1891 he invented the Tesla coil, an induction coil widely used in radio technology.

There are a minimum of 278 known patents issued to Tesla in 26 countries. Many of Tesla's patents were in the United States, Britain, and Canada, but many other patents were approved in countries around the globe. Many inventions developed by Tesla were not put into patent protection.

Arc lighting Vs Incandescent lighting

The war of the currents grew out of the development of two lighting systems; arc lighting running on alternating current and incandescent lighting running on direct current. Both were supplanting gas lighting systems, with arc lighting taking over large area/street lighting, and incandescent lighting replacing gas for business and residential indoor lighting.

During the early years of electricity, Edison developed direct current was the standard in the U.S. But there was one problem. Direct current is not easily converted to higher or lower voltages.

Tesla believed that alternating current was the solution to this problem which can be converted to different voltages using transformers.

Edison, claimed that alternating current was more dangerous, and publicly electrocute stray animals using alternating current to prove his point.

World’s Columbian ExpositionThe World's Fair: Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492. The effort to power the Fair with electricity, which became a demonstration piece for Westinghouse Electric and the alternating current system

Westinghouse under bid Edison General Electric to get the contract. Westinghouse could not use the Edison incandescent lamp since the patent belonged to General Electric and they had successfully sued to stop use of all patent infringing designs. Since Edison specified a sealed globe of glass in his design

Westinghouse Electric had severely underbid the contract and struggled to supply all the equipment specified also had to fend off a last minute lawsuit by General Electric claiming the Westinghouse Sawyer-Man based stopper lamp infringed on the Edison incandescent lamp patent.

Retirement of Thomas Edison

In 1890 Thomas Edison told Henry Villard (then President of Edison General Electric) he thought it was time to retire from the lighting business and moved on to an iron ore refining project.

On April 15, 1892, the management of Westinghouse Electric was merged with Edison General Electric resulting the new company, now called General Electric. Thomas Edison was not aware of the deal until the day before it happened.

The war of currents came to an end and this merger of the Edison company, along with its lighting patents, and the Thomson-Houston, with its AC patents, created a company that controlled three quarters of the US electrical business

Willamette Falls to Niagara Falls

In 1889, the first long distance transmission of DC electricity in the United States was switched on at Willamette Falls Station, in Oregon City, Oregon. In 1890, a flood destroyed the power station. This unfortunate event paved the way for the first long distance transmission of AC electricity in the world when Willamette Falls Electric company installed experimental AC generators from Westinghouse in 1890.

The Willamette Falls Electric Company was formed in 1888 to build a hydro-electric generation facility at the falls. A 14-mile long transmission line to Portland was built, becoming the first long-distance transmission of electrical energy in the United States in 1889.

The Niagara Falls Power Company (NFPC) and its subsidiary Cataract Company formed the International Niagara Commission composed of experts, to analyze proposals to harness Niagara Falls to generate electricity. By 1893 the NFPC awarded the generating contract to Westinghouse with further transmission lines and transformer contracts awarded to General Electric.

Nov. 16, 1896, Buffalo was lit up by the alternating current from Niagara Falls. By this time General Electric had decided to jump on the alternating current train, thus paving way for the Alternating Current's dominance in the modern world.

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