Thomas Edison vs. Nikola Tesla

For a considerable period of time, there has been a debate on who is to be contemplated as the better inventor. The debate involved Nikola Tesla, who invented alternating current, and Thomas Edison, who invented direct current. The discussion concerning the two inventors is connected to such aspects as economy, nationalism, and even their inventions. Long after their death, their studies and competition have always been a subject of disputes in different articles, academic debates, and blog posts.

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Therefore, the question of who is the better inventor between the two is quite difficult to answer, considering the fact that both of them had diverse approaches to various inventing and innovations. Tesla being a student of Edison is seen to be better educated and is regarded as a scientist, while Edison is considered to be interested in business, and thus, more knowledgeable in this particular field (Tesla and Anderson 6). The two inventors are contemplated to be quite successful in inventing various innovations though they used two different methods to achieve their completely different goals. As such, this paper presents a discussion on the comparison and contrast of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.

Both of the two inventors criticized each other’s method of invention publically. Tesla had a formal education so he could solve his problem by creating a theory and testing it mathematically without necessarily testing it practically. Edison, on the other hand, lacked formal education, and hence, could perform a lot of experiments before determining a theory. As a result, in contrast to Tesla, he could spend a considerable amount of time inventing something (Adkins 44). Further, Edison preferred working with his team in developing innovation, while Tesla preferred working alone.

Another difference between the two is that Edison believed that anything that could not be sold did not deserve to be invented. Thus, he thought that his innovations were meant for sale, having the entrepreneurial mind-set. On the other hand, Tesla had a quite different opinion on the innovations since he believed that any idea that occurs in his mind is worth trying if it can lead to the real change and make the life of people simpler. Tesla also believed that the desire to change human life could cause him work without sleeping, lose friends, and even forget everything until he complete his invention. At the same time, Edison thought that earning more money is the prime reason for him to finish his creations.

One more difference is the patenting of the inventions: Edison patented 1093 of his ideas, while Tesla was able to patent only 112 of his innovations. However, most of the patented ideas of Edison are said to have not been his inventions. He took ideas from his students and his team and encroached on them or even stole ideas from other innovators; nevertheless, he had his own ideas patented too. One of the ideas stolen and patented by Edison is the idea of the light bulb. Though it was worked on by more than 20 different innovators, Edison presented it as his innovation.

On the opposite, Tesla patented only his own ideas. He is said to be working a lot in the field of science that generates electricity, and most preferably, on the alternative current. Tesla developed and improved the induction motor that is currently used in every household throughout the world as a home appliance. He is well-remembered for the innovation of the wireless communication and the vertical take-off aircraft technology, among others.

Edison was a business man that helped him to be respected among the wealthiest men of his generation. He looked for investors who could aid in realization of his ideas since he believed that innovations had to result in income. Edison is remembered for his adverse wealth that he had gained with the help of his investors. On the other hand, Tesla could be considered as the greatest disappointment of the entrepreneurship. He chose to provide his ideas for free in order to change the lives of people. Hence, he died being a poor man though he presented significant innovations that are being used even nowadays.

Furthermore, Thomas Edison believed that the direct current had the capability and power in changing the lives of people. Because of the fact that he was a businessman, he had invested a lot in the direct current without taking an alternating current into consideration. Tesla, on the other hand, was an active defender of the alternating current. He believed that such current was easy to generate, and hence, middle and low class citizens could manage to afford it. Edison argued that the alternating current was quite dangerous since it had high voltage. However, the alternating current became more preferable owing to the fact that the direct current was not able to generate enough power to serve the whole city and large industries.

Therefore, the differences between the two innovators can be concluded as follows. Thomas Edison had economic goals while developing his innovations, while Tesla was focusing majorly on how science might make it possible to improve machinery and various methods in the society without considering economic benefits (Vukić 17). The second difference is that Edison had many patented ideas compared to Tesla though most of his patents belonged to his team, students, or even were stolen from other inventors. On the other hand, Tesla has patented only his own ideas. The fourth difference is that Tesla is seen to have been an academic scientist, while Edison is seen to have been more a businessman.

With the many differences that Edison and Tesla had, they both had similarities. The two inventors have both provided the best innovations that have significantly changed the current life globally. Both of them had a lot of passion and a lot of interest in electricity, resulting in numerous innovations achieved in this field. They added a lot of knowledge to the world of science. Tesla and Edison worked to invent a similar product though they were doing their innovation through different methods and having a different goal. In most cases, the entrepreneurs will say that Edison was more successful compared to Tesla because his inventions helped him to make a good career. On the other hand, the scientist will say the Tesla was more successful since he only wanted to invent, not making money out of it.


Works Cited

Adkins, Jan. Thomas Edison. 1st ed., New York, DK Pub., 2009.

Tesla, Nikola. Nikola Tesla on His Work with Alternating Currents and Their Application to Wireless Telegraphy, Telephony, and Transmission of Power: An Extended Interview. 21st Century Books, 2002.

Vukić, Vladimir Đ. “Line-frequency Phase-controlled Rectifiers with Adaptive Digital Controllers.” Zbornik Radova, Elektrotehnički Institut “Nikola Tesla” 23 (2013): 1-18. DOI: 10.5937/zeint23-4512.

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