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The battle of direct current power verse alternate current power between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison.
Many people know the name “Westinghouse” because they grew up in a house full of Westinghouse appliances, like roasters, dishwashers, and refrigerators. Innovative industrial products and home appliances from the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company made “Westinghouse” a household name.
But well before their first dishwasher would ever roll off the assembly line, George Westinghouse had to first win the Battle of the Currents against Thomas Edison.
Thomas Alva Edison was born in 1847. He was a forceful, egotistic, eccentric creator who had difficulty working with others, all direct contrast to George Westinghouse, who was a military-trained engineer.
Edison got his start in telegraphy and invented a stock ticker and other industrial products early in his career. Around the same time that Westinghouse was perfecting the air brake, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. Whereas the air brake was largely ignored by the national press, the phonograph was hailed as the greatest invention of all time.
The phonograph was fun. The phonograph made music. The phonograph was unlike anything 19th-century people had seen before, and the population was in awe. Edison became famous, and the public loved him. And he loved that the public loved him. He was regarded as the most famous American in the world.
He patented the electric-distribution system and, soon after, activated the Pearl Street electric-generating station,
which provided direct-current power to some streetlights and a couple dozen customers in Manhattan.
In the early 1880s, America’s growing industries were crying for more and more power that was less costly and cumbersome than steam-generated power. The development of electricity was like the rapid development of the automobile, computers, or the Internet. Everyone could see that it was useful and amazing, but nobody knew quite how to utilize it or what the standards would be.
It could be said that Thomas Edison created the idea of a centrally located power station.
The only problem was that the direct-current power he was using did not transmit very far. You could only transmit direct current a few thousand yards from an Edison generating station.
It was quite obvious to George Westinghouse that direct current was never going to be a national model. It’s just a local model.
That meant that in order to power a city, he would need power stations every mile or so that were small and practically in their customers’ backyards. These facts did not stop Edison from promoting DC power with the theatrics and flair that he was known for.