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Shortly after arriving in America, Tesla meets fellow inventor Thomas Alva Edison, the man who was to become one of his greatest admirers and adversaries. Edison was a brilliant scientist and successful entrepreneur known for his shrewd business dealings and self-promotion. Though equally brilliant, if not more so, Tesla was focused on advancing science for the betterment of mankind and often sacrificed financial gain to that end. With such different outlooks, it’s not surprising that their professional and personal relationship was contentious from the start, as illustrated by Tesla’s description of his first days in America under the employment of Edison.
“Within a few weeks I had won Edison’s confidence and it came about in this way.
The S.S. Oregon, the fastest passenger steamer at that time, had both of its lighting machines disabled and its sailing was delayed. As the superstructure had been built after their installation it was impossible to remove them from the hold. The predicament was a serious one and Edison was much annoyed. In the evening I took the necessary instruments with me and went aboard the vessel where I stayed for the night. The dynamos were in bad condition, having several short-circuits and breaks, but with the assistance of the crew I succeeded in putting them in good shape. At five o’clock in the morning, when passing along Fifth Avenue on my way to the shop, I met Edison with Batchellor and a few others as they were returning home to retire. ‘Here is our Parisian running around at night,’ he said. When I told him that I was coming from the Oregon and had repaired both machines, he looked at me in silence and walked away without another word. But when he had gone some distance I heard him remark: ‘Batchellor, this is a d-n good man,’ and from that time on I had full freedom in directing the work. For nearly a year my regular hours were from 10.30 A.M. until 5 o’clock the next morning without a day’s exception. Edison said to me: ‘I have had many hard-working assistants but you take the cake.’ During this period I designed twenty-four different types of standard machines with short cores and of uniform pattern which replaced the old ones. The Manager had promised me fifty thousand dollars on the completion of this task but it turned out to be a practical joke. This gave me a painful shock and I resigned my position.”
Almost immediately after leaving Edison’s employ, Tesla forges ahead with a new venture: the Tesla Electric Light and Manufacturing.
Explore the inventor's most influential moments and discoveries using our interactive Tesla Timeline.
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