False assertion and False choice: Tesla versus Edison poster

The following poster has appeared many times in my social media feed. The conclusion you are intended to draw is also false.

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Another variation:

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TL; DR Summary

  • These posters imply that Tesla cared about people more than making money versus Thomas Edison, who he once worked for as an employee (or another version of the poster, the evil person is George Westinghhouse) who only cared about making money.
  • In reality, Tesla’s nearly 300 patents made him a very rich man. However, he invested in many bad projects and died a pauper. George Westinghouse, who adopted Tesla’s AC electrical system design, personally made sure that Tesla was cared for in old age.
  • While Tesla may have cared about people, he was also a fan of eugenics or the selective breeding of people to eliminate “undesirables” from the population. Other fans of eugenics included the founder of Planned Parenthood and Hitler. Many people were caught up in that movement.
  • My own textbooks all mentioned Tesla; it is unclear why the posters imply we never heard of Tesla.
  • Bottom line: These posters make false assertions and reach false conclusions. The posters are false.

Read on for the details …

Tesla had about 300 patents, many of which were filed in over two dozen countries. His patents covered what became our modern, alternating current based, electrical power system. Edison held over 1,000 patents.

Tesla was an inventor and proponent of the AC electrical system, which was in competition with Edison’s DC electrical system concept.

Tesla earned a great deal of money from his patents. In inflation adjusted terms, his patent royalties would be equivalent to hundreds of millions of $s today. The suggestion that Tesla invented things but did not make money had to to with the Westinghouse Electric Company. WEC was in a financial mess and asked Tesla to forego royalties on his AC invention patents and Tesla agreed to do that. Tesla agreed to do so in exchange for a one time payment of $1 million (over 100 years ago).

At that time, electrical power systems used Edison’s DC system and some used Tesla’s AC system. Years later, the DC system was abandoned, and the world standardized on Tesla’s AC inventions – for which he had given up his patents due to his own business decision (Tesla should have put a time limit on the royalty free phase, but he did not). It is estimated that if he had structured the deal differently, say no royalties for X years to enable WEC to recover, and then resumed royalties, that Tesla would have been the world’s first billionaire.

Tesla was not good at managing money and died broke after investing in bad project, after bad project and gradually devolving in to insanity before his death. In spite of that, George Westinghouse personally made sure that Tesla was cared for.

Did Tesla care “more about people than making money”? Tesla was a fan of eugenics (selective breeding of people to avoid having poor people, disabled people, and potentially people of other races). When honoring Tesla, we hide the ugly parts, like this. The poster could have said one of these two inventors was in to eugenics and the other was not and your view of Tesla versus Edison would be very different!

Tesla did build a hydropower electric generator and also explored and proposed hydrothermal and geothermal energy generation systems. Thus the reference in the poster to “renewable energy” is fair.

Good summary of his income here and is generally verified at other references.

This has appeared in my FB news feed twice in the past 24 hours. And seen a 3rd time on the Occupy Wall Street page where the concept of “accurate” is a foreign concept. Apparently numerous people have now adopted this poster’s false claims as fact, illustrating once again how social media propaganda turns falsehoods into facts.

Text for Search Engines

Nikola Tesla

Inventor that created renewable energy and cared more about people than making money.

Thomas Edison

Wealthy businessman who created a way to charge money for electricity and methods to control energy resources.

Guess which one your textbooks never told you about.

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