Mind Your P’s and Q’s

Mind your Ps and Qs

By many accounts, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison did not like each other much. There was probably a level of mutual respect. but it wasn’t full respect from either side. I get the sense (and there’s probably a good paper you could write about this, but I’m not a historian) that Edison recognized Tesla’s lack of business acumen and took advantage of it. At the very least, Edison wanted to crush Tesla’s ideas of AC generation and transmission. Then of course, there’s also the tale of Edison offering $50,000 to Tesla to re-design some DC motors, but then reneging on the payment. In fairness,┬áit is important to note that there is little evidence that Edison was involved in this promise. The only evidence appears to be that Tesla stated (in his autobiography, My Inventions) that “The Manager” had promised him $50k for designing some “standard machines with short cores and of uniform pattern.” The manager didn’t pay him, stating that it had all been a practical joke. The manager that Tesla refers to may not have been Edison; some think that it is more likely Samuel Insull for whom Tesla directly worked.

Conversely, Tesla recognized that Edison was a diligent and focused inventor but didn’t think that Edison approached problems in an intelligent way. I love this quote from Tesla: “If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of the search. I was a sorry witness to such doings. Knowing a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90% of his labor.”

Regardless of the actual level of animosity between the two inventors, I like the idea of Edison being completely subservient to Tesla. It kind of puts history on its head.