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The historical truth behind electric warfare

Ironically, even though Thomas Edison invented the first affordable practical light bulb, he couldn’t do the same with carrying electricity.

On the other hand, the people honored for the power transmission system are George Westinghouse, the inventor of railroad air brakes, and Nikola Tesla, a visionary engineer of the Austrian Empire. .

In the 1880s, the three fought to see who the transmission technology was superior to. The inventor’s three-way rivalry is the premise of The Present War, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Edison, Nicholas Hoult as Tesla, and Michael Shannon as Westinghouse. Edison wanted to deliver direct current (DC), while Westinghouse preferred alternating current (AC). As the US Department of Energy explains, direct current “flows continuously in one direction, like in batteries or fuel cells,” while “alternating current is reversed a number of times per second. it can be 60 times per second in the United States, and can be converted to other voltages relatively easily using transformers.

In terms of the development of electric motors, DC surpasses AC.

But the difference between the two streams went beyond the definition above.

Jill Jonnes, author of Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World, said: “If we live in Edison’s world, every one or two miles we will have to install a power plant in the world. coal, because direct current cannot be transmitted far. “The strength of alternating current is that you can send it long distances, lower the voltage through another substation and distribute it to neighboring areas if necessary.”

In contrast, in terms of the development of electric motors, direct current outperforms alternating current. With regard to the future of powering machines, plants and equipment, the design of an electric motor is a point of great commercial potential. But Tesla wanted to develop an AC electric motor and was looking to gain Edison’s support while working for Edison in New York City in 1884; Tesla left after six months when it became clear that Edison was not interested in the idea.

Edison wanted to continue to demonstrate the best DC system, despite its limitations, so he focused on having alternating current run at a much higher power than direct current. Therefore, he said, it should also be more dangerous. He once wrote in 1886, “Westinghouse would only need six months from deploying its system of any size to kill a customer.”

The opportunity to prove what he said came the following year.

In 1887, Alfred Southwick was a member of a committee set up by the New York State Legislature to find an alternative to the death penalty after the unintended result of a series of suspension sentences. He wrote to Edison asking for his opinion. Edison initially reacted reluctantly because he has always opposed the death penalty, but later saw it as an opportunity to discredit Westinghouse. He recommended “doing” the alternating currents “made” by Westinghouse as “the best thing” to take human lives “immediately” with “the least pain”.

A 2010 special issue of TIME magazine about Edison’s accomplishments reports that Westinghouse rivals Edison and Harold Brown, who use Edison’s lab in West Orange, saw that a dog could withstand 1000 VDC but will be instantly killed by AC currents below 300 V. At a press conference, Brown accused a dog named Dash weighing 34.5 kg. Brown designed the first electric chair, while Edison supplied the AC generator.

At 6:40 a.m. on August 6, 1890, in Auburn State Prison in upstate New York, William Kemmler, who was convicted of murdering his wife, was charged with 1300 V alternating current for 17 seconds but not dead. Then they increased the voltage to 2000V. Four minutes later, the body caught fire and the man was pronounced dead.

Despite Edison’s best efforts, the incident was not enough to topple his opponent.

After Tesla demonstrated his AC motor in 1888, Westinghouse acquired Tesla’s patent and hired him so he could market the motor.

“Once Tesla solved the problem of creating an AC motor, that’s when the results died,” Jonnes said.

The Westinghouse company won the auction to also supply the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. This dazzling spectacle ended “War of Light”. That same year, the Westinghouse company signed a contract to install alternative generators at Niagara Falls, and in 1895 the first hydroelectric power station was commissioned there.

But Edison’s career of invention was not over. Video cameras and motion picture films (kinetoscope) helped him return to the forefront of cinematic invention.

In terms of surname recognition, Edison won the hearts of consumers – at least until recently, when his title was heavily contested by Elon Musk’s electric vehicle. These cars will probably be the best fit for the person of the same name, because Tesla has always been a perfectionist, a person in life. But in the end, inventing things for everyday use proved to be the key to Edison’s popularity.

“The point I’ve always wanted to make about Edison, about why he’s the most famous inventor, is that we all understand his inventions and live in the immeasurable comfort of them,” said Jonnes.

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