Edison (1847-1931) and Tesla (1856-1943)
I like Europe and I go there often. However, my European colleagues
could not understand why I am so pro-American. I tell them I was
pro-American even before
I came to the United States in 1954. Then they tell me America
is still a backward country because Americans could not produce a
single respectable philosopher. My answer to them is that Thomas
Edison is the best American philosopher. Indeed, Edison is one
of my two favorite philosophers. Like to know the other philosopher?
How could Edison be a philosopher? According to Karl Marx, philosophers only write down their interpretations of this world. After his life-long struggles, Edison said "God speaks the language of mathematics." Indeed, my recent papers are based on my belief that God speaks the language of two-by-two matrices. When I was talking to Eugene Wigner, I had to explain everything in terms of two-by-two matrices.
Tesla's second employer was George Westinghouse whose business was based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Westinghouse did not know too much about electricity but was ready to venture into a new business. Earlier, he had developed a pipeline system for bringing natural gas from Texas to the industrial area around Pittsburgh.
Westinghouse was quite interested in Tesla's idea about sending electric power to far-away places.
Using his experience in pipelines, Westinghouse developed a brake system for trains using compressed air. He attempted to sell his idea to Cornelius Vanderbilt, the American railroad giant at that time. But Vanderbilt dismissed his idea by saying "How can wind stop heavy trains?" Westinghouse had to start with an obscure railroad company in Pittsburgh.
Because of his experience with Vanderbilt, Westinghouse was quite sympathetic to Tesla who was rejected by Edison. Tesla then became Westinghouse's house wizard during the DC-to-AC conversion period. While working for Westinghouse, Tesla continued his engineering research, and invented the AC-based multi-phase induction motor. With Westy's blessing, Tesla was also able to develop electric locomotives using single-phase AC.
Tesla's interest did not stop at alternating currents. He developed the idea of sending energy without transmission cables. Indeed, he invented the wireless communication system independently. At that time, time, Marconi was working on a trans-Atlantic wireless communication system.
Morgan instead supported the Marconi's program which David Sarnoff later developed into a new company called RCA after World War I.
Tesla became a lonely man after Westinghouse died in 1914. He worked alone for some years, but he was penniless when he died in a New York hotel room in 1943. These days, Americans seem to "worship" Tesla by placing his bust at many physics places. This particular bust is at the physics library of the Johns Hopkins University.
Westinghouse is very dear to me personally. I never met him because he died many years before I came to Pittsburgh in 1954 as a freshman at Carnegie Tech, but my dormitory room was about 200 meters from the Westinghouse Fountain built by the former employees of his compressed-air brake company. I went there often for relaxation and recreation.
When I was in Pittsburgh, everybody there was associated with Westinghouse in one way or another. Westinghouse Electric Company was the pioneer in developing civilian nuclear reactor programs. I lived in a Westinghouse country during the first four years in the United States, and I learned from him how to live and work in the United States.
Many years ago, industrial workers used to be treated as slaves. It took some years to change the environment to the present standard. Usually reforms came from the workers' demands. In the case of Westinghouse, the employer initiated reforms. This is the reason why his employers loved him so much.
What lesson do we learn from this story about Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse? If you are a researcher or inventor, the most exciting step is to produce results which are totally unacceptable to the existing establishment. The point is how to make your results useful to others.
Edison and Westinghouse
Like Edison, Westinghouse was an inventor. He invented gas
pipelines and compressed-air brakes. Unlike Tesla, he knew how
to manage his inventions. The same can be said about Thomas Edison.
Like Edison, Westinghouse used his invention to venture into new
They were however different. Westinghouse was interested in sending energy to far-away places. Edison was interested in sending information to far-away places.
Edison's was interested in how to send two independent morse-code messages through a single pair of electric wires. In so doing, he created the concept of multiplex transmission. Edison then was interested in sending voices through the wires, and he invented carbon-powder microphones. These Edison microphones were used for all telephones until recently. Because Alexander Graham Bell gets credit for inventing the telephone, Edison's contribution is largely ignored.
I suspect that Edison developed light bulbs in his attempt to send signals using light. His phonograph also had something to do with information management.
One was the emergence of wireless communication developed by Marconi and Sarnoff, and also the same idea developed by Nikola Tesla independently.
Another important event was the first World War (1914-19). The Army and Navy needed communication devices. The Navy needed wireless communication because it is not possible to lay telephone cables to ships in the ocean. This is how Edison's Naval Research Laboratory was set up. Perhaps, Edison did not have enough scientific background for radio communication, but he was affiliated with GE with rich engineering resources. GE at that time was providing capital resources to the Marconi-Sarnoff organization. Nikola Tesla was completely left out.
