Three Phase Power

One extra wire allows transmission of triple the amount of electricity via three-phase power. With three wires rather than two, electrical operators can transmit triple the electricity. “Polyphase” is another term for three-phase power.

Three phase power usually transmits enormous amounts of electricity. These are the large transmission lines on tall polls. Electricity is converted into two-phase power, more practical for home use, at endpoint stations. Both heavy industry and electric cars use powerful three-phase induction engines.

Markedly, three phase power results in significant cost savings due to the reduced amount of wire needed.

Meters that regulated and measured the electricity spanned many patents. Eventually, Westinghouse acquired virtually all of them to compete with Edison, eventually lighting up the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Tesla’s patents proved to be the most valuable.

Wireless Remote Control


Nikola Tesla

Only four years after the invention of radio and over a decade before voice was transmitted over radio, Nikola Tesla invented the remote control. In 1898, he demonstrated his remote control with a radio-controlled boat at an exhibition in Madison Square Garden.

Image result for nikola tesla remote control
Tesla’s Remote Control

Realizing that people would not understand the idea of a radio-controlled device, Tesla yelled out commands to a battery-controlled toy boat causing it to sail right or left. “When first shown… it created a sensation such as no other invention of mine has ever produced,” said Tesla.

Tesla’s remote control could only transmit binary on-and-off signals but used those to control the sail, rudder, and lights of his boat. Not only did he sail the boat, but also used the lights to answer questions he’d shout to it.

Tesla invented and applied for a patent on the remote control. However, patent examiners rejected the application believing it impossible.

In hindsight, Tesla had simultaneously invented and demonstrated radio, remote controls, and the possibility of drones. And disguised the entire demo as a magic trick because nobody, including the highly trained patent examiners, understood his invention.

Tesla tried to sell his invention to the US Navy who rejected it as too flimsy for war. In many ways they were correct: Tesla’s technology was arguably too early. However, over a century later, drones became ubiquitous in war. Even as early as WWII, both the allies and axis used remote control steered, bombs, operating as early cruise missiles.

Like all his other innovations, Tesla never meaningfully profited. His invention was more of a novelty at the time because there were no appliances to control remotely. Much like pneumatic tires, the patent expired decades before there was any use for it.

Tesla Boat Patent

Zenith’s Eugene Polley eventually innovated the first mass-produced remote control, the Flash-Matic TV remote, in 1955. To this day, couch potatoes everywhere worship him.


Early radio transmitted Morse code over the air, not sound. Transmitting Morse Code was much less expensive than wired lines.

In the mid 1880’s Heinrich Hertz published the results of experiments proving an ability to transmit electromagnetic waves, later known as radio waves. His work was purely scientific.

Both Tesla, in the US, and Marconi, in Europe, worked to transform Hertz’s invention into a commercial innovation. Several other scientists also built on the work though none achieved commercialization.

In 1894, both Marconi and Tesla demonstrated workable radio. Both Marconi and Tesla are credited with the invention of radio. The US awarded a patent to Tesla; the British awarded a patent, for the same innovation, to Marconi.

Historians believe that Marconi did, in hindsight, invent radio first but the US awarded patents and recognition to Tesla to keep the technology in the US.

Marconi went on to build an extremely successful business. Marconi’s company survived, after many acquisitions, until 2005 when it went defunct as a result of the dot-com crash.

Alternators / Long-Distance Transmission of Electricity

Alternators and Alternating Current enabled the long-distance transmission of electricity. Edison’s electrical plant ran on DC which does not transmit far. Under Edison’s system, there were electric plants every few blocks in cities (the inner Chicago loop had 25 electric plants at one point). Tesla’s AC system transmitted electricity much further; it’s the same we use today at both power plants, transmission, and in homes and businesses.


There are two basic types of electricity, Direct Current (DC) and Alternating Current (AC).

DC current flows in one direction making it easier to work with and arguably less likely to electrocute people, two important factors for early electrical pioneers. Edison built his electrical plant and equipment using DC.

However, DC cannot be transmitted far without the electricity fading away. In the earliest days of electricity, where electrical plants were for businesses and wealthy people located in city centers, this hardly mattered. At one point, there were 25 electrical plants in the Chicago loop. Manhattan had electricity plants.

The European team ZBD had developed and patented an efficient an inexpensive method for AC generation and transmission. George Westinghouse, who had become wealthy innovating a better brake for trains but was hoping to move into the field of electricity, licensed the patent and went into business, competing against Edison’s DC plants (and patents). Another AC company was the Thomson-Houston Electric Company, that also relied on AC.

