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Google Doodle Celebrates Edison’s Birthday

Google doodle for Edison's birthday, 2011.

Anybody else heard of this Google thing? I thought it was just a really big number, but apparently it’s also the name of some kind of search website, or something. Anyway, looks like they occasionally riff on their own logo to mark certain events, and today they’ve got a cool one for Thomas Edison’s birthday. Michael Cavna has written a little puff piece at The Washington Post, and I thought this line was worth repeating:

[N]ote to Google: What we really want to see on July 10 is a doodled birthday tribute to the mad and mighty Nikola Tesla, whose electrical developments arguably hold even greater common currency today.

I concur: Yay for Edison’s inventive spirit, work ethic, and triumph over disability! Boo for his thunder-stealing, cruelty to animals, and Homer-Simpson-esque shameless self-promotion! And yay Tesla, for his undisputed genius, humility, and kindness to pigeons! And yay Google, whatever the hell it is! [Thanks, Lish!]

28 thoughts on “Google Doodle Celebrates Edison’s Birthday

  1. people give Tesla way to much credit, I’m not saying it wasn’t an great person on par or even better then Edison ( I like the man my self) but when you really look at all of the facts he wasn’t as amazing as everyone makes him out to be.

    He was quite an arrogant man who’s remembered more for myths then what he really contributed to the scientific community. Take the myth that he invented AC power, when in fact there were people Experimenting with AC over in Europe long before Tesla was even born. What he did invent was a viable large scale AC generator and pushed for it to be used for the power grid.

    His worst trait was his boosting of things that he never had proof to back up and for as many TRULY great this he came up with he wrong just as much or more. Because this was the same man that thought Airplanes would never amount to more then a unless toy and that Einstein’s and his theory of relativity laughable and would quickly prove wrong….

    What really makes Tesla interesting to many people is he was the underdog that they see as having the world against him. So as time goes by people give him credit for things that really have anything to do with Tesla or his work and so the myth of Nicola Tesla grows beyond the man who really lived.

    Don’t get me wrong he was a giant of a man but he was just one of many equally giant mean and women of his time.

    1. Matthew, check your facts before attacking the man. So for you inventing the radio (Marconi ripped him off and the US Supreme court later confirmed that Tesla is to be credited for it), Tesla Coil that can produce millions of volts at such high frequencies that you can be unharmed by it – see Chris Angel’s Season 1 when he is hit by 3 million volts and “magically” survives it, first remotely controlled device, X-rays and at the end of his life he figured out how to transmit even power without wires. One more thing – they named a unit for magnetic flux density after Tesla -check how many scientists or physicists share that honor – you have to be truly spectacular to deserve that (Volta, Ampere, Watt are some examples of that). If you add that he was fluent in 8 languages, had photographic memory, had such powerful mind that he never had to make any prototypes of his inventions – they worked perfectly the first time he made them. Nobody ever said that Tesla invented AC – he invented the first AC motor, also known as induction motor based on rotational magnetic field – which by the way “only” started Second Industrial Revolution. He won the so called “War of Currents” (Edison lost that one).That meant that instead of having 50 DC power plants in an average city, you can have only one big plant (such as the one in Niagara Falls that Tesla designed) and because AC voltage can be stepped up by transformers to hundreds of thousands of Volts, you can overcome the losses in wires and supply the whole country way more cheaply than DC could ever accomplish. Tesla was also a humanist who worked for the benefit of the whole planet, while Edison was only interested in profiting from his inventions. Edison also resorted to killing animals to prove dangers of AC. Here is the link from Boing Boing about elephant electrocution:
      That is why Tesla invented his Tesla Coil – he figured out that high-frequency current passes only through the surface of the skin and in his public demonstrations, he became part of the electric circuit in which light bulbs were shining, the metal bar melted and yet he was unharmed. Check any Maker Faire for this fantastic device. For truly great documentary about Tesla, please see:

      1. I’ve never understood the tendency to make Tesla and Edison into some sort of literary hero/villain pair. You may argue that you’re not doing that but you are. You’re seeing the facts through the lens of this preconceived legend.

        Edison had many dreams about making the world a better place, but only Tesla’s are valid, why?
        Both men tried hard to become very rich on their inventions, but only Edison was greedy, why?
        Edison fought and won a number of patent battles, which proves he was a greedy business man who tried to steal credit from others?
        Tesla fought and won a number of patent battles, which proves that others were trying to steal credit for his inventions?

        Many of the claims Tesla made (especially in later years) to attract investors could not possibly have been true as we currently understand science, but only Edison was a dishonest business man?

        Tesla was an amazing human being, and so was Edison. I think they’re both much more interesting remembered as real people instead of cartoons.

        1. > Edison had many dreams about making the world a better place, but only Tesla’s are valid, why?

          Because if we ignore hero worship and dig up dirt on both, we find differences. Both were nobodies who rose to fame, and both loved brown-nosing the famous and powerful. Both had expensive tastes. But in personality, Edison was an asshole, a sociopath who from earliest records delighted in painful humiliating practical jokes against weaklings, who in business ripped off naive unprotected newbies without a second thought and was no stranger to dirty tricks: in other words, a normal American businessman well suited to climbing to power in the cigar-chomping fraternity of the old-boys network. His self-promotion was wildly successful. He tortured animals. When that sort of person has great dreams, we respond to him like we respond to a Nixon, or a school bully.

          Tesla on the other hand was an “odd duck” type, partly an academic nerd, and definitely a “babe in the woods” when it came to big business. After nearly destroying his family through gambling mania, his tendency became “saintliness” (being the son of a minister helped,) also germ-phobic cleanliness after encounters with near-lethal Cholera. Rather than trying to crush enemies in brutal competition, he opted for paranoid secrecy and took major breakthroughs to the grave. He totally lacked the required assholery and drive for power and domination of opponents. His self-effacement and (false?) modesty aided in his near erasure from history, which is still not recovered no matter how many post-1980 books get published. And he loved animals (more than people, he repeatedly asserted.) If he’d been successful, he might have been a Dr. Evil with no human connections, pulling the strings at the center of a techno super-civilization, never a Nixon raking in the moolah and out drinking with cronies.

          No doubt much of the polarization was not just from our rooting for Tesla the underdog, but from our rooting for Tesla the clueless, girlfriendless techno-geek, in true “Revenge of the Nerds” fashion.

        2. > Many of the claims Tesla made (especially in later years) to attract investors could not possibly have been true as we currently understand science,

          Oh, and about that one, the situation is more like “We have no idea how he did it.” The Colorado Springs events should not have happened, yet witnesses report the same phenomena Tesla did. Yet without antennas 10s of KM long, there is no possibility of VLF high power emissions. It’s impossible …UNLESS he had something like a megawatt UV laser to ionize atmospheric paths and provide immensely-long glow-discharges akin to lightning leaders. He obviously had no laser. If it ever turns out that he had something to perform a similar task, then suddenly his claims become mundane and conventional, not technically impossible and therefore proved dishonest.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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