How Thomas Edison's Controversial Wiring Methods Sparked Outrage in 1890s America (But Secretly Powered the World)

Edison's Rise as the King of Electricity

As a young inventor in the late 1800s, Thomas Edison quickly gained fame for his inventions, including the phonograph and motion picture camera. However, his most impactful invention was the lightbulb. Edison founded the Edison Electric Light Company in 1878 and began installing electric lighting in New York City soon after.

Edison's DC (direct current) electrical system soon spread across America as businesses and homes eagerly adopted electric lighting. I vividly remember the first time I saw an incandescent bulb glowing brightly at night - it felt like magic! By the early 1890s, Edison was renowned worldwide as the genius who brought electricity to the masses.

Backlash Against DC Power Distribution

However, not everyone was happy with Edison's DC electrical system. At the time, DC power stations could only distribute electricity within a one mile radius. This required a huge network of power stations to supply electricity to larger areas.

Edison's solution was to use thick copper electrical cables to handle the high electrical loads. But these cables were incredibly expensive to install. Furious over the high costs, many local governments launched campaigns against Edison's "reckless" methods.

As an Edison worker, I faced constant scrutiny from city officials questioning our cable routing plans. The public also complained about the unsightly cables running down every street. But we knew DC power was still far superior and more efficient than gas lighting.

Tesla and Westinghouse Introduce AC Power

Fortunately, in the late 1880s, Nikola Tesla pioneered a new method of alternating current (AC) power distribution. This allowed electricity to be transmitted over much greater distances using thinner and cheaper copper wires.

Tesla partnered with George Westinghouse to commercialize AC power and establish the Westinghouse Electric Company in 1886. They quickly became Edison's main rival by promising more efficient and affordable electrical service using AC.

As an Edison loyalist, I was deeply skeptical of AC power at first. But I couldn't deny that Tesla and Westinghouse delivered on their promises of lower costs and easier power distribution. Their AC generators and wires were also safer at the higher voltages needed for long distance transmission.

The "War of Currents" - AC vs DC

A major rivalry nicknamed the "War of Currents" emerged between the Edison and Westinghouse camps. Edison demonized AC power as dangerous in an attempt to undermine Westinghouse. I even witnessed Edison conducting gruesome public electrocutions of animals using Westinghouse AC generators.

During this time, my fellow co-workers and I faced intense pressure to defend DC and discredit AC however possible. The chaotic battle between the two sides raged throughout the 1890s as cities and businesses debated which electrical standard to adopt.

AC Power Eventually Wins Out

Despite Edison's desperate efforts, AC power proved superior and more affordable for wide-area electrification. Westinghouse won the bid to light the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, which showcased AC systems on a massive scale.

Within just a few years, Westinghouse and Tesla's AC standard was rapidly adopted nationwide. Although disappointed, I understood AC's practical advantages over DC. Edison's short-sighted hubris had blinded him from technological progress.

While AC power transmission transformed America, Edison's costly DC networks still secretly powered most major downtown areas for decades. His faulty wiring was hidden safely underground, away from public scrutiny.

So despite the outrage and war with Westinghouse, Edison's stubborn DC approach still quietly electrified America's cities when localized power was needed. The Wizard of Menlo Park didn't go down without a fight after all!