The War of Electricity was a major technological battle in the late 19th century between the Edison Electric Light Company and the Westinghouse Electric Company over which power transmission system to use. Westinghouse supports AC (Alternating Current) and Edison Light Company supports DC (Direct Current).
On the Internet, this fight is often described as a battle between rival inventors Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. This is a good story about the hero Tesla defeating his rival Edison. Both Edison and Tesla were famous back then, and both were a little crazy. Thomas Edison was a famous inventor who achieved success and media attention by inventing the phonograph. Edison used his fame to begin construction of a direct current power plant in New York City. Unlike his rival Edison, Westinghouse did not seek media attention and was a deeply private man.
A public debate over which system should be used to feed America turned into a vicious smear campaign against Edison. An inventor and electrical engineer named Harold Brown became a leading figure in the campaign to make the world aware of the dangers of alternating current. Brown is said to have paid local children to collect stray dogs from the street and use them to conduct experiments demonstrating the dangers of alternating current. Although Edison publicly condemned the death penalty, he secretly funded Brown's development of the AC chair. Edison launched a media campaign to tell the world that alternating current was deadly and used the term "Westinghouse" to describe the electrocution.
The concept of AC power distribution is not new to Westinghouse, who was also an inventor in the gas industry. Westinghouse believed that alternating current was a better method of power distribution, and he believed that the electric utility company founded by his rival Thomas Edison had a structural flaw in its belief in using direct current. In 1885, Westinghouse became interested in the invention of European inventors Gollard and Gibbs and acquired the US rights to their patent for AC transformers. The Westinghouse Electric Company and its associates worked to improve and redesign the transformers. The Westinghouse Electric Company was founded in 1886.
Tesla's partnership with Westinghouse Electric
In 1888 Nikola Tesla presented his polyphase AC system to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in his report "A New System of Alternating Current Motors and Transformers". When Westinghouse heard about Nikola Tesla and Tesla's polyphase system, he knew this might be the last piece he needed to build a better system than Edison.
George Westinghouse had worked with AC for many years before meeting Tesla. Westinghouse was a systems thinker who was also good at spotting good ideas and people and pocketing them, and he knew AC distribution was a good idea. Westinghouse was impressed by Tesla's work and asked him to collaborate. Westinghouse bought Tesla's AC electrical system patents and paid Tesla to work with him until those patents were fully implemented.
The first major event in Tesla's victory over Edison in the War of the Currents occurred when Tesla teamed up with George Westinghouse. Over the next few years Tesla and Westinghouse would work together and achieve two major successes marking their victory over Edison in the battle of electric currents.
In 1892, after fierce competition with Edison, Westinghouse was awarded the contract to power the Columbus Exposition. On May 1, 1893, President Grover Cleveland pushed a button and 100,000 light bulbs lit the Columbus Exposition. The success of Tesla's multi-phase system installed at the show will help Westinghouse land its next big win, a first contract for Niagara Falls.
From a young age, Tesla dreamed of harnessing the power of the great natural wonder of Niagara Falls. In October 1893, Tesla's dream came true when the Niagara Falls Electric Company awarded Westinghouse a contract to build the power plant. Westinghouse wins the battle of currents under Tesla's tutelage.
To make matters worse, Edison also lost control of the electronics business in 1892. The famous financier J.P. Morgan orchestrated the merger of Edison General Electric and Thomson-Houston Electric into General Electric.
How much money does Tesla make?
The Nikola Tesla saga told of a man who died penniless alone in a New York hotel, but a partnership between Tesla and Westinghouse would make Tesla a millionaire.
Different versions of the story tell how the deal came about and how the two men met. It's generally accepted that Westinghouse paid Tesla about $60,000 for its alternator and generator patents, which is about $1.4 million today. Tesla also offered Westinghouse a monthly salary of $2,000, which is $48,000 a month today.
One of the terms of the partnership between Tesla and Westinghouse was that Tesla would receive a $2.50 royalty for every horsepower sold. When AC power was widespread, Westinghouse paid Tesla hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in royalties. In 1890, a year before Tesla's 35th birthday, he was already a millionaire.
