I don't deny that Nikola Tesla was a genius. Even more legendary than Tesla's genius is the mythology surrounding him. I can't say I remember learning much about the inventor Nikola Tesla from high school other than that cool gizmo in the science lab known as the Tesla coil. I graduated from high school two decades before the internet went commercial. My high school science and history books may have made Edison the all American hero, but the modern day internet has promoted the legacy of Nikola Tesla as one of the greatest scientist of the twentieth century.
Having a lifelong interest in science and technology, the name Thomas Edison came up often. When I first started working on ideas for the Geek History website, Edison was one of the first names that came to mind to illustrate the word geek in a world before the age of computers and modern technology. Edison was often portrayed in the stereotype created for him as the Wizard of Menlo Park. I remember the story of when asked by a reporter if Edison had completed a thousand experiments that failed to produce a light bulb, Edison replied, "I have not failed 1000 times. I have successfully found 1000 ways that will not work." The story is supposed to illustrate persistence and perseverance.
Geek History sorts through the Tesla versus Edison myths
If you do a lot of searching for information on the internet on Thomas Edison you can't help but run into all the articles of the great debate of Edison versus Tesla. The Tesla fanatics paint Tesla as the man who invented everything electrical in the modern industrial age, and Edison is the evil businessman who stole all his ideas from Tesla. The online wave of mis-information on the alleged conflicts between Tesla and Edison reminds me of an old expression, there are three sides to every story, your side, my side, and the truth that lies somewhere in the middle. The goal of Geek History to be fanatic at finding the truth.
A little bit of logical reasoning would find a major flaw in the claim that Edison is the evil businessman who stole all his ideas from Tesla. During the time Tesla worked for Edison they were on different sides of an argument. Tesla hoped to show Edison his ideas on AC (alternating current) but Edison refused to look at them because he was pushing for DC (direct current) as the preferred method of electrical power distribution. As Tesla found out in his brief working relationship with Edison, there was only one way to do things, Edison's way. In some of the chapters of GeekHistory.com we explore a lot of the details in the "War of Currents," the battle between the use AC (alternating current) versus DC (direct current).
The statement that Edison stole all his ideas from his employees comes from the way Edison ran his laboratory. Edison had the reputation of a hard driving businessman, but he was also passionate about creating an invention factory. Edison used his staff to prove his points and then take his ideas to the patent office. Some point to the concept of the invention factory as the reason for his success, critics say Edison took his invention factory too far, and Edison took credit for any individual creativity by his employees.
One overwhelming theme of the Tesla fans is that Edison was not really a geek and Tesla was the greatest geek that ever lived. Edison was My opinion of Edison as the beloved inventor and the Wizard of Menlo Park has definitely changed over the years, but I still respect him for his many contributions to the world. From an early age Edison was full of curiosity about how things worked. Edison and Tesla were different in many ways, and both had different approaches to their work, but both were very much geeks.
Tesla fans portray Edison as the evil capitalist and Tesla as the kind and gentle humanist. Yes, Edison did some evil things during the War of Currents to discredit AC, such as electrocuting animals and supporting the creation of the electric chair as a means of execution. But the kind and gentle humanist Tesla was full of strange stories as well. There was a recent article being spread on Twitter on "Nikola Tesla’s prescient 1926 vision for a world of gender equality." It is pretty amusing how the article paints Tesla as a true visionary on gender equality. I saw no mention in the article of Tesla's views on selective breeding and eugenics. Tesla wanted to eliminate "undesirables" by sterilizing criminals and the mentally ill.
Superman cartoons poked fun at Tesla when he professed to have developed a secret ray gun to end all wars. Ironically the modern internet has turned Tesla into Superman as the great inventor of everything in the world of electricity. But the cult of Tesla has gone to such lengths to make him a superman that they become super defensive when someone tries to rationalize the exaggerations. Misinformation drives me crazy. On GeekHistory.com we try to set the record straight and expose the urban legends, check out the links below to learn more.
Edison wasn't the devil, and Tesla was no saint. The passion for Tesla by his fans and the stories about Tesla's scientific accomplishments has elevated Tesla to the status of mythological geek folk hero. Nikola Tesla may have been the most interesting geek in the world.
Learn more at GeekHistory.com
The World of Questy explores the cult of Nikola Tesla
We have added a section to the World of Questy on myths and legends, and the concept of Truth by Consensus. Since the story of lost files of Nikola Tesla is more in the scope of mystery and adventure than technology, we have included a page on Tesla mythology at the World of Questy.. The claims of files stolen by the FBI after Tesla's death that have mysteriously disappeared reads something from the television show the X-files.
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