Was Thomas Edison more of a business man rather than an inventor

GeekHistory explores the legacy of Thomas EdisonPeople often make remarks about Thomas Edison such as, "he was primarily a businessman." The attitude would seem to lack the understanding that being successful in business is not mutually exclusive from being a successful inventor.

Many successful inventors realize that experimentation and research takes money. That is why some inventors hold on to certain patent rights, but sell others. They keep the ones they intent to develop and sell off others to raise money to continue their research.

The light bulb was not a single invention, but an ongoing improvement of one idea over another to create a finished product. There were many versions of the light bulb before Edison’s, and there were many versions after Edison. In 1879, Edison was first to devise a lamp that would last in long-term commercial use.

It is also not unusual for inventors to purchase patents to other inventions similar to their own. Sometimes in the larger scope of a project inventors will purchase the rights to similar projects so they have ownership of all the parts to their finished product.

It takes the work of many individuals and many patents (and inventions) coming together to reach a goal. George Westinghouse believed that AC (alternating current) was a better method of power distribution than Edison’s DC (direct current). George Westinghouse was himself an inventor and innovator, as well as a visionary businessman.

In 1885 Westinghouse became interested in the inventions of European Inventors Gaulard and Gibbs and purchased the American rights to their patents for AC current transformers. In 1888 Westinghouse heard of Nikola Tesla and the Tesla Polyphase System. Westinghouse purchased Tesla's alternating current patents on the electric systems and paid Tesla to work with him until they were fully implemented. Westinghouse also had his own team of engineers, such as William Stanley Jr., adding their own inventions in combination with the others to create the finished product. In the case of Westinghouse it was Alternating Current (AC) power transmission.


The mythical rivalry between Edison and Tesla full of misinformation

The mythical rivalry between Edison and Tesla full of misinformationThe myth that Edison stole Tesla's ideas is rooted in Edison's legacy of creating an invention factory where Edison used his staff to develop ideas and turn them into patents. 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.

Many successful inventors realize that experimentation and research takes money. Edison's first invention was the Universal Stock Ticker in 1869. Edison used the money he earned from the stock ticker to start his "invention factory." Edison had the reputation of a hard driving businessman, but he was also passionate about creating an invention factory. Edison paid workers to conduct numerous tedious experiments so he did not have to do the boring manual tasks himself.

How many inventions and innovations made in the name of Apple or Microsoft were not the direct work of Gates or Jobs? How is Edison's invention factory any different that the large number of engineers, designers, and programmers working for Microsoft or Apple, but all we hear about is the success of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?

It's funny when someone asks, "Has Apple ever invented anything original?" the answers that say that Apple is an innovator not an inventor are widely accepted. People praise Apple for picking the right set of existing ideas and combining them in a new ways to make better products. When Thomas Edison takes existing ideas and combines them in new ways to make better products, he is called a thief.

Did Edison try to ruin Tesla's career?

The fable that is often told that Edison promised Tesla $50,000 and did not keep his promise. Take a minute and think about that story logically.


Who was Nikola Tesla the legacy of the most interesting geek

Nikola TeslaNikola Tesla (1856-1943) was a Serbian born inventor who grew up in an area of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is the modern-day country of Croatia.  At times the life story of Nikola Tesla flows like an epic science fiction saga. According to legend, the man known as the Master of Lightning was born at the stroke of midnight on July 10, 1856, during a lightning storm in a mountainous area of the Balkan Peninsula. Tesla's parents were Serbian, his father was an orthodox priest, his mother was an inventor of practical household gadgets.

Most of Nikola Tesla's early inventions fell into the categories of electrical power distribution or motors and generators. In 1884, at age 28, Tesla left Europe and headed for New York City in search of Thomas Edison. Tesla was interested in AC (alternating current) systems and was looking to impress Edison with his ideas on AC systems. Edison wasn't interested in hearing about AC, as Edison was developing DC (direct current) electrical power systems.


From the War of Currents to the history of electricity in homes

From the War of Currents to the history of electricity in homesIn this section of the GeekHistory almanac we look at the history of electricity in homes from the discovery of electricity through the War of Currents.

What was the War of Currents?

In the 1890s the War of Currents was a business and technology battle between the Edison Electric Light Company and Westinghouse Electric Company over what electric power transmission system should be used. George Westinghouse and the Westinghouse Electric Company supported AC (alternating current). Thomas Edison and the Edison Electric Light Company supported DC (direct current).

The internet loves to portray the battle as one between rival inventors Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. It makes for a good story of the hero, Tesla, defeating his rival, Edison. Both Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were well known in the 1890s and were masters at drawing attention to themselves. George Westinghouse, unlike his rival Edison, did not seek media attention, and was a very private person.

Thomas Edison was a well known inventor riding his success and media attention for inventing the phonograph. Edison leveraged his name and fame to start building DC power plants in New York City. Nikola Tesla was a genius, and his inventions contributed to AC Power distribution, but Tesla was member of a team put together by George Westinghouse.



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