Another part of the financial arrangement of the Tesla-Westinghouse partnership that is often skewed in the narrative is Tesla's agreement to eliminate ongoing royalties on the electricity it generates. Westinghouse was struggling with cash flow and asked Tesla if he could hold the payments for a while. Tesla reportedly welcomed the opportunity Westinghouse had given him and broke the ongoing royalty contract.
Tesla didn't just back out of the contract without receiving anything in return. According to Margaret Cheney's book Tesla: The Misfit, Westinghouse's 1897 annual report states that Tesla received $216,600 for the outright purchase of his patents. The relative value of $216,000.00 in 1897 exceeds the current purchasing power of $6 million. Here we list the dollar amounts paid in the 1890s and give some conservative estimates in modern dollars to compare and put those amounts in perspective. For example, using a simple purchasing power calculator and multiplying $216,000 by the percentage increase in the consumer price index from 1897 to 2013, the relative value is just over $6.2 million.
Regardless of the method used to calculate the numbers, Tesla had made some notable savings after exiting the Westinghouse partnership.
after the current war
Nikola Tesla was a great companion to George Westinghouse as he defeated Thomas Edison in the Battle of the Electric Currents. Tesla had a vision, he could see problems and solve them mentally. Westinghouse has the business and managerial skills to build teams that accomplish our mission. Tesla and Westinghouse are a good team, but Tesla has moved on after the current wars.
The success of the Tesla-Westinghouse collaboration also explains many of Tesla's future failures. Without good business and managerial skills, Tesla would squander all of its private fortune on failed projects for years to come. In the PBS documentary Tesla Masters of Lightning, Tesla's great-nephew William Tebow explains Nikola Tesla's downfall."He wasn't interested in the business. He did not combine the importance of the business with the importance of his inventions and discoveries.”
Tesla seems to respect Westinghouse's role in the current wars. According to the Westinghouse Electric Nikola Tesla website:"George Westinghouse was, in my opinion, the only man in the world who, under the circumstances, could have taken over my air conditioning and won the fight against prejudice and the power of money. He was, of course, one of the true nobles of the world." .to the United States of America of which we are very proud and to which mankind owes a great debt of gratitude."
George Westinghouse died in 1914. Here are some things Tesla said about Westinghouse in Electric World on March 21, 1914.“His career was remarkable and successful. He brought to the world many valuable inventions and improvements, created new industries, promoted mechanical and electrical arts, and in many ways improved the conditions of modern life. A great pioneer and builder whose work met with great success. His name had a profound impact on his time and will be remembered for a long time.
Different accounts have differing accounts of why Westinghouse saved Tesla when he was bankrupt and only in his later years. In 1934 Tesla moved into the New York Hotel, where Westinghouse paid for the room. There is a story about a Tesla being hit by a cab on the streets of New York and getting injured. Westinghouse executives learned he needed help and agreed to pay for his room and board for the rest of his life.
From the perspective of a history geek, the Edison Medal being bestowed on George Westinghouse is the ultimate irony.
