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Nikola Tesla Wasn't God And Thomas Edison Wasn't The Devil (forbes.com)
325 points by timf on May 19, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 158 comments

Little story:

So I walk into a bar in Belgrade, Serbia. Turns out to be a private party, lot's of drinking and merry-ment but my girl and I felt a bit out of place. Just before we turned for the door a man pulled me by the shoulder to the bar and started asking what we were doing there, real intimidating-like.

He said we could have drinks on him but I felt a little like we didn't want to be indebted to this guy. On the other hand I felt I had no choice.

He had asked me what I'd studied and I mentioned physics. He got the bar-tenders attention, got me a drink, and asked me "so... you say you know something about physics... tell me: 'what nationality was Nikola Tesla?'"

I responded "Croatian" of course. Suddenly the faces of the man, the bartender, and (so it seemed) the rest of the bar too went very gloomy, eyes piercing into me like shots of raiki (the liquor they drink).

I learned that night that the Serbs claim Tesla was a Serbian who lived in Croatia. The Croatians and Serbs (who hate each other very much) both claim him as their national heros.


- if you're in Serbia, Tesla was a Serbian (and a god)

- if you're in Croatia, Tesla was a Croatian (and a god)

- if you're anywhere else, well I guess now I know he wasn't god

1) I doubt either nation considers him a god.. just really proud of his accomplishments... although under a healthy influence of rakija I don't think a discussion with your "host" about pretty much anything would have been reasonable.

2) In Serbia you don't have to feel indebted when someone offers you a drink. I believe this is true for many "old-school" cultures. I realize it might seem intimidating or aggressive but don't fear. Just have a drink ;)

3) Nikola Tesla was Serbian. And yes he was born in Croatia (there are lots of us)... but I have a feeling your host would've been more offended had you replied "Who?". Either way you made it out of there in one piece didn't you?

Tesla's parents were both from a long lineage of Serbian Orthodox clergy. He was definitely Serbian, I doubt many Croatians claim him as their own, he just happens to be from a part of Croatia that was very Serbian prior to the last few years. My family on my mothers side is from the same pert of ex-Yugoslavia and large parts of the Serbian diaspora who emigrated are from parts of old Yugoslavia that are no longer in Serbia proper or the Serbian part of Bosnia.

The confusion came about for two reasons. 1. that Krajina became part of Croatia (that part of Yugoslavia) and 2. the old unifying Yugoslav government claimed Tesla as one of their own, and they did what they could to rid of ethnic divides so referred to everybody as 'Yugoslav' (or 'Yugoslav from Croatia' etc.).

This gets even uglier with the recent war where nationalists from all sides attempted to claim historic figures and celebrities as their own in an effort of ethnic superiority propaganda. (The funniest example of this was the President of Croatia leading an archeological dig in a part of Croatia where he discovered that the Croatian nation pre-dated the Roman empire - it got really messy). This really muddied the waters.

Most people in the region are pretty chilled out now, though - as a Serbian I have no problem with Croatians referring to Tesla as 'one of us', just as I often refer to Croatian football players as 'one of mine' (being from the Balkans). There is a lot more that unites us as a people than divides us.

My mother, fiercely proud of being Croatian (her parents immigrated to the U.S.), occasionally boasted that Tesla was "one of us"; she and my dad even named their dog Tesla in honor of him. I once told her Tesla was actually a Serb, the son of an Orthodox priest; she laughed and said with great conviction that I didn't know what I was talking about.

In some cultures naming your dog after someone is an insult to them, like they were your b.

- if you're in Croatia, Tesla was a Croatian (and a god)

Don't be so sure.

During the recent war they burned his memorial house and destroyed the monument in front of it. They also demolished his monument in the nearby town of Gospic at the beginning of the recent war and it appears they don't want it back: http://bit.ly/JnSQkg

"The recent war" (1991-1995), or Croatian War of Independence, was a mess and things like that happened. It doesn't mean anything.

In Croatian schools, they always say Tesla was Serbian and born in Croatian territory. Both Croatians and Serbs are proud of him, I guess.

As for mutual hatred, many people lost their families in the war, and obviously many Serbs were part of the aggression, so the relationship is no wonder.

Anyway, the article is great! Just what I needed.

As for mutual hatred, many people lost their families in the war, and obviously many Serbs were part of the aggression, so the relationship is no wonder.

The hatred dates well before the 1990ies. See this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jasenovac_concentration_camp. The more you know, the less you want to know.

The drink you are referring to is "Rakia", not "raiki". Just so you know :)

It's "Rakija" ;) but close enough

EDIT: OK correction, Wikipedia says it's also spelt rakia .. although I've never seen it written that way.

Rakija. It's spelt R-a-k-i-y-a. Wide-known drink of Slavic countries, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, etc. Derived from a Turkish word. Brandy made by distillation of fruit. The most known is Slivovitz (sliva- plum, Slavic origin), Plum brandy. See www.tastebrandy.com

Could be a Slovenian thing :) I pronounce it that way, but it could be entirely possible that it's spelled "Rakija" (wouldn't know, I'm not a big fan of the drink :)).

Could you add any contact info in your profile? :) There are not many people that know joys of rakija on this site :)

No people from Crete, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia? Really?

None that I had pleasure to drink with :)

Certainly.. its just my username @ gmail.com :) Although currently I perform my rakija consumption in Canada

probably a Serb/Croat "ije" thing.

Well, Tesla really was a Serbian - his father was in fact, a Serbian Orthodox priest, so the documentation on this is clear.

Of course, since he was born into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and studied in Graz, we might as well let the Austrians take credit, as the Austrians really need it (what's Austria's greatest accomplishment? convincing the world that Mozart is Austrian, and Hitler is German!)

