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Aug 16 2012

#TeamTesla

Thomas Edison was an ass. These days, companies will lay claim to patents on ideas developed by their employees (and other things, but that’s another story). Edison took it a step further and patented them under his own name.

That problem we have with companies lobbying to have their standards adopted by fiat? Yeah, Edison was in on that action too.

Between the two behaviors, this is why we know Edison’s name so well. He was an inventor, yes, but much of his brilliance was as a business owner.

Nikola Tesla not so much. He’s mostly an icon to geeks. You don’t see Edison in episodes of Sanctuary or conscripted to be a mad genius in movies like The Prestige. Tesla? Oh, yes, and frequently as odd as they come.

The truth is a bit more boring. Tesla was a genius, but not terribly mad. Some synesthesia, a touch of OCD, a bit of a loner, with little time for marketing himself or his ideas. Thus, while his ideas have lived on and played important roles in our lives, Tesla himself has mostly lived on in speculative fiction.

We have an opportunity to fix that. Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal has the details:

Tesla’s laboratory, Wardenclyffe, was built to provide wireless energy for the entire earth. Unfortunately, funding for the project was cut off and in 1917 the Wardenclyffe tower was demolished and the land was sold to a photographic film manufacturer. However, the land, laboratory, and foundation underneath the tower are still there and very recently went up for sale. And right now, a non-profit organization is trying to buy the property and turn it into a Nicola Tesla Museum. [Note: Inman's post has way more fun pictures than this.]

I want to go to a Tesla Museum in his old laboratory. I want to see where the eccentric genius worked. More importantly, I want history to treat Tesla better than Edison or his other contemporaries did.

If you want the same thing and can chip in a bit, go donate.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    feralboy12

    The awesomeness of Tesla and the super-villainy of Edison has been a running meme on Cracked.com for years.
    It’s possible they get a bit over-the-top with it on occasion, though.

  2. 2
    Stephanie Zvan

    Well, Tesla did have the advantage of understanding electromagnetism at an essentially intuitive level at a point when there were lots of discoveries to be made and not a lot to study before getting ahead of the curve. And Edison was doing what is now business as usual. He probably would be less vilified if we didn’t all have him sold to us as a great inventor when we were children.

  3. 3
    smrnda

    There’s a good book about Thomas Edison’s invention of the electric chair, and his rivalry with Westinghouse over whether AC or DC current would become standard. I forget the title, but just thought I would add that yes, Edison invented the electric chair.

  4. 4
    kraut

    Edison was nothing but your typical capitalist robber baron, who stole ideas and marketed them under his own name.
    He was the ultimate american shyster.

    Tesla was a scientist and inventor, one who really advanced the use of electrical power, with more ideas in one day than edison ever had in his whole life. But – Tesla was an “alien”, a foreigner, not to be trusted by good american boys and girls, therefore he must be mad if he was that brilliant.

  5. 5
    Brad

    Edison had an elephant murdered in a horrible way for personal gain. The elephant killed a couple people, but I would think our opposition to, inhumane specifically, capitol punishment would extend to animals. We’d balk at someone electrocuting rabid dogs for example.

  6. 6
    Reinder Dijkhuis

    Tesla, schmesla. Alexander Graham Bell made both of them look likke complete amateurs.

  7. 7
    kraut

    “Below is a list of Tesla patents. Nikola Tesla was an inventor who obtained around 300 patents[1] worldwide for his inventions. Some of Tesla’s patents are not accounted for, and various sources have discovered some that have laid hidden in patent archives. There are a minimum of 278 patents[1] issued to Tesla in 26 countries that have been accounted for. Many of Tesla’s patents were in the United States, Britain, and Canada, but many other patents were approved in countries around the globe.[2] Many inventions developed by Tesla were not put into patent protection.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nikola_Tesla_patents

    The range of Bell’s inventive genius is represented only in part by the 18 patents granted in his name alone and the 12 he shared with his collaborators. These included 14 for the telephone and telegraph, four for the Photophone, one for the phonograph, five for aerial vehicles, four for “hydroairplanes” and two for selenium cells. Bell’s inventions spanned a wide range of interests and included a metal jacket to assist in breathing, the audiometer to detect minor hearing problems, a device to locate icebergs, investigations on how to separate salt from seawater, and work on finding alternative fuels.”

    Tesla still beats Bell on patent count alone.
    But I don’t think that is what we should focus on. Both men, Tesla and Bell, are each in his own right superior to a shill like Edison, who mostly pilfered from others.

  8. 8
    kraut

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Graham_Bell
    forgot the source.
    The difference between Tesla and edison: Tesla knew from first principles that only AC power had a chance to economically transport electrical power, he was a scientist with an understanding of physics that edison never even came close to.
    Edison was a capitalist entrepreneur and marketer, not a scientist at all.

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