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标 题: Nikola Tesla vs. Thomas Edison: Who Was the Better Inventor?
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Tesla on Edison: "If he had a needle to find in a haystack he would not stop
to reason where it was most likely to be, but would proceed at once, with
the feverish diligence of a bee, to examine straw after straw until he found
the object of his search. ... I was almost a sorry witness of such doings,
knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per
cent of his labor."
—New York Times, October 19, 1931 (the day after Edison died)
Nikola Tesla would have celebrated his 158th birthday today (July 10).
The Serbian-American scientist was a brilliant and eccentric genius whose
inventions enabled modern-day power and mass communication systems.
His nemesis and former boss, Thomas Edison, was the iconic American inventor
of the light bulb, the phonograph and the moving picture. The two feuding
geniuses waged a "War of Currents" in the 1880s over whose electrical system
would power the world — Tesla's alternating-current (AC) system or Edison'
s rival direct-current (DC) electric power.
Amongst science nerds, few debates get more heated than the ones that
compare Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. So, who was the better inventor?
"They're different inventors, but you can't really say one is greater,
because American society needs some Edisons and it needs some Teslas" said W
. Bernard Carlson, the author of "Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age" (
Princeton Press, 2013).
From their starkly different personalities to their lasting legacies, here's
how the two dueling inventors stack up. [Vote: Tesla vs. Edison - Who Was
the Greatest Inventor of All Time?]
Tesla had an eidetic memory, which meant he could very precisely recall
images and objects. This enabled him to accurately visualize intricate 3D
objects, and as a result, he could build working prototypes using few
"He really worked out his inventions in his imagination," Carlson told Live
In contrast, Edison was more of a sketcher and a tinkerer.
"If you were going to [the] laboratory and watch him at work, you'd find he'
d have stuff all over the bench: wires and coils and various parts of
inventions," Carlson said.
In the end, however, Edison held 1,093 patents, according to the Thomas
Edison National Historic Park. Tesla garnered less than 300 worldwide,
according to a study published in 2006 at the Sixth International Symposium
of Nikola Tesla. (Of course, Edison had scores more assistants helping him
devise inventions, and also bought some of his patents.)
Most forward thinking
Though the light bulb, the phonograph and moving pictures are touted as
Edison's most important inventions, other people were already working on
similar technologies, said Leonard DeGraaf, an archivist at Thomas Edison
National Historical Park in New Jersey, and the author of "Edison and the
Rise of Innovation" (Signature Press, 2013).
"If Edison hadn't invented those things, other people would have," DeGraaf
told Live Science.
In a shortsighted move, Edison dismissed Tesla's "impractical" idea of an
alternating-current (AC) system of electric power transmission, instead
promoting his simpler, but less efficient, direct-current (DC) system.
By contrast, Tesla's ideas were often more disruptive technologies that didn
't have a built-in market demand. And his alternating-current motor and
hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls— a first-of-its-kind power plant —
truly electrified the world.
Tesla also spent years working on a system designed to wirelessly transmit
voices, images and moving pictures — making him a futurist, and the true
father of radio, telephone, cell phones and television. [Creative Genius:
The World's Greatest Minds]
"Our entire mass communication system is based on Tesla's system," said Marc
Seifer, author of "Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla," (Citadel
Unfortunately, Tesla's grand scheme failed when his financial backer, J.P.
Morgan, became fed up with years of failure.
Edison's enduring legacy isn't a specific patent or technology, but his
invention factories, which divided the innovation process into small tasks
that were carried out by legions of workers, DeGraaf said. For instance,
Edison got the idea for a moving picture camera, or kinetoscope from a talk
by photographer Edward Muybridge, but then left most of the experimentation
and prototyping to his assistant William Dickson and others. By having
multiple patents and inventions developing in parallel, Edison, in turn,
ensured that his assistants had a stable financial situation to continue
running experiments and fleshing out more designs.
"He invents modern innovation as we know it," DeGraaf said.
Tesla's inventions are the backbone of modern power and communication
systems, but he faded into obscurity later in the 20th century, when most of
his inventions were lost to history. And despite his many patents and
innovations, Tesla was destitute when he died in 1943.
Best dinner party guest
At the height of his career, Tesla was charismatic, urbane and witty. He
spoke several languages and counted writers Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling,
and naturalist John Muir as friends, according to Seifer.
"He moved in very high circles," Seifer said.
But Tesla could also be haughty and was known to be a hygiene freak. In his
later years, his obsessive tics (such as his fear of women's earrings) grew
stronger, and he died penniless and alone in a hotel in New York City,
Edison, meanwhile, was hard of hearing and introverted, with few close
Edison also had a mean streak, which he amply displayed in his vicious
attacks against Tesla during the War of Currents. He also gave advice on how
to build the first electric chair using direct current (DC), going into
gory detail about the techniques needed to do the deed, Seifer said.
Tesla was tall, slender and imposing, with a dashing moustache and an
impeccable sense of style, Carlson said. His top hat and tails are even on
display in a museum in Serbia.
By contrast, Edison was known to be a bit of a slob.
"We're not really interested in seeing what Edison wore, because it was
pretty forgettable," Carlson said.
Edison even wore shoes two sizes too large so that he could slip into and
out of them without stooping down to untie them, Carlson said.
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