Nikola Tesla vs. Thomas Edison

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Difference between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison

As far as the biggest names in electrical inventors goes Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison both have to come in at the top of the list. These two have historically been the names to beat as far as innovation and global impact is concerned and few people have managed to even come close to their track record of providing the world with a host of useful inventions.

Of course, while determining which one of the two is the best is an exercise in futility given their respective accomplishments and it would be worthwhile to take a look at some of the more significant accomplishments in their respective careers.

Nikola Tesla
Thomas Edison

Claims To Fame

Edison is known the world over as the inventor of the phonograph machine, the incandescent bulb, the motion picture camera, and the DC motor and he was also instrumental in the development of the cement maker and the electric generator.

Tesla for his part designed an electric generator of his own and he was also responsible for the radio, fluorescent lights, and the AC motor. From the early 1900’s until his death he worked on charged particle beam weaponry, devices to communicate with beings on Mars and Venus, his ‘dynamic theory on gravity’ and electromagnetic flying devices.

Financial Success

Edison commercial successes far surpassed Tesla’s with virtually all of his inventions receiving patents. Tesla had a period of great success in his early years with Westinghouse although this tapered off sharply when he struck out on his own. Unfortunately for Tesla, creditors also often hounded him. Edison was a lot shrewder in regards to business dealings and was a good friend of Henry Ford. Edison often closed down labs and even his entire operation depending on his financial circumstances. This allowed him to stay one step ahead of his creditors at various periods in his career.


One of the biggest differences between Edison and Tesla is how they went about their work. Both men were possessed of an indefatigable work ethic to be sure, but it is in their respective approaches that their differences were most apparent. While Tesla worked by himself throughout most of his life, Edison nearly always had a virtual army of workers and assistants at his disposal, particularly in the years following his success.

This factor perhaps also had a lot to do with their record keeping habits. Edison had no less than 5 million pages of records that he left to the world, while Tesla’s were but a fraction of that number, poorly organized and the papers he kept with him were seized by the US Alien Property Custodian office even though he was a citizen. Perhaps this had something to do with his work on directed particle beam weapons projects.


Though Tesla worked for Edison, they parted ways abruptly. Tesla was promised $50,000 (equivalent to over $1MM today) to make improvements to Edison’s inefficient motors and generators but was rebuffed when he asked for payment saying something to effect that this was an American joke and not a business agreement.

Nikola Tesla

  • Invented the radio, fluorescent lighting, AC motors and the electric generator
  • Lived well into his 80s but never married
  • Completed his ‘dynamic theory of gravity’ before his death
  • Best known for work in electromagnetism
  • Investigated harvesting energy that is present all through space and the space time continuum
  • One life goal was to create a cigar or saucer shaped flying machine powered electromagnetically
  • David Bowie played Nikola Tesla in the movie ‘The Prestige’

Thomas Edison

  • Invented the phonograph, batteries, improved incandescent bulb, cement maker, motion picture camera, DC motors and was also responsible for his own electric generator.
  • Also lived to a ripe old age and had two wives and a large family
  • Campaigned against AC power
  • Admitted that his biggest mistake was not giving Tesla respect personally or professionally
  • Edison’s last breath is said to be sealed in a test tube in the Henry Ford Museum.
  • Edison had a plaster death mask made after he was deceased

Which inventor made more money?
  • Nikola Tesla
  • Thomas Edison

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