But really, he did his best work as an American, so USA! USA! USA! :)

Seriously? Economics (von Mises? Morgenstern?), engineering (Ferdinand Porsche? Valier?) philosophy (Popper?), physics (Boltzman? Doppler? Mach? Pauli?), mathematics (heard of this guy Gödel?), genetics (Mendel?), etc.


Von Neumann was Jewish, Hungarian and later, American. He was never an Austrian.

You are correct - edited. I had always learned of him as an Austro-Hugarian/American :).

Don't forget Scwartzenegger

Well, since his favorite phrase is "Hasta la vista, baby", and lives in California, he's obviously a Mexican! :)

von Mises: Galician Jew from Lvov (now a part of the Ukraine)

Oskar Morgenstern: German

Ferdinand Porsche: German

Valier: never heard of this guy until I looked him up just now; a true Austrian - albeit born in Italy and worked in Germany. Damned shame he died so young.

Karl Popper: Jew

Ludwig Boltzmann: the second real Austrian on this list.

Christian Doppler: another real Austrian...

Ernst Mach: Volksdeutsche from what is now Czech Republic.

Wolfgang Pauli: Czech-Jew, and related to Mach.

Kurt Gödel: German AMERICAN, F YEAH!! :)

Gregor Mendel: Volksdeutsche, from Silesia (now part of Czech Republic)

So I see only 3 Austrian on this list!

P.S. the Brits/Finns/Ukrainians/Russians always make a good joke at Germans' expense, but Austria always gets a free pass... I'm trying to right that wrong! :)

> Karl Popper: Jew

If you are going to assert that Jews cannot be Austrian, you may as well go all the way and give Hitler credit for being Austrian.

Ferdinand Porsche was born in modern-day Czech Republic, then Austria-Hungary, and later held Austrian and German citizenship. Morgenstern, while German-born, resided in Austria and the US. Gödel grew up in Czechoslovakia and considered himself an Austrian. He was German in the way someone from Belgium in the 1940s was German. Et cetera.

Due to changing borders, I'm not attributing Austria-Hungary's borders, but people who held Austrian citizenship after the breakup or resided in Austria proper were Austrian, regardless of where they were born. I'm ignoring the notion that Jews can't Austrian.


Nah, Freud is a Galician Jew, not an Austrian. :)

Where you get that he was Croatian in the first place?

"Nikola Tesla was born to Serbian parents in the village of Smiljan, Austrian Empire near the town of Gospić, in the territory of modern-day Croatia. His baptismal certificate reports that he was born on 28 June (N.S. 10 July) 1856 to father Milutin Tesla, a priest in the Serbian Orthodox Church.[12] His mother was Đuka Tesla, née Mandić, whose father was also a Serbian Orthodox priest."

It doesn't get any more Serbian.

> in the territory of modern-day Croatia

This is a ridiculous comment. So the Dalai Lama is Chinese?

So? The question was "Where you get that he was Croatian in the first place?" and the answer is that he was born in what is now Croatia. I'm sure that, if you took a survey, plenty of people would say the Dalai Lama is Chinese.

About a billion people agree with you, and a billion people don't.

The other several billion do not give a shit, even under the most promising of conditions, because they have real, actual, human problems in their modest, meager, live-a-day lives.

Are you fucking stupid, sir? Or are you simply ignorant? Do you not understand this is the very meta-issue that finds itself under debate? Are you incapable of abstract thought?

Which means absolutely nothing. If two Americans have a kid while living in China, would that make him a Chinese?

People often confuse ethnicity and nationality - you need to be more concrete with your example.

Two Caucasians (ethnicity) who are US citizens living in China gives birth to a baby in China, then the baby would be Caucasian (ethnicity), and American (nationality, by US law), but probably also Chinese (nationality, by Chinese law[1]).

Maybe that example is not so great because the baby would have dual-citizenship, so consider a different example:

3rd generation Chinese immigrants in the US who are born in America, never left the US to visit China (same as their parents), it is their grand parents who migrated from China. These 3rd generation immigrations are Chinese (ethnicity) and US citizens (nationality), also called Chinese-Americans (format: [ethnicity]-[nationality])[2]. These Chinese-Americans are not citizens of China, but they are ethnic Chinese.

Hope that clears up that one small point.

[1] Most countries have a 'if you're born here, you get our citizenship automatically' (I'm not sure about China specifically, just using it as an example).

[2] easy to mix up and confuse, but order matters here

> Most countries have a 'if you're born here, you get our citizenship automatically' (I'm not sure about China specifically, just using it as an example).

That principle is called 'jus soli'[1], and is far from universal. Only ~15% of all nations confer it. A few more grant it under restricted conditions. China is emphatically _not_ one of those countries.

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jus_soli

Did you mean the Caucasian ethnic groups -- i.e., Chechens, Ingush, Ossetian, et al, or the "Caucasian race" (which is itself a misnomer) -- whites. These are completely separate things.

The term Caucasian is highly confusing as it's a racist term invented by the same German who came up with Negroid and Mongloid, and is - as far as I know - only used in the United States. In fact, the Supreme Court in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923) decided that Indians were "Caucasian", but were not white.

Also, China is a bad example, as Chinese is not an ethnicity, it's a nationality as China is a multi-ethnic nation. The ethnicities being Han (what most people consider to be "ethnic Chinese", Hui, et al.

So? Your question was "Where you get that he was Croatian in the first place?" and the answer is that he was born in what is now Croatia.

Yes, unless thhe parents decide not to (or the local law doesn't allow it for whatever reason)

Yes? 0.o

Huh? The answer is actually no. Not just for the legal (and or trivial) reasons that he wouldn't have neither the ethnicity not the nationality, but he also wouldn't share the chinese culture.

