Tesla and Edison: inspiration vs perspiration

N.TeslaI’ve been reading about Nikola Tesla for the last couple of days. Tesla was a brilliant inventor that had flashes of insight so intense that plans for his inventions appeared whole in his head at once in every detail. Tesla and Thomas Edison were bitter enemies and I came across a Tesla quote that helps to define the difference between them.

Edison famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Tesla’s response, recalling the time he spent working for Edison, was, “If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety percent of his labor.”

Edison was of his age, approaching the problems of the world as a laborer. Tesla was more of our age, creating ideas easily and watching them spread… or not.

Here’s another quote of Tesla’s, “The practical success of an idea, irrespective of its inherent merit, is dependent on the attitude of the contemporaries. If timely it is quickly adopted; if not, it is apt to fare like a sprout lured out of the ground by warm sunshine, only to be injured and retarded in its growth by the succeeding frost.”

Edison understood what people wanted and worked on that. Tesla was a fountain of ideas, but he had no idea what people would accept.

Another interesting distinction in creativity and marketing.

2 responses

  1. I’ve been reading up on this epic rivalry as well, thinking about a screenplay… It’s got it all! Haven’t read the Five Fists of Science yet – but need to!


  2. It does have everything. My favorite connection between two famous guys is the Houdini/Conan Doyle thing. You could do a whole x-files show with those two as the investigators.
    I love that Mark Twain was friends with Tesla. One of the biographies opens with Tesla showing Twain this vibration machine he made that made you poop at certain frequencies…
    Great stuff.


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