In Nikola Tesla's original contract with George Westinghouse, the inventor was promised a bonus of $2.50 for every horsepower of alternating current sold. But making Tesla's AC motor was expensive, and Westinghouse soon told Tesla he wouldn't be able to pay him what was originally promised.What was the Westinghouse deal with Tesla? ›
In Nikola Tesla's original contract with George Westinghouse, the inventor was promised a bonus of $2.50 for every horsepower of alternating current sold. But making Tesla's AC motor was expensive, and Westinghouse soon told Tesla he wouldn't be able to pay him what was originally promised.What did the work of George Westinghouse and Nikolai Tesla helped to do? ›
With Tesla's help, Westinghouse's companies began providing electricity through an AC system.What did George Westinghouse believe about generating electric power? ›
Westinghouse convincingly demonstrated the general superiority of transmitting power with electricity rather than by mechanical means such as the use of ropes, hydraulic pipes, or compressed air, all of which had been proposed. He demonstrated the transmission superiority of alternating current over direct current.What did Edison and Westinghouse disagree on? ›
In the late 1880s, Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse were embroiled in a historic legal battle over the right to produce a billion-dollar technology: the lightbulb. Edison accused Westinghouse, his rival in American electrification, of infringing on his lightbulb patent.Which type of current did Westinghouse and Tesla support? ›
General Electric bid to electrify the fair using Edison's direct current for $554,000, but lost to George Westinghouse, who said he could power the fair for only $399,000 using Tesla's alternating current.Why did Westinghouse hire Tesla? ›
In 1886 he incorporated the Westinghouse Electric Company, which three years later was renamed the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company. He purchased the patents of Nikola Tesla's AC motor and hired Tesla to improve and modify the motor for use in his power system.Did Westinghouse screw over Tesla? ›
Tesla was paid over $100,000 (about $3 million in today's dollars), plus a generous royalty. Within a few years, Tesla was a millionaire (in 1890 dollars), thanks to the royalties. Whatever Tesla's troubles with Edison had been, Westinghouse didn't betray him or screw him over.What did Westinghouse Electric do? ›
The main function of the Electric & Manufacturing Company was to develop and produce "apparatus for the generation, transmission and application of alternating current electricity." (The Westinghouse Companies in the Railway & Industrial Fields, 1905) The company also produced electric railway motors, producing ...When did Nikola Tesla work with George Westinghouse? ›
By 1891 he had been granted 40 US patents on AC motors and systems. Westinghouse, the inventor and developer of air brakes for trains, heard about Tesla and his AC motor patents, and in 1889 went from Philadelphia to NYC to meet Tesla. The two became compatible soon, and worked together.
Edison championed direct current (DC) as the prevailing method for electrical distribution, while Tesla saw the potential of alternating current (AC) systems, which offered greater efficiency over longer distances. The defining moment in their rivalry came with the "War of Currents," a battle between AC and DC systems.Who did Edison sue in the current war? ›
Edison fiercely guards his patents and sues Westinghouse. Edison suggests that AC is dangerous and engages in a publicity war, while Westinghouse stands behind its technical merits. As Edison struggles to find ways to make DC more affordable, Westinghouse attempts to get the high-voltage AC system to work with motors.How much money did Westinghouse and Tesla bid to light the World fair? ›
The deciding battle took place in Chicago at the 1893 World's Fair. Edison's company, General Electric, requested $554,000 to light the fair using DC. Tesla and his ally George Westinghouse bid $399,000. Tesla won the bid, and AC found its way into our lives.Did Westinghouse steal Edison's light bulb? ›
Westinghouse created a competing light bulb that he claimed was not only different from Edison's, but better. But when Westinghouse tried to bring his product to market, Edison buried him in lawsuits for patent infringement.Did Edison lose the war of the currents? ›
Edison Lost The War Of Currents, But DC Networks Are Now Making A Big Comeback. When Thomas Edison opened the world's first central power plant on Pearl Street in downtown Manhattan in 1882, he revolutionized how people used electricity.Who won the war of the currents and why? ›
While, arguably, DC won the battle in terms of reputation, it was AC that became that standard for electric currents and power across the US. Thanks to a series of mergers, it soon became a non-issue. But beyond the war, there's plenty of other reasons why AC comes out on top.Did Tesla make money with Westinghouse? ›
His AC induction motor and related polyphase AC patents, licensed by Westinghouse Electric in 1888, earned him a considerable amount of money and became the cornerstone of the polyphase system which that company eventually marketed.Did Westinghouse ever pay Tesla? ›
It has been documented that Tesla was paid $2,000 per month by Westinghouse, worth about $48,000 per month today. Westinghouse also agreed to pay Tesla an additional $2.50 per horsepower of connected load on Westinghouses utility power grid. Additionally, Westinghouse paid royalties to Tesla for use of his patent...What did the Westinghouse company do? ›
The main function of the Electric & Manufacturing Company was to develop and produce "apparatus for the generation, transmission and application of alternating current electricity." (The Westinghouse Companies in the Railway & Industrial Fields, 1905) The company also produced electric railway motors, producing ...