What kind of Americans? Say they are a Sioux-Polish American from Chicago and an Irish-Mexican-Mongolian American from Houston, then yeah, why not call the kid Chinese. My mate was born on holiday in Australia and only lived there for a week, yet had to go through naturalisation over 20 years later to become the same nationality as his parents, as they had forgot to fill out the forms at the time.

So presumably Tesla was a Croatian-Serb, or possibly a Serb-Croatian, and whether or not those two groups get along doesn't really affect that definition. I mean, I fully understand that it is a touchy subject, but I don't really think that it affects long dead physicists very much.

>What kind of Americans? Say they are a Sioux-Polish American from Chicago and an Irish-Mexican-Mongolian American from Houston, then yeah, why not call the kid Chinese.

It's still American.

(At least to us Europeans) what matters is the culture of the parents/kid, not the nationality or the ethnicity itself.

A 3rd generation Irish-American is an American, not an Irish, and a 3rd generation Chinese-American is by all means an American too.

Funny enough I have my own reasons for having thought he was Croatian. A few years ago I visited my ancestral village in Italy's Abruzzo region and there happened to be a street named after Tesla... I asked about it and learned that Tesla was from nearby, just across the Adriatic in Croatia. Hence in my head it was cemented.

Really I suppose I got the wrong idea in my head because Italians are much more familiar with their naval neighbor Croatia than further-away Serbia :)

I liked the play-by-play refutation of the comic, he really researched the whole thing (so I didn't have to). I learned some new things!

I enjoyed the tone of the comic, however, even if it was inaccurate or disputable or at times just plain wrong. For me, Edison is one of those figures, like Christopher Columbus, or George Washington, that you learn about every single year growing up, since kindergarten, and whose myth is so grand and ubiquitous that every teacher I had from elementary school up until junior year physics said the exact same thing about him. Tesla was just another of a dozen names in the textbook.

So in a way I understand the sentiment. You grow up being told that this is guy, Edison, is the most awesome inventor in the history of America. And because of that I always felt a certain distrust about his accomplishments (even if I'm wrong), because so much of what my teachers taught me growing up turned out to be wrong.

> So in a way I understand the sentiment.

Yeah, but isn't what The Oatmeal did just as bad as what grade school teachers do? If we go from "Edison is the most awesome inventor in the history of America" to "Edison is the biggest asshat in the history of America," we've gained absolutely no honesty in our discourse. The Forbes article was nuanced and factually correct, which is what we should be striving for.

I agree - that smart-ass tone for me was the fun thing as well.

Edison, as a larger than life figure in the past 100 years seems to be untouchable. The Oatmeal comic was a rush because I was thinking "you can't say those things about Edison".

Of course, the real story is more complex than either hagiography.

You grow up being told that this is guy, Edison, is the most awesome inventor in the history of America.

Well, consider this. Let's suppose Tesla was actually the most awesome inventor, and Edison was second. Which do you want to show children? The one who was a genius, or the one who made no bones about the fact that hard work was the main ingredient to his success?

In other words, do we teach children that being smart is important, or do we teach them that hard work is important?

Tesla worked tirelessly as well. Edison's clear superiority over Tesla was in business financing. I guess that's the lesson children need to learn?

We all stand on the shoulders of giants. Edison was no different.

There is a great biography of Edison which was very eye opening to me - I did not realize how many patents he held or how many other inventions and innovations on other work he had made beyond the longer burning commercial lightbulb. http://refer.ly/a09m

Just in case you don't read the book, there is a story where they first got the lightbulb to burn for a long time... I think it was 30-something hours. And they just stayed awake sitting there in amazement watching it burn until it burned out. I feel like that awe is so in the spirit of today's modern startups when we first launch or discover something. When they "launched" the new lightbulb they strung them up all over the yard of Edison's house, and people came driving up at night for the event and it was like magic. I would give anything to have seen that.

I think its really cool that he improved on other people's inventions, helping make things like the telegraph and typewriter into practical, affordable, useful tools that lots of people could buy. That might not be as grand as making brand new things, but it has a huge impact on human life. He also created the phonograph, the first idea of "records" (wax scrolls) and did a ton of work on early motion pictures. The list just goes on and on, learn about him, you'll be surprised to find that what they taught you in school was just surface-level and there is really so much more there.

> Is it possible – just possible – that Edison honestly believed that AC was dangerous and honestly did not think it should be use?

This strikes me as pretty naive. Edison had the patents that effectively controlled the market for DC electricity. He would have been a Carnegie or a Rockefeller had DC been adopted. He had such an extreme conflict of interest that it's unreasonable to assume good faith.

DC power distribution.

In the beginning DC dominated because of technical reasons. Efficient AC motors and generators were just getting invented eand transformers weren't that good.

And for various reasons some applications still use DC motors - for example only in robotics, servomotors; but consider that in the last 20 years do things like air-conditioners and elevators start to use AC motors (because of the efficiency made possible with solid-state inverters).

Interesting tidbit: Modern long distance underseas power transmission is DC again (because it's more efficient, among other reasons).


It sounds like AC disrupted the DC market. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me that Edison didn't want to be disrupted and took legal action, not unlike how it happens today in many industries.

Another example of how patents actually hinder and harm innovation. Which is not surprising when you start to think of them as government granted monopolies.

My opinion is that the reason conflicts of interest are suboptimal is not mainly that they tend to cause people to lie about their beliefs, but rather that they tend to cause people to truly believe that which would benefit them if true.

In other words, the presence of an extreme conflict of interest causes me to take anything the person says with a large grain of salt, but does not, to me, cast doubt on a person's good faith.

