What Was Nikola Tesla’s Breakthrough In Electricity and How Did AC Win the War of the Currents?

Thomas Edison’s invention of the lightbulb led to the creation of the Edison Power Company.

He had a power plant in New York City, but it was huge and could only transmit power over one square mile through thick, dangerous cables.

The problem was that Edison was using DC (direct current) power, a very inefficient source of power.

Here’s why: electric current loses the least amount of energy when it can travel at high voltages, but high voltages are not safe to use in homes.

Nikola Tesla found a solution in AC (alternating current) power. An alternating current flows alternately in either direction ,and its voltage can be easily controlled.

Tesla showed that AC power could be transmitted efficiently at high voltages and over great distances. When it reached the points where it was to be transferred to homes, devices called transformers could decrease the voltage to safe levels. This is not possible with DC voltage.

Tesla also invented all the different components of the entire AC system, generator (for the power plant), transformer, transmission lines, motor (for the home appliances), and lights.

Edison didn’t know what Tesla was talking about. He hired Tesla anyway, but the two fought from the start. Tesla even said Edison cheated him out of $50,000 in wages.

Tesla took his AC system to Edison’s competitor, George Westinghouse, and the “War of the Currents” was on. Edison launched a public campaign against Tesla, calling his AC system dangerous.

The war of words would affect Tesla’s reputation the rest of his life, Edison was a highly respected figure in America and the public accepted his beliefs.

Tesla and Westinghouse would have the last laugh, however. They won the bid to light the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago over Edison and the newly formed General Electric Company.

Twelve generators powered 100,000 lights, and the Great Hall of Electricity displayed the AC system for 27 million visitors.

Tesla and AC had won the “War of the Currents.”

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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