Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World by Jill JonnesIn the final decades of the nineteenth century, three brilliant and visionary titans of America’s Gilded Age—Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and George Westinghouse—battled bitterly as each vied to create a vast and powerful electrical empire. In Empires of Light, historian Jill Jonnes portrays this extraordinary trio and their riveting and ruthless world of cutting-edge science, invention, intrigue, money, death, and hard-eyed Wall Street millionaires. At the heart of the story are Thomas Alva Edison, the nation’s most famous and folksy inventor, creator of the incandescent light bulb and mastermind of the world’s first direct current electrical light networks; the Serbian wizard of invention Nikola Tesla, elegant, highly eccentric, a dreamer who revolutionized the generation and delivery of electricity; and the charismatic George Westinghouse, Pittsburgh inventor and tough corporate entrepreneur, an industrial idealist who in the era of gaslight imagined a world powered by cheap and plentiful electricity and worked heart and soul to create it.
Edison struggled to introduce his radical new direct current (DC) technology into the hurly-burly of New York City as Tesla and Westinghouse challenged his dominance with their alternating current (AC), thus setting the stage for one of the eeriest feuds in American corporate history, the War of the Electric Currents. The battlegrounds: Wall Street, the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Niagara Falls, and, finally, the death chamber—Jonnes takes us on the tense walk down a prison hallway and into the sunlit room where William Kemmler, convicted ax murderer, became the first man to die in the electric chair.
Empires of Light is the gripping history of electricity, the “mysterious fluid,” and how the fateful collision of Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse left the world utterly transformed.
From the Hardcover edition.
Empires of Light
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Like the late Stephen Ambrose, historian Jill Jonnes paints her story on a broad canvas and populates it with titans. In her compelling new book, Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse and the Race to Electrify the World , she recounts how, within a fairly brief period, electricity grew from being a conjuror's novelty into a power source that rivaled coal and natural gas for market share. George Westinghouse, the fair-minded industrialist from Pittsburgh, was the hardiest and most relentless implementer of the "new" energy source. While Edison had a head start over his competitors in scientific breakthroughs and Wall Street connections, he tended, according to Jonnes, to be close-minded to ideas he didn't originate or control. Tesla, on the other hand, was the pure or nearly pure scientist who cared far more about discoveries than their commercial applications. Having already made a fortune in railroads, the unflappable Westinghouse saw the spreading of electricity as both another profit center and a social good. The field of battle between Edison and Tesla was whether electricity should be delivered and put to use as direct or alternating current.
Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World
Look Inside. Oct 12, ISBN Aug 19, ISBN The gripping history of electricity and how the fateful collision of Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and George Westinghouse left the world utterly transformed. In Empires of Light , historian Jill Jonnes portrays this extraordinary trio and their riveting and ruthless world of cutting-edge science, invention, intrigue, money, death, and hard-eyed Wall Street millionaires. Edison struggled to introduce his radical new direct current DC technology into the hurly-burly of New York City as Tesla and Westinghouse challenged his dominance with their alternating current AC , thus setting the stage for one of the eeriest feuds in American corporate history, the War of the Electric Currents.
New York, The miracle of electric light is in its infancy. Thomas Edison has won the race to the patent office and is suing his only remaining rival, George Westinghouse, for the unheard of sum of one billion dollars. To defend himself, Westinghouse makes a surprising choice in his attorney: He hires an untested twenty-six-year-old fresh out of Columbia Law School named Paul Cravath. The task facing Cravath is beyond daunting. Edison proves to be a formidable, wily, and dangerous opponent. Yet this young, unknown attorney shares with his famous opponent a compulsion to win at all costs.
Jonnes, a historian at Johns Hopkins We're Still Here ; Hep-Cats, Narcs and Pipe Dreams , details the rise and fall of the three visionaries who harnessed electricity, while also offering a critique of corporate greed. Her tale emphasizes the "War of the Electric Currents," in which Thomas Edison sought to defend the primacy of his direct current electrical system against George Westinghouse's higher-voltage and more broadly applicable alternating current system. Nikola Tesla, the somewhat kooky Serbian genius and former Edison man , joined the fray on Westinghouse's side with his AC induction motor. Jonnes serves up plenty of color in an engaging and relaxed style, detailing how Edison capitalized on the "deaths by wire," or accidental electrocutions, from the AC system, sensationalized in the newspapers of the time. As she shows, Edison's "holy war" led to Westinghouse's AC being used in the first prison execution by electric chair, in —which proved considerably more grisly and less humane than originally billed.