More generally, as a matter of etiquette, it seems to me that (a heuristic that encourages people not to assume good faith in response to evidence that does not include any implication of unethical behavior) is unwise. For example, the evidence here is that, "he would have been a Carnegie or a Rockefeller had DC been adopted," which is not, in itself, unethical. Therefore one should not, on the basis of this evidence alone, assume good faith any less than one did prior to this evidence.

>>What’s more, Edison was haunted by Dally’s death to the end of his days. It agonized him. While Dally was alive and suffering, Edison kept him on the payroll and took care of all of his expenses until the day he died. In the early 20th Century, let me assure you that keeping employees on the payroll who couldn’t work was not a common practice. <<

I read in one of his biographies that in the latter years he kept a lot of employees, against his son's wishes, who were basically doing nothing for sentimental reasons because they had been with him in the early days.

It's called equity now.

Oatmeal's tactic to go viral was simple: create a good looking comic and express an extreme view, one that moves you psychologically and you think, "wow is that true? I didn't know that and I bet none of my friends do". Well played Oatmeal.

Oatmeal reminds me of Coding Horror: usually unoriginal, but adept at packaging content in a way that generates widespread appeal.

I believe Oatmeal likes to draw comics to generate traffic from Reddit. Not always but seems to be that way. Since Tesla is well-loved on Reddit, it's logical he would do this to get all the clicks.

Extreme view in the outside world but very common view in the tech geek culture. I've seen countless of times this rambling about Edison evilness vs Tesla misunderstood semi god status.

The Oatmeal always run with something already popular to the crowd that frequent reddit and the likes.

A good cartoon is better propaganda than a pure-text rant. It's been true for centuries.

I can't understand why the writer is reacting so much to the comic. Sure, it uses blunt language, but is the writer related to Edison distantly or his childhood hero or something?

Unlimited wireless electricity, among other Tesla's inventions are still mind boggling 100 years later. He drove a car with an electric engine, powered wirelessly, over 100 years ago.*

What have we done since?

From a more day to day perspective:

- Marconi's patents for inventing radio were overturned in Tesla's prior invention of radio.

- Inventor of Lasers

- Remote Control

I think we've gotten over the light bulb. Still, the disposable lightbulb sells and sells, a testament to Edison's business mind.

Based on the number, and staggering impact of each of Tesla's inventions, I don't believe Edison could spell Tesla on his best day; especially where it camee to innovation and creating things that hadn't existed before, let alone imagined.

The main question about Edison vs Tesla is, why no one knows who Tesla is even though he was at least an equal to Edison, if not arguably more.

* There's some argument about this occurring but there are also media reports that exist.

I can't understand why the writer is reacting so much to the comic

Because the comic is spreading non-sense as it is clearly evidenced in the article?

I don't believe Edison could spell Tesla on his best day

This is exactly the attitude I believe the article is opposed to, that I personally find naive as well - mythologizing people and single contributions and making science/engineering look like a game of who is more awesome. This is a conception that some popular science writing installs in many people and that could easily be cured by tracking the long history of many things we consider simple, in which at least tens of people contributed ideas that made the final invention tick. The article sums it up very well:

First of all, I’d contend that nearly every invention in the engineering or sciences is an improvement on what has come before – such as Tesla’s improvements to alternating current. That’s what innovation is. It’s a social process that occurs in a social context.

I don't even really care if Edison invented anything or not, because he was a douchebag. I don't even care if he ultimately believed AC was dangerous, advocating its use in electric chairs and electrocuting animals publicly is an attempt to use FUD and hysteria to win an argument that he was apparently unable to win by civilized means (and for good reason, because he was wrong).

Also, his aggressive filing of patents doesn't exactly endear me to him either. He held 1,093 patents at his death; did he really invent 1,093 things? He seems to have been an early player in the game of patenting every incremental improvement to everything, which as we see in software hinders rather than promotes "the progress of science and useful art."

>I don't even really care if Edison invented anything or not, because he was a douchebag

This is a textbook case of argumentum ad hominem. You may not care for what he did but that doesn't change the fact that he did it.

Ad hominem would be "a douche like that could never have invented anything."

What I'm saying is "he was a douche so I don't care if he invented anything."

I think you might be right that he was an early player of a patent filing game that has grown to become rather controversial in some spheres, namely software. The only way to know, besides being alive at that time, is to do the historical research.

Can you recommend any primary sources to learn more about this history (besides the patents themelves)? It sounds like you have read some?

On the bright side, not everyone took the Edison approach. Are you familiar with the history of Hans Bessemer and his approach to patents?

It may be naive but I think the best science and creation happens in a mindset of creativity, imagination, possibility and experimentation instead of doubt.

Tesla clearly invented things that did not exist before him, and also improved other things.

To me, those are on an order of magnitude different.

So did Edison. It might very well be that Edison would not be able to spell Tesla at his best but also that Tesla would not be able to spell Edison at his best. The point is they both made very valuable contributions using their unique talents, we build upon the work of both of them today and there is no need to turn it into some sort of competition. There is no meaningful way to compare creative achievements anyway. The article has this right in some places, to be fair in others it really seems biased in the opposite direction to the comic.

I'm not really making it a competition, or a comparison. The comic did. The writer did too.

I don't mean to fuel a comparison either, but that's what's being discussed. Instead of simply giving an opinion, I listed why I believe Tesla has more of an impact on my life every day today than Edison.

It's cool if others feel different.

> I can't understand why the writer is reacting so much to the comic. Sure, it uses blunt language, but is the writer related to Edison distantly or his childhood hero or something?

Reading the article, I would bet the comic under the second paragraph of "Tesla Wasn’t The First Person To Discover X-Rays" was what started the article. The comic is out-and-out false.

