“EMPIRES OF LIGHT,” BY JILL JONNES

Jill Jonnes’ “Empires of Light,” Is by far the best book I have read about Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse and the electrifying of the world. Granted, I have only read a few books that cover all three of these geniuses.

Like so many people, I have been captivated by geniuses and by the types of lives they led, their social encounters and groups of friends, their heroes, and what makes them strive so ardently to achieve what they achieve. Not surprisingly, it is very seldom about money. It is usually a fascination with nature, with making the world they live in a better place (but not always), a burning desire to explain the unknown and to find answers to it, and they are usually very competitive.

Electricity has been around since the beginning of time, and was probably mentioned over a thousand years ago by a Greek inventor. Electricity, very simply, is part of nature and is witnessed anytime you see a thunderstorm. Neither Edison, Tesla, or Westinghouse were the first to come up with the idea of harnessing electricity and making use of it, but they were among the first to successfully shackle it’s energy safely and to light up the world and make night into day and to forge ahead with what many consider the second industrial revolution.

The three men were quite familiar with each other, fighting over patents, occasionally working together, and in the case of Tesla and Westinghouse forming a partnership and creating the machinery to harness AC (alternating current) and lighting up the World’s Fair in Chicago, and then using the power of Niagara Falls (AC and DC/Direct current) to light up the city of Buffalo that was over thirty miles away and by doing so changing the world, and making possible the reality of one main power station lighting up tens of thousands of businesses and homes miles and miles away.

The contributions of all three men can not be overstated, but without the talented engineers working for them none of this would have been possible so quickly. Edison and Westinghouse literally housed many of their workers and in the case of Westinghouse he treated his workers like family. Tesla was more like a loose cannon and when he first came to America from Serbia he worked for Thomas Edison who at that time was considered the greatest inventor of his time. He asked for a raise and was fired by Edison. He became a free agent and was picked up by Westinghouse and together, and with a group of highly talented engineers, they picked up where Edison left off. Edison refused to acknowledge the advantages of AC over DC current, and where he continued to use DC current to light up single homes and small city blocks it was AC current and the engineers’ ability to transform it into direct current as it entered work places and homes that transformed the world.

Both Edison and Westinghouse died rich but the really big winners when it came to money was the WALL STREET INVESTORS who bought out their companies and made billions, if not trillions. Inventing is a costly business and without investors you are not usually going to have much of a chance. Tesla, who arguably was the greatest genius and inventor of the three, died penniless.

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