May 16th, 1888 – Tesla Presents Alternating Currents


Nikola Tesla did not invent alternating currents, but he did make it a viable technology for the distribution of electricity. The first alternator to produce alternating current was a dynamo electric generator based on Michael Faraday‘s principles constructed by the French instrument maker Hippolyte Pixii in 1832. Pixii later added a commutator to his device to produce the (then) more commonly used direct current. The earliest recorded practical application of alternating current is by Guillaume Duchenne, inventor and developer of electrotherapy. In 1855, he announced that AC was superior to direct current for electrotherapeutic triggering of muscle contractions. Alternating current technology had first developed in Europe due to the work of Guillaume Duchenne (1850s), The Hungarian Ganz Works (1870s), Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti (1880s), Lucien Gaulard, and Galileo Ferraris.

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The Hungarian “ZBD” Team (Károly Zipernowsky, Ottó Bláthy, Miksa Déri). They were the inventors of the first high efficiency, closed core shunt connection transformer. The three also invented the modern power distribution system: Instead of former series connection they connect transformers that supply the appliances in parallel to the main line.Blathy invented the AC Wattmeter, and they invented the essential Constant Voltage Generator.

In 1876, Russian engineer Pavel Yablochkov invented a lighting system based on a set of induction coils where the primary windings were connected to a source of AC. The secondary windings could be connected to several ‘electric candles’ (arc lamps) of his own design. The coils Yablochkov employed functioned essentially as transformers. In 1878, the Ganz factory, Budapest, Hungary, began manufacturing equipment for electric lighting and, by 1883, had installed over fifty systems in Austria-Hungary. Their AC systems used arc and incandescent lamps, generators, and other equipment. A power transformer developed by Lucien Gaulard and John Dixon Gibbs was demonstrated in London in 1881, and attracted the interest of Westinghouse. They also exhibited the invention in Turin in 1884.

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Tesla’s demonstration of his induction motor on May 16th, 1888, and Westinghouse’s subsequent licensing of the patent, both in 1888, put Tesla firmly on the “AC” side of the so-called “War of Currents,” an electrical distribution battle being waged between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse that had been simmering since Westinghouse’s first AC system in 1886 and had reached the point of all out warfare by 1888. This started out as a competition between rival lighting systems with Edison holding all the patents for DC and the incandescent light and Westinghouse using his own patented AC system to power arc lights as well as incandescent lamps of a slightly different design to get around the Edison patent.

The acquisition of a feasible AC motor gave Westinghouse a key patent in building a completely integrated AC system, but the financial strain of buying up patents and hiring the engineers needed to build it meant development of Tesla’s motor had to be put on hold for a while. The competition resulted in Edison Machine Works pursuing AC development in 1890 and by 1892 Thomas Edison was no longer in control of his own company, which was consolidated into the conglomerate General Electric and converting to an AC delivery system at that point.


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