As to being a comic so why should he care. I would point the the Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Both are listed as comedies, but a lot of people report what they say as fact. The Oatmeal got a lot of play for the Game of Thrones comic so people use it as a source also.

To give a bit of political example. If I were to ask for a description of President Ford one of the first words to come to mind during the 70's would have been "clumsy" or "physically inept". This is the result of comedy sketches on SNL and not reality. Reality is he slipped on camera. He was probably one of the most physically gifted of the modern Presidents as he played center and linebacker in college. He was a star athlete.

Letting popular untruths sit, no matter the medium, tends to make them "common knowledge".

It's one thing to correct the falsehoods vs trying to minimize Tesla's accomplishments in light of Edison, which the article also did.

There's a big difference between editorial/opinion and journalistic pieces, sadly the comic can't be held to a standard, but neither can the writer to know the difference.

Blurring the line between editorial/opinion pieces and journalistic pieces starts to present or promote an opinion as fact.

This is also known as propaganda, and once that word was made dirty, called public relations.

Propoganda/Public Relations was created by Edward Bernays in the 20's for manufacturing ongoing demands for goods, known as consumerism. He was a nephew of Freud, and a fascinating read.

I didn't get the impression he was trying to minimize Tesla's actual accomplishments. He seems to be a pretty big fan of all the inventors of the era. He did point out where the comic had exaggerated the actual accomplishments. Tesla was pretty amazing, but so was Edison.

I don't think medium is the defining item for being held to a standard. Comics, as a form, have long been used for commentary. This particular artist did it prior to this with the Game of Thrones commentary that resulted in a lot of serious discussion.

I'm also not very concerned with something listed as editorial or opinion. If you make a statement of fact in error then corrections are needed. It looks like one whole wall of text panel was untrue.

Tesla did not invent Unlimted wireless electricity. He got low efficiency wireless power transfer working, but never worked out that inducing a current acts as a drain on the source aka you can use a high tension power line to light a few light bulbs just fine but the power company can measure the drain on the line. IMO, his problem was he was getting such low efficiency transfers that the drain was not obvious.

PS: If you still think his idea of charging the ionosphere could work, watch this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXhZvyGtMrk But, you can see people walking around the field prevents the bulbs from lighting up. Just, ignore the audio on this as they don't know what their talking about.

Tesla may have talked about ionizing the atmosphere in his earlier patents which required raising the termination of the antenna miles into the atmosphere, but it's clear from his later writings, especially "tesla on his work with alternating currents", that later iterations called for preventing the energy from leaking into the atmosphere as much as possible. You can see from the design of the toroid on top of the final proposed magnifying transmitter, which is covered with half spheres to increase the surface area, thus reducing the electrical tension at each point on the surface, reducing the possibility of breakdown. (ionization)

Lighting flourescent bulbs with high frequency rf energy is nothing special, and really has nothing to do with serious discussion of tesla. In tesla on his work with ac this is what he refers to as "parlor tricks" along with the opposite spectrum of rf energy, the single extremely large capacitive discharge, which he could vaporize wires and sheets of tinfoil with.

Tesla on his work with ac was not available until the mid 90s, and the resurgence of interest in tesla in the 80s was not able to benefit from the information, thus much of the experimentation today hasn't taken into account what tesla actually said. These "parlor tricks" are what the wireless energy charger people are pushing today, and it's laughable. It's not at all what tesla was talking about.

Look, he was a pioneer the only thing he could consult with to double check his ideas was reality. So, he made some bad assumptions and said some things that where less than accurate. That in no way takes away from what he accomplished, but just because his comtemeratires had no idea what was going on does not mean he has a trove of secret knowledge that we still don't understand.

Study electrical engineering then go back and study the man. It's a more interesting story, and just because he made some mistakes does not mean you need to make the same ones.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8DxGsR6NLs you can see here the ground is required. Losses fall off by the square of the distance through the atmosphere with rf radiation, but not with the tesla magnifying transmitter with the receiver at a nodal point. (a point where the traveling waves around the sphere of the earth interact to create a standing wave)

Who invented wireless electricity? Would love to learn more.

Read "Tesla On his work with alternating currents." Tesla was able to transmit electricity efficiently using standing waves in the earth. The engineering precision required to do this is still unmatched today, and in fact it's because even tesla had such difficulty tuning all of the required parameters that radio in the sense it is used today, which requires tuning fewer parameters, won out in the 1910s.

If you read "tesla on his work with ac" you will see his transmitters could be tuned to close to 100% efficiency, minus heat and spark losses from the power plant at the transmitter. This has been replicated using single ground wires instead of the earth at a small scale and at higher frequencies recently in various open source hardware forums on the Internet. Note these smaller devices use higher frequencies which generate much more rf radiation than tesla suggests, thus not being able to achieve the efficiencies tesla was talking about -- tesla was working with a 50 foot diameter by 10 foot tall primary and secondary, plus an extra coil about 8 feet tall and wide and frequencies around 50khz, pretty much unused today.

The secondary and extra coil in the tesla arrangement take the place of straight antennas that are in use for normal communications today. The transmission is effected through the ground, not through the air. If the device is emitting radio waves, then it is not a tesla magnifying transmitter. Most tesla coils built today are hopelessly out of tune... They have far too many turns and are far too tall in comparison to diameter. Each additional turn adds capacitance, and the narrow diameters used make for a small inductance. The capacitances are far too high and inductances too low in these arrangements, and thus they need extremely inefficient drivers.

