War of Currents

Despite its name, the Current War is not happening now, but took place primarily in the late 1800s. It was a war fought between Serbian-born, American-immigrant Nikola Tesla and the American Thomas Edison.

Tesla had difficulty convincing the American public to use his alternating electric current to power their homes and businesses. Alternating current (AC) had the ability to provide electricity over long distances much better than Edison’s direct current (DC), which required power stations to be built close together.

Nevertheless, despite the demonstrable superiority of AC to the spread-out American public, Tesla had great difficulty convincing people to use his system of AC over Edison’s DC. This is because Edison was much better at marketing to the American public. He sold himself as well as his product, and also attempted to discredit AC by incorrectly claiming that it was more dangerous, which he demonstrated by publicly electrocuting stray animals using AC.

As a result of Edison’s marketing campaign DC was the standard electric current for many years. However, this began to change after George Westinghouse, an American engineer and entrepreneur, acquired Tesla’s patents for AC and the induction motor.

Westinghouse was much better at selling AC to Americans than Tesla had been, and the first major victory for Tesla’s current occurred during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, in which General Electric, using DC, bid to electrify the fair for $554,000, but lost to Westinghouse, who bid $399,000 using AC.

Shortly after this, Niagara Falls Power Company awarded Westinghouse a contract to begin harnessing the power of the waterfall for use, and on 16 Nov 1896 Buffalo, New York began to be powered by AC from Niagara Falls. General Electric also switched to AC, and it wasn’t long before AC destroyed DC. Even Edison eventually switched to the more productive AC.