The "War of Currents" in the late 1800s was one of the most iconic battles in the history of technology and business. On one side stood Thomas Edison, championing direct current (DC). On the other was Nikola Tesla and his boss, George Westinghouse, backing alternating current (AC). The two currents battled for dominance in the nascent electrical industry.

Edison's direct current threatened the careers of many early electrical engineers who backed alternating current. This article will explore how and why Edison's controversial stance on DC nearly put his opponents out of business.

Edison's Background and DC Technology

Thomas Edison was one of America's first tech superstars. In 1879, he pioneered the electric light bulb and set out to develop an entire electrical system to power it.

Edison opted for direct current as the basis of his system. DC electricity flows in one direction from a generation source to the load. It has some advantages:

However, DC had major limitations. It couldn't economically transmit power over long distances. The generating plants needed to be within approximately one mile of the load.

Opposition to DC from Supporters of AC

Not everyone agreed with Edison's DC-centric approach. Nikola Tesla and other early electrical engineers believed alternating current (AC) systems were superior.

AC electricity flows back and forth in alternating directions. It has some advantages compared to DC:

Tesla and his new employer, George Westinghouse, decided to go head-to-head with Edison. They believed AC was the right technology for powering cities and the future.

Edison Smears AC as Dangerous

Edison refused to back down against AC. Since he had no control over the superior technology, he decided to employ scare tactics to protect his DC business interests.

Some of Edison's fear-based tactics included:

Edison also stacked his own companies with General Electric insiders who helped him smear AC.

AC Engineers Nearly Driven Out of Business

Edison's vicious assaults nearly put the early AC engineers and companies out of business:

The "War of Currents" looked lost as Edison's propaganda scared utilities and consumers into sticking with direct current.

AC Eventually Emerges Victorious

Despite Edison's unsavory tactics, alternating current would ultimately win the "War of Currents" for technological and economic reasons:

Nikola Tesla and alternating current had survived Edison's attacks. AC became the foundation of modern electric grids right up to today. The superior technology prevailed despite the threats.

Legacy of the Currents War

The battle between Edison's direct current and Tesla's alternating current was one of the most contentious in engineering history. Although Edison's vicious tactics nearly put his opponents out of business, the superiority of AC would ultimately win out. This story remains an important lesson about the forces that can shape technology's evolution.