Edison, Tesla, and a really stupid woman in Iowa
Everyone remembers Thomas Edison as the man who invented the light bulb (at least, the first commercially successful one) but few know about his fight with Westinghouse over direct current. It all started when he hired a young scientist named Nikola Tesla. But what does that have to do with a stupid woman in Iowa? Read on…
Edison set Tesla on the task of fixing the electrical generator on a ship. He told Tesla; “Fix that really fast and I’ll give you a thousand dollars,” or something of the kind. And Tesla did, saving the shipping company from defaulting on a contract. But Edison reneged, saying “Can’t you take a joke, Nikola?”
Not smart, Tom. Nikola may have been an unhealthy neurotic with a thick foreign accent but he had the kind of mind Edison’s company needed. Tesla and his mind went over to Westinghouse, where George Westinghouse put him to work on research projects.
Tesla knew, for instance, that alternating current (AC) would travel much farther than direct current (DC), so he invented a rotating-field motor that could use AC. Edison preferred DC, no doubt because it galled him to pay licensing for the rotating-phase motor.
For a time the two companies were locked in a technological battle similar to VHS vs Beta, or Windows vs Macintosh; complete with ad campaigns, public stunts, and dirty tricks. As we all know, alternating current won – not that it ultimately held back Edison’s company much.
But how fast should alternating current… alternate? 60 cycles seemed logical, since there are sixty minutes in an hour and 60 seconds in a minute. It simplified the making of electric clocks, but by unhappy coincidence, 60 cycles is just about right to trigger heart fibrillation in a person who is electrocuted. Yet, it became the standard for the US electrical system.
Fast-forward to Little Sioux, Iowa, in 2005.
“A woman in this western Iowa town died Friday, apparently while trying to drive worms out of the ground with a homemade shocking device, officials said.
Harrison County Sheriff Terry Baxter said the woman, who was in her late 40’s, had a 2-foot metal shaft that was wired to an extension cord and secured with tape. Such rods are used to send electricity into moist soil, which forces night crawlers out of the ground.
“It’s not uncommon in our area,” Baxter said.
Baxter said the woman apparently was standing in water on saturated ground and was electrocuted.”
Tribune News Services
Y’know, hon, most people use a car battery for worm harvesting. It brings the worms up just fine, and as Tom Edison demonstrated in his anti-AC smear campaigns… it’s a heck of a lot safer.