Who is responsible for electricity and AC power in our homes

Westinghouse Electric engineers William Stanley and Benjamin Lamme In the previous article we looked at the answer to who contributed to the development of electricity and AC power, by drawing attention to the work of various European inventors that were the establishing the ideas and principals that were used by Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla.

The War of Currents

The War of Currents was much more than a battle between two crazy inventors, and the efforts to electrify our world was the work of many inventors and engineers. Just as it is impossible to pin point one single invention or one single inventor as the eureka moment when the Internet was invented, the same can be said of the development of electricity and AC power distribution. There are many names from that generation that all played a significant part in the development of bringing electricity to our homes and AC power distribution.

The War of Currents was started as a battle between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla was not a member of team Westinghouse when it started. The War of Currents started not long after Westinghouse created the Westinghouse Electric Company in 1886. Edison was creating DC power plants and felt threatened by Westinghouse who had been experimenting with AC Power and was ready to start rolling it out commercially. Edison began a public media campaign claiming that high voltage AC systems were inherently dangerous.

By the time the War of Currents ended Thomas Edison was no longer in control of Edison Electric. In 1892 Thomas Edison lost control of his own company, as financier J. P. Morgan merged Edison Electric with the Thomson-Houston Electric Company to form General Electric.

George Westinghouse and the Westinghouse Electric Company would have two decisive victories over General Electric in 1893, first winning the bid to light the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, followed by the getting the contract for building a two phase AC generating system at Niagara Falls.

Westinghouse Electric engineers

William Stanley (1858-1916) was an inventor and engineer that played a significant part in the development of AC power distribution that seldom gets mentioned. The Westinghouse Electric Company was started in 1886 with William Stanley Jr. as chief engineer. William Stanley created the first full feature AC power distribution system using transformers in Great Barrington, Massachusetts In 1886, a project funded by Westinghouse.

The work of William Stanley in the 1880s was critical to the success of Westinghouse. In 1890 Stanley decided to sever his ties with Westinghouse and formed the Stanley Manufacturing Company. Different sources tell different stories of why Stanley had a falling out with Westinghouse, mainly over money. Stanley had ambitions of creating his own electric company on a scale to compete with Edison, and Westinghouse. In 1903 General Electric (GE) acquired the Stanley Manufacturing Company.

Nikola 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. 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.

In 1888 Tesla presented to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers his polyphase alternating current system in the report “A New System of Alternating Current Motors and Transformers.” George Westinghouse was a visionary businessman and inventor who saw the possibilities of Alternating Current (AC) as the primary form of delivery electricity. Westinghouse saw Tesla's ideas as something he could use in his quest to develop AC, and purchased Tesla's alternating current patents. Westinghouse also paid Tesla to work with the Westinghouse team until the patents were fully implemented.

Oliver Blackburn Shallenberger (1860 – 1898) was an American engineer and inventor, best known for inventing the watt-hour meter, a device that measured the amount of A.C. current and made possible the business model of the electric utility. In 1884 Oliver Shallenberger went to work for The Union Switch and Signal Company, a supplier of railway signaling equipment founded by George Westinghouse. The results of Shallenberger's work at the Union Switch and Signal Company led to his appointment to Chief Electrician at the Westinghouse Electric Company. Shallenberger oversaw the development of the Tesla Polyphase System.

Benjamin Garver Lamme (1864 - 1924) designed much of the apparatus for the Westinghouse exhibit at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Benjamin Lamme was the engineer that expanded upon Nikola Tesla's patents, purchased by Westinghouse, in designing the Niagara Falls generators that lead to Westinghouse's victory in the War of Currents. In 1918 Lamme received the Edison Medal for his contributions to the electrical power field. Another irony, considering Lamme helped to develop AC power distribution, Edison was orginally against AC power distribution.

George Westinghouse (1846 - 1914), the son of a New York agricultural machinery maker, came to Pittsburgh in 1868 in search of steel for a new tool he designed to guide derailed train cars back onto the track. Before he left Pittsburgh to retire back to New York, Westinghouse gave the world safer rail transportation, steam turbines, gas lighting and heating, and brought electricity to the average American's home.

George Westinghouse wasn't the inventor of AC power, but he had the vision to bring it all together. Edison turned away great engineers for talking about AC development, while Westinghouse was making them members of his team, and buying AC patents developed in Europe for use in America. George Westinghouse proved to the world the concept of AC power distribution by winning the bid to provide lighting for the World's Fair Columbian Exposition of 1893. Westinghouse installed a complete polyphase generation and distribution system with multiple generators.

Who is responsible for electricity and AC power in our homes?

Does Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla deserve all the credit? What about William Stanley, Benjamin Garver Lamme, Oliver Shallenberger, or George Westinghouse? Who is to say who contributed more to the development of electricity? They all contributed!

Graphic: Westinghouse Electric engineers William Stanley and Benjamin Lamme