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Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla’s Rivalry

One of our most popular professors is University of Yale University’s Craig Wright, who has lectured for us many times on many subjects. A favorite of ours is his lecture titled: The Genius (and Rivalry) of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. In this presentation, Professor Wright compares and contrasts Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison and explores their rancorous relationship. The video above and text below is an excerpt from the talk.

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The Genius (and Rivalry) of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla

Craig Wright / Yale University

In his fascinating lecture, “The Genius (and Rivalry) of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla,” Yale Professor Craig Wright compares and contrasts the two arch enemies who had competing visions as to how to electrically empower America:

“Edison had limited formal education; Tesla was educated, but still a college dropout. Edison’s travel was limited, while Tesla was a man of the world. Edison was a very poor family man, while Tesla was celibate. Edison believed in hard work. Remember, famously, Edison said: ‘Genius is just 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.’ Tesla has a mind more like Einstein. He has a keen visionary imagination; he can see things. It was a practical approach versus the scientific, in a way. Tesla famously said about Edison: ‘If there was a needle buried in a haystack, Edison would go through picking out each and every one of the straws until he found the needle. Me? I’d just go find a large magnet.’”

In other words, one is product-oriented; the other is system-oriented, asking ‘What is the science behind it and how does it work?’ One is very money conscious. ‘I measure my self-worth,’ said Edison, ‘in the almighty silver dollar.’ He ended up with an estate worth about 21 million dollars today. Tesla ended up with zero.” But it was the visionary Tesla — that “sometimes maligned and overlooked genius” — who amazingly predicted many modern-day inventions. Tesla predicted: “Robots, drones, guided missiles, remote control submarines, solar electricity and energy, using solar for air-conditioning and heating, wind power as a source of energy, the Internet and cell phones. Tesla said you’ll have information, you’ll have music, you’ll have voice communication… any kind of entertainment you want, instantaneously, in a phone that you can hold — that will be no bigger than a pocket watch — that you can hold in the palm of your hand. He predicted that in 1919!”

As I think you see now, these two are very different geniuses. One is an inventor-industrialist. The other is a sort of inventor-scientist. Yes, there are some commonalities: both were obsessive, both were fearless, both were self-confident. But there are differences. In terms of curiosity, I would have to say the prize here would go to Tesla, because he was interested not so much in the practical ramifications of it, but what was causing it and what’s behind it. In terms of persistence — staying on point and seeing something to the end of its possibilities — the nod here would have to go to Edison and all that he gave the society of his day.”

So… who is the greater genius here?  Who is more valuable to society? Which genius will be remembered one hundred years from now? Will it be the inventor or the scientist?”

The One Day University Book Store:

After the huge response last week to Professor Masur’s book, The Sum of Our Dreams, we have decided to offer another opportunity for our members and subscribers to expand their minds and their libraries.

We have partnered with Professor and Author Craig Wright (Yale University), to obtain signed copies of his new book to be released next week; The Hidden Habits of Genius: Beyond Talent, IQ, and Grit—Unlocking the Secrets of Greatness

Simply click where indicated below and checkout to purchase. The book will be mailed to you in 15-20 days.

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Learn More About Edison vs Tesla

When Thomas Edison died on October 18, 1931, the lights went out. In his honor, President Herbert Hoover asked Americans everywhere to turn off their Edison lightbulbs at 10 p.m. on the evening of his funeral. “Thomas Edison—Genius Inventor—Dies at 84” screamed the front-page headline in the New York Daily News. When Nikola Tesla died in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel on January 7, 1943, the lights went out for him alone. Tesla was surrounded, not by a family, but by his pet pigeons (among his eccentricities were Columbophilia and Triphilia—look at his room number). The obituary in The New York Times did not call Tesla a genius. Instead, its final paragraphs implied he was a crackpot: Tesla had conceived of a “death beam” powerful enough to annihilate an army of 1,000,000 soldiers; and he was certain of intergalactic messaging that would allow communication with Mars. The Times obituary implicitly posed this question: Was Tesla a visionary genius or a lunatic?

Edison and Tesla (Edison’s one-time employee) were arch-enemies with competing visions as to how to electrically empower America. Their hostility played out in the infamous War of the Currents, which culminated in the electrocution of Topsy the circus elephant in 1903, orchestrated and filmed by Edison, but intentionally using Tesla’s controversial AC current. Radio, television, robots, electric cars, self-driving cars, solar heating, the internet, and the cellphone were on the mind of one or the other of these geniuses. Which one ultimately proved to have the more accurate and enduring vision for the world? Who is in the news today and why? Come and find out the answers.

Watch Edison vs Tesla today! 

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Craig Wright holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard and has taught at Yale for more than forty-five years, where he continues to offer annually “The Genius Course.” Professor Wright has published six books on music and cultural history, and his “The Hidden Habits of Genius” will appear in 2020. Yale has recognized Wright’s contribution to undergraduate teaching in the form of its two most prestigious prizes, the Sewall Prize and the DeVane Medal. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Chicago and in 2011 was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


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