Every schoolchild, at least of MUDGE‘s generation, knew the name of Thomas Edison, America’s genius inventor. Not nearly so well known today is the reputation of Nikola Tesla, whose alternating current technology offered stiff competition to Edison’s direct current at the time when the nascent electric utilities were battling for the privilege of revolutionizing civilization.
That first battle ground, New York City, finally just yesterday, November 14 2007, after 125 years of service, converted the last direct current electricity service to alternating current.
Can you imagine any industrial artifact built today still being around in the year 2132, 125 years from now? We just don’t think that way any more. Ask the survivors and grieving families of those lost when the I-35 bridge at Minneapolis collapsed this past summer, at the youthful age of 40.
Back to New York:
Con Edison’s original power plant on Pearl Street. (Illustration: Consolidated Edison)
Today, Con Edison will end 125 years of direct current electricity service that began when Thomas Edison opened his Pearl Street power station on Sept. 4, 1882. Con Ed will now only provide alternating current, in a final, vestigial triumph by Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, Mr. Edison’s rivals who were the main proponents of alternating current in the AC/DC debates of the turn of the 20th century.
New York, more than most of our old Atlantic coastline cities, is this mesmerizing blend of the state of the art and trendy, and the downright obsolete. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that direct current is still in use in pockets of the city — not economically viable to install new today (or even 80 years ago!), but installations like the one retired yesterday weren’t broken, so weren’t fixed.
[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]
The really fascinating part of the story, beyond the implications noted above of industrial artifacts usefully lasting 95 years beyond a conservative depreciation schedule, is the mention of Tesla. The story actually links to this Wikipedia article, worthy of one’s attention.
What was it about the 19th Century that spawned so many giants? That by itself is the subject of a Ph.D. dissertation, so you’re not likely to find the answer in this space! But Nikola Tesla was undoubtedly one of those giants, a scientist and inventor who
… contributed in varying degrees to the establishment of robotics, remote control, radar and computer science, and to the expansion of ballistics, nuclear physics, and theoretical physics. In 1943, the Supreme Court of the United States credited him as being the inventor of the radio.
What an amazing man, setting a very high bar for future men of science, practical inventors and eccentric personalities.
I hope that future school children will learn his name — perhaps the new electric car named, one guesses, to commemorate his amazing contributions to the science and engineering of electricity, will help.
It’s it for now. Thanks,