Indeed, GE developed efficient radio transmitters and receivers for long-distance communication, using short waves. After the War, GE was able to set up a subsidiary electronics company called RCA headed by David Sarnoff.
Was the Westinghouse a loser? The Company also had to work for the war effort. While GE was improving sound quality of wireless communication, the Westinghouse was thinking of how to use the technology developed by GE. Together with one of Pittsburgh's newspaper companies, it opened the first broadcasting station, and covered the presidential election of 1920. I am very happy to show you a photo of this transmitter displayed at the Westinghouse museum near Pittsburgh. It had s radiation output of 50 watts, with effective listening distance of about 20 kilometers.
In 1925, five years after 1920, Japanese opened their first broadcasting station at the top of the Atagoyama Hill in Tokyo. For that purpose, they purchased from GE a short-wave transmitter, designed for long-distance communication for army or navy. They then modified the carrier frequency to 800 khz, optimal for crystal-diode receivers commonly used by Japanese listeners.
I am very happy to show you a photo of this transmitter which marks the beginning of Japan's electronic age. The caption says this transmitter has a radiation output of 220 watts, and listening lange of 30 to 60 kilometers.
I am also happy to show you the crystal-diode receiver those Japanese used to listen to the radio. Vacuum tubes were available at that time, but they were very expensive for ordinary citizens. I assume this was true also for Americans at that time.
After World War IIBy 1930, vacuum tubes were mass-produced, and crystal-diode radios were being phased out. In addition to RCA, a number of new radio companies were set up. In 1932, William Halligan set up a radio company called Hallicrafters in Chicago, and started producing high-quality devices for broadcasting stations. The company also produced short-wave radios and transmitters for station-to-station networks. During World War II, the company flourished by supplying thousands of short-wave devices to the government.
I am very proud to say that I owned one of those radios when I was a high school student in Korea. I received a new box-sealed Hallicrafters from my father as a Christmas gift in 1951. My father used to go to the US Navy hospital ship Repose to meet naval officers there, and was able to get the radio from the PX store, which offers items at whole-sale prices. Thus, he should have paid about $25 for my radio.
This particular model was a popular item among the navy people who often had to stay far away from land-based broadcasting stations. They needed long-distance receivers. Didn't they have satellite TVs? It was 1957 when Russians launched their first satellite. It took about ten years to develop the communication satellite system.
With my Hallicrafters, I started listening to the world, including signals from Japan, the Soviet Union, and Australia. I was also able to pick up VOA signals from California. While listening, I developed my strong instinct to talk to them. Then how? This is the reason why internet webpages are so dear to me.
New Challenge in Communication
They then told me Italians are quite creative, and invented all political systems throughout the history. Julius Caesar constructed his empire by military means. The Medici family built their empire with money. Silvio Berlusconi (their prime minister) is constructing his empire using communication.
I then asked "how about democracy?" They said they never heard of that word, and they are only interested in empires. They were of course making Italian-style jokes, but were telling some truth about the power of communication. We still do not know how much communication can do for us.
I am a physicist, and I am interested in a more fundamental aspect of communication. We now have enough technology to send words, pictures, music, and commercial advertisements.
Edison was interestd in sending messages, and Westinghouse was interested in transmitting power and energy. I am interested in
transmitting abstract ideas.
Yes! Abstract ideas can be generated by combining pictures. Ancient Chinese knew this. This is how Chinese developed their philosophy and civilization. Ancient Chinese are not the only ones to recognize this. The Italian picture you see here is an imitation of the portrait of Virgin Mary and her infant son. You know what role this portrait played in the development of Christianity and thus Western civilization.
In order to convey my good wished to you, I maintain a webpage consisting of mother/son photos. Recently, I have added the following photos.
- Swedish Mother and Son and Father and Sons at the British Museum in London (2009).
- Father and Daughter in Zakopane (Poland 2009).
- Mother and Son with Aunt in Zakopane (Poland 2009), at bus station. I asked the boy in English who the president of the United States is. The boy said "Obama." His mother was very happy and proud. He was able to understand and speak English.
- Click here for more mother/son photos.
How about Abstract Ideas in Physics?
They could be one object seen by two different observers. This is what Einsteinism is all about. This is what Feynmanism is about. For figure captions, you may click on
If my (you) raise your level of abstraction, my (your) life can be much more satisfactory. It seems possible that we can exchange abstract ideas effectively using internet webpages.
Y. S. Kim (2009.3.1)
- copyright@2009 by Y. S. Kim, unless otherwise specified.
How did I talk to Einstein?
- Click here for his home page.
- His Einstein page.
- His Princeton page.
- His Style page.