Elon Musk named his electric-car company after the engineering genius Nikola Tesla, but the sweeping nature of his vision to replace fossil fuels is reminiscent of Thomas Edison, Tesla’s arch-rival. After creating the incandescent bulb, the home electric meter, and one of the first alkaline batteries, Edison spent much of his personal fortune building factories to produce them—all in the service of a grand plan to electrify society using his direct-current transmission technology. Eighty years before Musk was born, Edison was urging U.S. cities to set up networks of charging stations so those newfangled horseless carriages could run on electricity rather than gasoline. For Musk’s fans and investors, the comparison should not be entirely comforting. In the course of a few short years, the Wizard of Menlo Park was unceremoniously forced out of the electricity game. After he stubbornly refused to embrace the transmission technology that became the foundation of the U.S. grid and focused increasingly on developing inventions such as the phonograph and the motion picture, his board of directors merged his Edison General Lighting with a rival to create today’s General Electric—leaving the 46-year-old Edison with no management role. “Many great innovators are great at introducing new things… Read full this story
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