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December 27, 2009

Similarly, Gardeners can switch to a Knight’s approach to resolve a conflict, but other Gardeners will accuse them of being vicious, cruel, betraying core Gardener values, or failing a spiritual test—unless the Gardener already possesses unimpeachable credibility as a Gardener.

Inventors Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla—both Gardener heroes—pursued conflict with each other in the “War of the Currents.” By the late 1880s, Edison had developed a viable means to power homes and cities using his proprietary “direct current” electrical system—and the system had become the standard in parts of New York City. Direct current, however, had drawbacks—namely, the energy would occasionally build up and discharge bolts of electricity within homes or apartment or commercial buildings, burning them to the ground. The system was also used to power electric streetcars in Brooklyn. With alarming frequency, streetcar riders would hear the power buildup occurring (via an increasingly loud hum and crackle) and would flee the streetcar to avoid of the lightning bolt that would soon fly off the streetcar and ground itself into whatever was nearby. (This is how the local baseball team got the name “the Brooklyn Dodgers.”)

Nikola Tesla’s alternating current electrical system did not suffer these buildups. Tesla convinced industrialist George Westinghouse that his system was much safer. Westinghouse promoted Tesla’s system to businesses and governments, but Edison—unwilling to sacrifice the profits from his range of patents based on direct current—struck back via a publicity campaign. Edison created a road show that spread false information claiming alternating current was deadlier than direct current—a show that featured the electrocution of cats, and in one case, a circus elephant. (Of course, both forms of electrical power were equally fatal—Tesla’s was just safer to use as a power source.) Edison also tried to replace the term “electrocuted” with “Westinghoused” in public discourse. And though he opposed the death penalty, he helped invent the electric chair for the state of New York to demonstrate the lethality of alternating current electricity.

The “War of the Currents” was resolved when Westinghouse convinced the state of New York that the proposed Niagara Falls power production facility should be based on alternating current—and when the power the facility generated was successfully transmitted over a long distance to power the city of Buffalo, something that was beyond direct current’s capacities.

Despite both inventors’ Knight-like behavior during the “War of the Currents” both retained their reputations primarily as Gardeners.


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