Tesla & Westinghouse

Westinghouse continued building AC plants and infrastructure and soon came across a young immigrant who had worked briefly for Edison then left to work on his own electrical innovations, Nicola Tesla. Tesla believed that AC electricity was far more practical than DC. He worked on innovating AC generators, transmitters, switches, appliances: everything required to build an AC electrical grid. He also built an AC motor, which electrical engineers at the time though impossible.

This brought about two competing electrical standards, AC and DC. Edison and Tesla each tried to sell their standard leading to the infamous “War of the Currents.” At one point, things ran so out of control that Edison, a capital punishment opponent, suggested New York State contact Westinghouse to build an AC electric chair, demonstrating the inherent danger of AC. Edison proposed using the term “Westinghoused” rather than electrocuted.

Centralized Electrical Plants

Over time, the benefits of a central large electrical plant became obvious (see: Insull). Generating electricity at one large central facility, then distributing it widely, is more efficient. Since this model did not work for DC, which could not be distributed more than a few kilometers, AC won out. Eventually, Thomson-Houston merged with Edison Electric company to form General Electric; the company focused on AC. Edison never showed up to work after the merger.

Today, AC electricity is what powers the houses and factories of the world though there are still limited largely low-voltage uses for DC electric. In any event, AC and DC are now largely interchangeable; while wall sockets are AC, computers, phones, tablets, and LED lamps run on DC power.

Induction Motors

“Intelligent people tend to have less friends than the average person.”

Nikola Tesla

There are two types of electricity, Direct Current (AC) and Alternating Current (AC).

Vastly simplifying, in DC electrical systems the current flows in one direction, like current in a stream. This makes designing certain appliances easier; the motor turns in the direction of the current much like a stream turns a water wheel. Spinning a motor or clicking a telegraph is relatively straightforward.

In AC the current flows both directions. The primary advantage over AC is current can travel much further than DC without a loss of power. However, turning a motor – harnessing the electricity do something useful – is more complicated. A water wheel if the current goes back and forth simultaneously is not all that useful.

Nikola Tesla worked briefly for Edison but quit. Westinghouse, the inventor of air brakes for trains, funded him. Among Tesla’s many inventions is a motor that uses AC electricity. Besides operating from long-distance electrical lines, the Tesla “induction” motors use magnetism and do not require brushes, which DC motors used to harness the electricity. This meant fewer moving parts and less friction, making them more powerful and longer lasting. Additionally, Tesla’s motors did not require inverters and started up immediately.

Almost all electric motors today are induction motors, including those that power electric cars.

Edison and others believed AC-based motors, like induction motors, were impossible.

Electricity Factory & Distribution Network

After inventing the long-lasting light bulb, Edison needed an electrical grid to deploy his innovation. Remember that, at this time, all electrically powered devices ran off batteries.


The Edison Electric Illuminating Company, founded after the light bulb company, funded both an electrical generation station, grid, and all supporting equipment.

Edison innovated better dynamos, circuits, switches, meters, fuses, and lots of cabling. The electrical factory and grid are vastly more complex than the light bulb. It required a herculean effort innovating technology and business methods.

The directors (Vanderbilt and J.P. Morgan) of the Edison Electric Light Company a different predecessor, funded the station with $80,000. Additionally, Edison also contributed significantly from his own wealth.

Recognizing that a one-off electricity factory wouldn’t work, Edison eventually built factories to manufacture dynamos, bulbs, and the rest of the equipment.

He personally helped dig up the streets of Manhattan to run underground electrical wires, which could only be done between 8 PM and 4 AM. Finally, Monday, Sept. 4, 1882, the first electrical plant came online, Pearl Street Station. Among the first customers to have electric lighting were the offices of the New York Times.

The whole project was a relatively quick success. Factories were especially eager to switch from gas to electric since electric lamps were less likely to start fires. Edison created successor small companies that eventually coalesced to become General Electric.

Edison Burns Out

Though the primary innovator of this is marked as Edison it is arguably Tesla, who briefly worked for Edison, that devised much of what enables a modern electrical grid.

As the business evolved, Edison’s companies acquired and merged with countless other companies. However, Edison never liked the merger that became General Electric. He asked that his name be dropped from the company.

He sold his 10% share in GE and used the money to finance an iron-mining project that never panned out.

Thomas Edison did not make a substantial amount of money from General Electric. When he died his estate was worth $12 million. The industry he created, at that time, was worth about $15 billion.