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  • Starting in the late 1880s, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were embroiled in a battle now known as the War of the Currents.

  • Edison developed direct current — current that runs continually in a  single direction, like in a battery or a fuel cell. During the early  years of electricity, direct current (shorthanded as DC) was the  standard in the U.S.
  • But there was one problem. Direct current is not easily converted to higher or lower voltages.
  • Tesla believed that alternating current (or AC) was the solution to  this problem. Alternating current reverses direction a certain number of  times per second  and can be converted to different  voltages relatively easily using a transformer.
  • Edison, not  wanting to lose the royalties he was earning from his direct current  patents, began a campaign to discredit alternating current. He spread  misinformation saying that alternating current was more dangerous, even  going so far as to publicly electrocute stray animals using alternating  current to prove his point.

  • The Chicago World’s Fair — also  known as the World’s Columbian Exposition — took place in 1893, at the  height of the Current War.
  • General Electric bid to electrify  the fair using Edison’s direct current for $554,000, but lost to George  Westinghouse, who said he could power the fair for only $399,000 using  Tesla’s alternating current.
  • That same year, the Niagara Falls  Power Company decided to award Westinghouse — who had licensed Tesla’s  poly-phase AC induction motor patent — the contract to generate power  from Niagara Falls. Although some doubted that the falls could power all  of Buffalo, New York, Tesla was convinced it could power not only  Buffalo, but also the entire Eastern United States.
  • On Nov. 16,  1896, Buffalo was lit up by the alternating current from Niagara Falls.  By this time General Electric had decided to jump on the alternating  current train, too.

  • It would appear that alternating current  had all but obliterated direct current, but in recent years direct  current has seen a bit of a renaissance.
  • Today our electricity  is still predominantly powered by alternating current, but computers,  LEDs, solar cells and electric vehicles all run on DC power. And methods  are now available for converting direct current to higher and lower  voltages. Since direct current is more stable, companies are finding  ways of using high voltage direct current (HVDC) to transport  electricity long distances with less electricity loss.
  • So it  appears the War of the Currents may not be over yet. But instead of  continuing in a heated AC vs. DC battle, it looks like the two currents  will end up working parallel to each other in a sort of hybrid  armistice.And none of that would be possible without the genius of both Tesla and Edison.

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