Alternating Current and Dr. Nikola Tesla

There is a famous saying, “Arrogance is not strength. Arrogance is just another mask for fear”. This is the one of the important conclusions that we would draw today at the end of this article.

I am sure you all would have heard of Alternating Current (AC). In alternating current, the flow of electric charge periodically reverses its direction. In comparison to that, the Direct Current (DC), the flow of electric charge is only in one direction. The simplest examples of use of AC in our daily lives are; the electricity that is delivered to our homes. Recently we have also heard news of some sections of Indian Railways migrating from DC system to AC system for running of trains. This changeover was especially implemented for an over-crowded network of Mumbai which needs to have optimized transport system to carry its 7.5 million plus rail commuters daily.

Three-phase AC system with rotating magnetic fields
Three-phase AC system with rotating magnetic fields

It was Dr. Nikola Tesla in the year 1882, who produced the best known system for delivery of Alternating Current and explained how it could be implemented with commercial viability. It is quite interesting to learn how the idea of Alternating Current occurred to Dr. Nikola Tesla. Dr. Tesla used to say that all his inventions appeared to him in his visions. The concept of AC current motor came to him during one such of his visions. It was year 1882 when Nikola Tesla was in Budapest. One afternoon Nikola was enjoying a walk with one of his friend in the city park and reciting poetry. At that age young Nikola knew his all his books by heart, absolutely word to word. One of these was Goethe’s Faust. The sun was just setting down and that reminded Nikola of one of the glorious passage’s from this poem, “The glow retreats, done is the day of toil; It yonder hastes, new fields of life exploring; Ah, that no wing can lift me from the soil Upon its tract to follow, follow soaring!” Nikola uttered these inspiring words and the idea came like a flash of lightning in his mind. In an instant the truth was revealed to him. He thought of this to be act of the Almighty God. Nikola Tesla drew with a stick on the sand the diagram of alternating current system which he envisioned. The diagram was of a rotating magnetic field. Dr. Tesla explained and demonstrated working of the same diagram, six years later in his address before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. The images were wonderfully sharp and clear and had the solidity of metal. While describing them Nikola Tesla said, “See my motor here; watch me reverse it”.

Through his vision Nikola Tesla had developed a polyphase (three phase) alternating current system of generators, motors and transformers consisting of an alternating current dynamo, step-up and step-down transformers and AC motor at the other end. Dr. Nikola Tesla held 40 basic US Patents on this system. Dr. Nikola Tesla introduced his motors and electrical systems in a paper titled, “A New System of Alternating Current Motors and Transformers” which he delivered before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1888 which caught the eyes of all, the attendees, business community and even the press. Dr. Nikola Tesla had actually envisioned the Holy Trinity while designing his three-phase alternating current system.

Since 1888 the monumental AC system of electricity generation that Dr. Nikola Tesla has proposed is powering all homes, businesses and transport and is functional even till today in the very same form and specification. This invention of Dr. Nikola Tesla is what is considered as the real impetus to the Second Industrial Revolution that started in the 1860s and further led to inventions like factory electrification, mass production, production line, etc.

Dr. Nikola Tesla has more than 700 patents registered to his name and they have led to creations of hundreds of inventions with thousands of uses. Starting with the very first invention, that of AC power and with an almost unending list of similar inventions it is crystal clear the Dr. Nikola Tesla’s inventions are touching every second of our life and yet many of us had not even heard his name until Sadguru Aniruddha Bapu mentioned it during his discourse.

Now continuing from where we had left last week, we have seen how Dr. Nikola Tesla met Thomas Edison who he idolized. In their very first meeting Edison interviewed Tesla. At the time Thomas Edison was called as ‘King of Electricity’ throughout the world, as it was DC power from hundreds of power stations owned by Edison that were generating and powering the electrical instruments of those times, which were purposefully made to suit DC Power only.

AC polyphase system
AC polyphase system

During the interview with Edison, Nikola Tesla explained to him the principle of rotating magnetic field on which working of Tesla’s alternating current motor to generate electricity was based. It was surprising for Tesla to note that Edison could neither think nor understand using this principle to generate electricity. Tesla, while explaining to Edison about the propagation of DC over long distances, as compared to AC explained how Edison’s DC needs hundred power stations to power the New York City yet leaving its outskirts in dark. In comparison to this Nikola Tesla’s Alternating Current could accomplish this task with just one power station and yet transfer the power not just to New York City but actually to the entire New York State.

Nikola Telsa also explained that the DC system leads to wastage of power when transmitted over long distances which is not the case with AC system. Moreover Dr. Nikola Tesla’s AC Current system had step-up and step-down transformers which could be used to increase or decrease the voltage respectively, to thousands of times making this system all the more safer and extremely economically viable. Explaining further, Tesla claims that this wastage is like throwing the power given to us by the nature to winds. Tesla went ahead to state that the electric power in DC form is not only imperfect but unnatural as well. Tesla also calls it to be out of step with nature’s harmony. Nikola Tesla further tried to explain in detail to Edison how the changeover from DC to AC could be a giant step forward that could actually transform the whole world and benefit humanity.

Hearing this revolutionary idea, surprisingly, Thomas Edison got utterly upset. Edison could clearly see his power business in jeopardy if this idea of Nikola Tesla was ever to take shape. The very thought ruffled and vexed Edison to his limits. Fearful of this loss of his power empire, Edison dismissed Tesla’s idea then and there and ridiculed him, telling him that he was heading the wrong stream with this thing and that it’s a dead end.

Thus it is evident from the above extract that Nikola Tesla was a very upfront and righteous man who stood firmly by truth. With this as his basis, Dr. Nikola Tesla had the courage to frankly tell Thomas Edison that his power generation model was flawed and that Alternating Current which Nikola Tesla was proposing was far more advanced and viable in all respects. This courage indeed emanated from Tesla’s deep belief on his Almighty God and also the confidence that he had in his science and its understanding, as a result of which he could openly counter a so-called stalwart of his times without any hesitation. This indeed proves the saying “Arrogance is not strength. Arrogance is just another mask for fear” that we have seen at the start of this article. In the next article we are going to witness the clash of the electricity titans. (To be contd…)

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Published at Mumbai, Maharashtra – India

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1 Comment


  1. Ambadnya for sharing great history of Great Scientist.
    I am feeling very Lucky that I am getting opportunity to work on AC Induction motors which is the invention of the great scientist.
    Previously, i.e. before Dad told us about Dr. Nikola Tesla, as I am a mechanical engineering guy I was not having that much interest in electrical although I am coming in contact of electrical installations and AC induction motors.
    But now after that I am taking interest in electrical and because of this not only my knowledge is growing but. I am getting benefit in my engineering career and my work life.
    Hats off to Dr. Nikola Tesla!!!
    This is my Dad who create the interest about Electrical engineering in me.
    Not only this Dad given me chance to update my knowledge beyond this. I got a chance to attend the training program on VFD’s( Variable Frequency Drive) which is used to control the motor speed. which is one step ahead in AC motors. Its just work like AI

    Ambadnya Dad for creating interest and providing such a great opportunity.

    ll Hari Om ll ll Shriram ll ll Ambadnya ll

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