I never thought I’d have to say this, but I’m pissed off at PBS.
I was watching this great show last night about how Edison invented the first practical electric light bulb and brought electricity to the people, called Great Projects: The Building of America – Electric Nation, and they did a fine job of presenting Edison’s achievments, but they never mentioned Nikola Tesla! I mean, I learned all about the Samuel Insull scandal (kinda like the first Enron) – he was the guy that brought cheap, clean GE power to Chicago. They went into great detail about his trial for mail fraud after selling Edison General Electric stock certificates by mail, causing thousands to lose their life savings in the Black Friday stock market crash. They mentioned that DC wasn’t practical because it couldn’t be transmitted over long distances, and that AC was the answer. Then they flashed a nameplate from a GE generator that said “Alternating Current” on it, and went on to detail the Tennessee Valley Authority, and still never even mentioned Tesla.
That’s just not right.
In case you are unfamiliar with who Tesla was and what he did, he was a Serbo-Croatian immigrant who worked for Edison in the late 19th century, then was shafted by Edison and went to work for George Westinghouse. He invented pretty much every aspect of the power generation and distribution system we use to this day, including the polyphase AC generator, the concept of using step-up and step-down transformers to trade voltage for current, and an efficient, brushless AC motor. He was an eccentric weirdo who lived alone in a hotel with a bunch of pigeons, but he was also one of the great genius inventors at the turn of the century. If you want to learn more, here are some handy linky-doodles:
- Tesla at the World’s Fair
- Basic Tesla Bio
- The Battle of the Currents
- Another Bio
- PBS’s Own Show/Site about Tesla
These links are the tips of huge icebergs, and there’s so much more, like Edison inventing the electric chair for prisoner executions to prove that AC current wasn’t safe – if you don’t know about this stuff, please check it out.