"Colorado Springs Notes" is of course the definitive resource for this material, although "tesla on his work with ac" exposes the concepts in easier to understand language. The exact schematics and dimensions are given for the Colorado springs experiment. Scaling it down is not trivial, but in the late 80s golka built an exact replica and performed successful experiments.

I'm not contesting any of this, rather, the poster above me had said Tesla didn't invent wireless electric transmission, so I asked who did, so I could learn. :)

It was the 'Unlimted' part I was objecting to not the wireless part.

No need to attack the author here -- most likely, he is writing this article because of the glaring factual inaccuracies in Inman's comic. He brings a reasonable perspective where The Oatmeal did not.

The Oatmeal is a comic. He's supposed to be humorous, not "reasonable."

I don't think OP was "attacking" the author. Seemed like a reasonable critique.

That particular comic clearly isn't intended to be humorous. In fact it's quite humorless. Or are you saying the factual inaccuracies are some kind of ironic joke that Alex Knapp and I both missed?

I'm saying you shouldn't take everything you read at face value.

Other commenters talk about Edison is idolized throughout education and glossing over his imperfections.

The Oatmeal is providing an alternate viewpoint that takes some things to the extreme - but proves a point - Tesla was overlooked both in his time and in the education system.

Also, why you might not have found it at funny as his "reasons your cat is plotting to kill you" comic, if you could honestly read the comic and not laugh a couple times at least I'd be surprised.

I think its a bit dangerous because in general people read these and believe them to be true. People are already misinformed about the fact that Tesla created AC power and the comic only further promotes this misconception.

And really the part about Edison electrocuting animals is horrifying enough on its on merits, but to aggravate that by including that he paid little kids to steal pets so he could do it? What about the part where Oatmeal basically said Edison purposely experimented on humans with radiation and killed his assistant and amputated his arms? I am sure Edison was no saint but the author makes him out to be a monster which I think is irresponsible of the author of The Oatmeal to claim without never bothering to research. It seems as though the author just met someone who was a fervent Tesla supporter and took him at his word.

Being humorous is fine but when it comes to wanting to set the record straight on history, the comic should also be accurate.

> Marconi's patents for inventing radio were overturned in Tesla's prior invention of radio. Marconi didn't really invent the radio - though he is popularly given the credit for "inventing" it.

The Bengali polymath J. C. Bose demonstrated the practical uses of radiowaves - but he didn't patent it.

Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jagadish_Chandra_Bose http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invention_of_radio

Although your sources indicate Bose did so after Tesla.

The electric car story appears to be an urban legend: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesla_electric_car

FWIW, about half way down right before the first map:


"An article appearing in the New York Daily News, April 2, 1934 titled "Tesla's Wireless Power Dream Nears Reality" mentions the planned "test run of a motor car [for a distance of 30 or 40 miles] over a stretch of [Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe] railway track [running from Boise City, Oklahoma] to Farley, N. M." using wireless transmission of electrical energy to power the vehicle. The equipment was assembled by "two Californians" and is described as "including a high-powered radio transmitter with big coils and and short antenna."

That Wikipedia page is obviously the work of an Edison fanboy. Or some electric industry astroturfer covering up the truth about unlimited free energy from space.

Well, Forbes is a business magazine. Do you really think they will let the world think engineers, not CEOs, are gods? :)

This is naive. Do you not realize that Edison was an engineer? Just because he had a workshop of people (not so different from having a team of engineers) doesn't mean he didn't create tons of experiments.

Yes, I'm aware of that - but was simply referring to the characterization he got in the comic.

Has some truth to it IMHO. :) Whenever you hear people go on about how innovation is such a social endeavour and how nobody really invented anything you can be sure about one thing: that the author hasn't even tried inventing anything.

"If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. ... I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor." -Tesla

Edison always reminds me of Steve Jobs.

EDIT: 1)Mocking existing/others' technologies/inventions just to claim theirs is better, even while its not. 2)Marketing skills 3)Focused on sales.

Sorry for upsetting you, fanboys ;)

No, he's more like Bill Gates.

Tesla/Jobs are driven by a desire to change the world. Edison/Gates by the desire to own the world. You can see the difference in all the decisions Apple made in its history, often making choices of design purity over market dominance. It ultimately dominated by sticking to its design principles, showing that sometimes the long-view wins.

I think Tesla would have thrived if he could have gone to Jobs instead of Edison for support.

First of all, I don't want to land up in a Bill Gates vs Steve Jobs argument. I strongly believe both have done remarkable things in different ways. Second, please stop claiming "Jobs has changed/has a desire to change the world". For America, it maybe true, but not for the rest of 'THE WORLD'.

Nokia/Samsung/etc still lead the sales in Asian countries, for instance.

Third, I 'personally' think its a good thing that Tesla didn't meet Steve J. Well, look at what XEROX is now. That is all I can say.

> For America, it maybe true, but not for the rest of 'THE WORLD'.

Apple's influence is very noticeable in other developed countries too. Tablets and app phones (except for Windows Phone) are all heavily inspired by iOS devices. On the desktop it's similar, but not as visually obvious. Unit sales are not the way to measure this.

Of course, that still only covers the developed world.

Bill Gates has done far more to make the world a better place than Jobs would have done if he lived to be 200.

Of who?

I think he means Steve Jobs

Yep. I did. Thanks. Looks like I've upset some fanboys with my comment. ;)

I didn't downvote you and I agree in some ways with you, but your comment didn't really say anything. Perhaps you could edit it to point out some of the similarities you notice.

Thanks, I've edited my original comment to reflect my reasons. Have a great day!

I long waited for something like that. Good summary in the forbes article and even better links to other authors.

The hive minds opinions (reddit cough) regarding Edison/Tesla always reminded me a bit on the absurd "Moon landing history theme ride" in Futurama or the UN-Dinosaur-War-against-Nazis in "Idiocracy".

