12 Million Volts: how a genius immigrant took on America’s greatest inventor – and won.

12 million volts feature web

Thomas Edison was, and still is, a giant. Considered to be one of America’s greatest inventors, he was the undisputed master of electricity-based capitalism in the country, inventing the phonograph, improving the lightbulb, creating one of the first commercial motion picture companies, and much more. It is unsurprising, then, that a young genius from Croatia named Nikola Tesla looked immediately to Edison’s General Electric company for a job when moving to America in 1884.

Within two years after his moving to America, however, Tesla and the giant Edison were full blown competitors in what is known now as the ‘War of the Currents’. The root of the conflict was how to improve electrical current conduction, but the divide between the two geniuses was just one single letter—A or D? While Edison argued to keep the direct current (DC) method relevant, Tesla provided a voice for a new and the more convenient alternating current (AC). Championed by the young Tesla, AC warred for commercial recognition against the (literal) powerhouse of Edison’s DC-based General Electric. It might be considered a sort of 20th century David and Goliath anecdote, and it all started at Niagara Falls…

Nestled in the border between upstate New York and the Southern edge of Canada, Niagara Falls is the powerful pride of the North American waterways. Today the Falls function as an awe-inspiring natural wonder as well as a significant source of hydroelectric power for the surrounding areas.

The War of the Currents took centre stage in the construction of the first Niagara hydraulic plant. In the middle of the argument—strengthened from all sides—was the issue of capitalism. On the one side you had Edison, who wanted to keep his money-machine of direct current systems relevant by inserting the technology into the Falls system. On the other were representatives of the Falls, who favoured renewable energy for fear of corrupting the beauty and splendour of the natural wonder. Then there was Tesla, who wanted to realise a childhood dream of creating the mechanism that turned the powerful Niagara’s flow into electricity. In the end it was Tesla who won and on the 16th November 1896 AC from Niagara was used to light Buffalo, New York and the ‘War of the Currents’ and DC crumbled under Edison’s feet.

Award winning theatre company The Outbound Project’s brings Tesla to life in 12 Million Volts, transforming the Space theatre into a dynamic stage on which to portray the electric drama of an important man who, against all odds, conquered Edison.


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