When I created the GeekHistory website my main goal was to draw attention to the many scientists and inventors that I call the forgotten geeks. It was not my plan to spend a lot of time defending Thomas Edison, after all he does get mentioned often.
As I revved up my writing for the GeekHistory over the last few years I have become active in social media looking for common questions about famous inventors and inventions. In search of information on all the "who invented it" myths of technology history I found a great deal of misinformation giving credit to Nikola Tesla for a variety of inventions. I find myself often defending Thomas Edison because of often over the top claims of everything that Nikola Tesla allegedly invented.
Nikola Tesla has a cult following that gives him credit for inventing just about everything. There are people who object to the phrase "the Cult of Tesla," but the Tesla fanatics are a prime example of a cult. Tesla fanatics have an "us against them" mentality with stories full of conspiracy theories of how the government took all of Tesla's files when he died. When it comes to any attempts to have a rational conversation, they deny any facts that might contradict the group's beliefs. Having a meaningful conversation with Tesla fanatics can be frustrating because there is a complete avoidance of critical thinking.
Studying the claims of Tesla fans, searching for the truth, has made me even more passionate about my original goals of drawing attention to the forgotten geeks who deserve to be remembered. One of the many claims of Tesla fans is that Tesla invented radio. In the process of digging deeper to learn more I came to appreciate the work of Fessenden. Who is the inventor who started his career working for Thomas Edison, later worked with George Westinghouse, and has a legitimate claim to be called the father of radio? The answer to that question is not Nikola Tesla, it is Reginald Fessenden.
From his work for George Westinghouse and the University of Pittsburgh, to the story of Fessenden's 1905 Christmas broadcast to ships at sea, he is indeed a forgotten geek that deserves to be remembered. Check out the complete story of Reginald Fessenden Canadian inventor of radio and wireless telephone
For all his quirks, I do appreciate the contributions of Thomas Edison. Including the mountains of material I have read, I have made two visits to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village near Dearborn, Michigan in recent years to study the accomplishments of Edison and other geeks. Just as I note the exaggerations of the Tesla fans, you can say that the claim that science becomes religion goes both ways. Henry Ford idolized Thomas Edison, you can clearly see that in the Henry Ford museum complex. The complete Menlo Park lab from New Jersey was transported to Michigan and rebuilt there. Henry Ford had a dedication ceremony for the reconstructed lab that Edison attended when it opened.
There are many forgotten geeks who made incredibly important contributions in bringing electricity to our homes. Nikola Tesla did not invent AC power generation. Tesla's sole contribution was his version of the polyphase AC motor. Significant, but it was theoretically described by other others before him, as were many of the other inventions and discoveries often credited to Tesla.
As we created the section on the history of electricity we broke it down into four sections starting with a list of scientists and inventors that contributed to our modern understanding of electricity.
It bothers me that so many internet sites talk about the War of Currents as the great battle between Edison and Tesla. Edison eventually lost control of Edison Electric as it merged with another company to become General Electric. Nikola Tesla was not a member of team Westinghouse when the War of Currents started between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison. Follow this link to learn about the many Westinghouse Electric engineers responsible for electricity and AC power in our homes
Edison does deserve credit for many inventions in a wide variety of areas, and in defending Edison, I have come up with a fair amount of material for the GeekHistory websites. Edison might have been too stubborn to back down on DC power generation as the way to produce electricity, but he does deserve to be respected for launching the modern electric utility industry with the creation of the Pearl Street station in lower Manhattan in 1882 When the War of Currents ended around 1893, Thomas Edison was no longer in control of Edison Electric. But the Edison team (which became part of the General Electric Company) lived on in many ways.
Reginald Fessenden worked several years for Edison, before joining forces with Westinghouse. In the biography "Fessenden – Builder of Tomorrow" - by Helen Fessenden (his wife), you will find remarks by Reginald Fessenden defending the legacy Thomas Edison.
"The question has often been put to me 'Is Edison really a good inventor? Are not his inventions really due to his assistants?' Having worked with him for a number of years and having made a rather special study of the science of invention and of inventors, my own conclusion is that all of the inventions which go by his name were made by him personally, and that there is only one figure in history which stands in the same rank with him as an inventor, i.e. Archimedes."
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. I think that is pretty genius.
Some of the Tesla fans point to crazy things that Edison did to discredit him as an inventor. Don't get me wrong, Thomas Edison was no saint, he was a lunatic at times, but to discredit Edison as a means to glorify Tesla is more than a little humorous. Nikola Tesla cornered the market on craziness during his lifetime.
A few more links to learn more: