Tesla vs. Edison: Who Had the Better Electrical Career?

Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were contemporaries, and even rivals, as inventors in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. In fact, Tesla was even an employee of Edison early in his career.

While there’s no doubt that Thomas Edison had a more financially prosperous career as an inventor, historians and engineers could argue that Tesla’s innovative electrical ideas make him the better inventor. Let’s review his accomplishments and career to find out how he impacted today’s electrical industry.

Alternating Current vs. Direct Current

Easily Tesla’s most important electrical contribution, the alternating current (AC) rivaled the direct current (DC) used in Edison’s power plants. Direct current was invented in 1800 by Alessandro Volta and evolved slowly over the years, becoming an everyday utility with Edison’s invention of the household lightbulb in 1882. Direct current refers to the flow of electricity in only one direction and is used by the following:

  • Batteries
  • Power supplies
  • Solar cells

While he was studying math and physics at the Technical University of Graz in 1882, Tesla came up with an alternating current idea. After moving to the United States, working at Edison’s headquarters, and his alternating current idea being rejected by Edison, Tesla pursued AC on his own. While AC had been invented in 1884, Tesla designed and invented an induction motor, which became today’s commonly used three-phase form. The difference between AC and DC is that DC is usually contained within a cell like a battery, and can be drained, while AC electricity flows in both directions and is used when you plug an appliance into an outlet.

With alternative currents the standard today, and considered more efficient than direct current, Tesla’s AC can be called the superior electrical invention. He had the foresight to pursue this complex form of electrical conduction, while Edison dismissed the invention, considering it unworthy of pursuit. As LiveScience explains, “Tesla’s inventions are the backbone of modern power.”

What Held Tesla Back?

LiveScience continues to explain that many of Tesla’s inventions did not outlive him, and he was unsuccessful financially. While extremely intelligent, History.com notes his obvious mental illness, which resulted in debilitating obsessions. Additionally, financial backing was difficult to come by for Tesla’s large-scale innovations.


But despite mental and financial instability, Tesla’s legacy lives on, and his electrical genius cannot be discredited or overshadowed by the business success of Edison.


Disclaimer: Apex Technical School provides training for entry-level jobs. Not everything you may read about the industry is covered in our training programs.