The Shady Side Of Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison is one of the most famous inventors in history, after all, he created the lightbulb. But as brilliant Edison is, he was also a man after fame and glory.

What many don't understand about Edison is that he has a very shady side. And there are many stories of his misdeeds against fellow inventors and scientists. Probably one of his most famous rivalries is the one against Nikola Tesla.

Both Tesla and Edison wanted to make electricity widely available but they had very different ideas on how to do this. Tesla worked on alternating currents (AC) while Edison preferred direct currents (DC). AC/DC is more than a band name, you know. By all accounts, Edison and Tesla should've gotten along. Edison was the first person to hire Tesla when he arrived in New York. But that relationship quickly soured, reported Vox.

By 1884, Tesla had started his own company and was already working on AC. Edison still believed DC was the best. The world was looking for a universal standard for electricity and it was perfect set up for what became known as the Current War.

The Current War

Tesla sold his patent for AC to George Westinghouse, said History Extra. But Edison wasn't done with Tesla yet. Determined to make DC the household standard, despite how dangerous it could be, he set about proving AC was dangerous. He set up public demonstrations where he used AC to electrocute small pets. Contrary to popular belief, however, he did not electrocute an elephant. His employees did.

Edison made disparaging comments about Tesla and Tesla often fired back. The press loved it and the two men loved the press. Still, the Current War had to be resolved. Both AC and DC were dangerous on its own. Vox wrote by 1896, General Electric, a company Edison had a business interest in, had switched to using AC. Of course, these days, we use both currentsĀ to power all our appliances, perĀ MIT. If you plug in your laptop, the plug that goes into your computer uses DC but the it gets its power from the AC power on the wall.

Patented Edison behavior

Tesla was not the only one Edison wronged. While Edison did have an inventive brain, he also had a lot business knowledge.

Edison knew he couldn't invent everything... but he could own the patents to most things. wrote he held more than 1,000 patents and made it a mission to improve upon them. He hired people to invent things and bought out patents. His workshop in Menlo Park, N.J. was basically a patent factory because it just churned out idea after idea.

Some people even claim he didn't invent the lightbulb, the thing most people know him for. That claim is only partly true. LiveScience pointed out Edison improved upon an earlier patent for the lightbulb. Edison added a thin filament to the lightbulb, the characteristic of today's hipster favorite Edison lightbulb fixture. Funnily enough, the original patent holder of the lightbulb, Joseph Swan, incorporated Edison's idea and Edison sued him for patent infringement.

He started a cartel

And because Edison ran a company that churned out ideas, he also sought to protect these ideas from competitors. Edison and his company were credited with the invention of the Kinetoscope, an early movie camera, explained Mental Floss. To market his films, Edison joined forces with camera patent holders to create the Motion Picture Patent Company.

This company has a monopoly on all things film. It controlled the distribution, production, and exhibition of movies. So much so that if anyone wanted to make a movie, the company had to be involved. Independent filmmakers had enough of this and moved as far from Edison as possible, to California and to a little known place called Hollywood.

Edison's less than savory practices have somewhat dampened his reputation over time. Yes, the man had a shady side but he was also complicated. Edison was a brilliant genius, a masterful businessman, and also a human being who wanted to leave a legacy.