I'm glad the writer enjoyed taking the piss out of The Oatmeal, but serious articles responding to a mostly-tongue-in-cheek webcomic seem to have missed the point.

I wonder if he'll write an article next about how working from home doesn't actually destroy our abilities of communication and continence.

Really? I don't quite understand how you're using "tongue-in-cheek" here, but I didn't take the article to be sarcastic at all. I'm not an avid reader of the comic, but it reads to me like someone who's a passionate fan of Tesla, making a sincere argument for Tesla's importance relative to Edison (and further, making an argument against revering Edison at all), and then going so far as to thank him.

I don't know enough about it to have a position on who's more correct, but the fact that it's a webcomic, and therefor somehow "unserious," doesn't imply that the author doesn't believe what he's saying. If the point is being missed, if it's not that Tesla is an overlooked genius who deserved, and deserves, more admiration, what is the point, exactly?

The point of 'The Oatmeal' isn't necessarily to be funny. The focus of the work of Matt Inman has always been to get pageviews, and he's notoriously good at it. Sometimes it's by being funny, sometimes it's by finding something that resonates, but most often it's by a certain type of pandering that IMO Inman has perfected.

Tesla is the perfect subject for a comic whose point is pageviews through resonance and pandering. There has always been a mythos about Tesla the Geek Underdog in geek circles. Many act like it's a badge of honor to know more about Tesla or to revere him or contrast him with Edison. I've even seen t-shirts like this comic. The subject matter and the treatment of it fit perfectly with my idea of what The Oatmeal has always been about.

If you take this particular comic in the context of the rest of The Oatmeal, it seems clear (to me, at least) that the author likes hyperbole for comic effect. Maybe I'm wrong: maybe this is the one instance where he's totally and completely sincere in his approach with no exaggeration, but that strikes me as unlikely.

This is a bit straw man; no one ever said he wasn't exaggerating. The author isn't objecting to some precisely calibrated sentiment. He's disputing the premise: that Tesla is singularly important, and that Edison is vastly overrated. The author is exaggerating or effect, but the effect sought is to make a case that isn't sarcastic, but rather quite sincere.

Right, but while it is clear that the comic about working from home was for humor, some people have taken the comic about Tesla vs Edison as fact.

I think the "cult of Tesla" preceded the comic. It seems to me like conspiracy theorists particularly affectionate this story, for some reason.

I guess that the author was simply refuting the comic as the latest manifestation of an annoying trend.

You don't know the half of it. I actually have a biography of Tesla where it says he could generate earthquakes, extract free energy from space and whatnot... And my suspension of belief cracks.

Perhaps he really could do some of the amazing thing he claimed but talking to aliens and pigeons that had laser eyes? I dunno maybe he was a wee bit unstable.

Interesting, if only because I've always been fascinated by the time period and events surrounding the adoption of electricity.

A really interesting book about Edison and Tesla is "Empires of Light" by Jill Jones.

Tesla vs Edison is my favorite Drunk History: http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/ef668caf14/drunk-history-vo...

Duncan Trussell clearly disagrees with the OP. In other words, the OP is anti-oatmeal and anti-booze. What is wrong with him?

Edison may not have electrocuted the animals in the video, but he fried an elephant with AC: http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2008/01/dayint...

"This was the fate of a lot of brilliant researchers in the early days of radiation. Like Marie and Pierre Curie, for example."

That's funny. I didn't know Pierre had any long-term, serious problems with radiation. I thought he got run over before the symptoms started showing up.

When I was a lazy, precocious child, I had my mother and experimental scientist father each repeat Thomas Edison's "My genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration", over and over again. If other geeks are like me, they probably grew up hating Edison's guts. It might not be true but I can understand the impulse to come to the conclusion that Edison was evil and the inspired Tesla was good.

Some math geeok have enjoyed calling Évariste Galois a "hero of the revolution", bringing mathematics to the people. It's a nice myth but like the myth of Tesla, probably not quite the full story.


Yes, Galois is also a great example of fictionalization. "Genius and Biographers: The Fictionalization of Evariste Galois" http://www.physics.princeton.edu/~trothman/galois.html

I always thought the vilification of Edison was pretty ridiculous, myself. For heaven's sake, if nothing else respect the man for the work he put into giving us the light bulb.

It's true he did a great number of things, but let's not forget this guy wasn't really a saint either:

Tesla claimed he could redesign Edison's inefficient motor and generators, making an improvement in both service and economy. According to Tesla, Edison remarked "There's fifty thousand dollars in it for you - if you can do it".[36] This has been noted as an odd statement from an Edison whose company was stingy with pay and did not have that sort of cash on hand.[37] After months of work when Tesla finished the task and inquired about payment Edison claimed he was only joking replying, "Tesla, you don't understand our American humor".[38][39] Edison offered a $10 a week raise over Tesla's US$18 per week salary, but Tesla refused it and immediately resigned.[36]


So, yeah he does sound like a CEO

I'm glad a publication like Forbes is picking up on such internet phenomenon and setting things straight. We need this more than ever.

This is not much different than Steve Jobs vs. Dennis Ritchie.

This could not be further from Steve Jobs vs Dennis Ritchie.

In fact there is no Steve Jobs vs Dennis Ritchie.Tesla vs Edison however was very real.

There will be in about 25 years.

Beginnings of which have already been pointed out by that Facebook picture that went viral, the one that tries to contrast their contributions and their fame.

This is even more ridiculous than Tesla vs. Edison, because Ritchie and Jobs had almost nothing to do with each other. Their only real relation is that they died in the same month.

The viral facebook picture you cite is comparable to one saying that Ritchie was just stealing the innovations of Turing. Or that Ritchie was just a thief of the game changing ideas of John Backus.

At least Tesla and Edison were working in the same space at the same time frame on similar problems.

1. They both worked in tech.

2. Think of the comparison as Engineer vs. Designer/Inventor(because this IS the legacy of Steve Jobs when looked at as a role model).

3. If you're REALLY hard pressed for details then...iOS is a descendent of Unix. Everything Apple runs on C.

I can appreciate why it could be difficult to abstract the two men to the level at which I make the comparison. But you must ask yourself why did someone, Forbes in this case, have to make the effort to set straight the details of Tesla vs. Edison when they are general knowledge to begin with. Why did that misleading poster promoting Tesla go viral? Its because details rarely matter. What matters is what Tesla and Edison represent - Edison is seen as rich and powerful while Tesla is the viewed as lost soul whose sole vice was science.

Tesla died alone and still in-debt. This fuels our current perception of a true scientist/engineer/maker, unadulterated by desire except for truth that is science. He is an inspiration.

Edison's practicality and willingness to use business (as a tool) to promote his work is not viewed kindly by posterity. Edison was also a great inventor but falls short, at least in our eyes, when contrasted against Tesla. Where did his practicality to invent of people rather than science come from? His first patent, an electronic voting machine, did not sell (because, I THINK, they could not fudge the numbers with it). So he resolved to only work on things that people want.

And thats really all there is to it.

It really boils down to one question: why didn't Dennis Ritchie achieve greater fame and money than earned by Steve Jobs? "Thats the way the world works" or any variant thereof is not an acceptable answer.

Because Dennis Ritchie didn't have an interest in marketing or starting a business. That was easy.

And now you are doing for DR vs. SJ what Forbes did for the other two!

Tesla used to work for Edison.

The Oatmeal wrote a response to the Forbes article here --> http://theoatmeal.com/blog/tesla_response

Maybe this awesome illustration by Travis Pitts gives a good picture of how people see Tesla http://www.flickr.com/photos/zom-bot/7227505456/sizes/o/in/p... :)

Best Tesla reading I've found is Mark Seifer's book "Wizard, the Life and Times of Nikola Tesla". The audio book is excellent as well. Gives great insight into Tesla's personality and many events in history and the people around him.

if it was just a grudge match between tesla and edison i could respect edison a little more. it is possible to get so obsessed that he would have a blind spot and go out of his way to engage a competitor. think steve jobs promising to go nuclear on android. but edison went out of his way to profit from the work of Georges Méliès. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Trip_to_the_Moon#Distributio...

If the common opinion is here:

and you want it to be here:

sometimes you have to pull this hard:


And Forbes isn't the Bible, even if they think they are.

Tesla was far smarter than Edison was. Tesla's biggest mistake was allowing himself to work for JP Morgan. Morgan didn't want that wireless junk ("Where do you put the meter?") and was happy to let Tesla work himself into obscurity while the metered, wired system we know today was put into place.

Tesla became aware of the position he had placed himself in and his work became focused on leaving his research to us, the future. I hope we listen because he knew what he was doing.

> Morgan didn't want that wireless junk ("Where do you put the meter?")

I've also heard that Morgan realized all the copper mines and refineries he had stakes in would lose value.

I'm sure there are others reasons floating around out there too, they're a dime a dozen. Frankly I doubt Morgan ever explained his real reasoning to any journalists or authors, and these stories got narrated in somewhere along the way.

> Frankly I doubt Morgan ever explained his real reasoning to any journalists or authors

The proof is in the pudding, imo. Morgan also backed Edison's company (Edison General Electric, which later became General Electric). Morgan, via Edison, was going for ownership of the new electrical grid that was growing in the US 100+ years ago.

There's no way Morgan would ever allow Tesla's work with wireless to gain any traction in his lifetime.

> Morgan didn't want that wireless junk

Good for him: It's physically impossible.

An honest question: Why is wireless broadcast of electricity physically impossible?

Because the power of electromagnetic radiation (energy per unit area perpendicular to the source) drops off proportional to the inverse square of the distance. So, at one unit away it's a reference for full power, at two units it's at one-quarter power, and three units it's at one-ninth power, and so on. This is the fatal flaw with Tesla's scheme: By simple geometry, you're pouring power into space and you need massive input to get any output at all at an appreciable distance.


The WiTricity project you may hear of does things based on a completely different technical footing, which is more efficient but less broadly useful. For example, with the WiTricity technology, power receivers can't be any more than a quarter-wavelength from the transmitter, which means that they can't be any further away than a few meters. Definitely not what Tesla had in mind.

You've read enough of Tesla's diaries to know that?

> You've read enough of Tesla's diaries to know that?

I know enough physics to know that. Tesla's diaries are irrelevant.

Marin Soljačić might disagree.


I'm sure he wouldn't: There's a reason his work is completely different from Tesla's.

And our discussion is about Tesla's broadcast power ideas. Bringing in a completely different concept is dishonest.

The discussion was about wireless transmission of power. It was stated that it was impossible. It's a reality.

I'm refraining from further conversation. Good evening.

The claim was that wireless is "junk". Soljačić proved it's not.

The author doesn't take the genius and import of the AC motor seriously, therefore I can't take him seriously. There are relatively few authentic geniuses in history; people who provide crucial fundamental insight that others just can't. Issac Newton was one. Euler was one. Tesla was one.

Won't read. Disagree with title.

It sounds like someone should re-read the history books that were not written by Edison. No Tesla wasn't a god, but the fact that most of Tesla's inventions still power your life in a lot of aspects should tell you how awesome the man is.

Judge a man by his work, not by his rhetoric

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