Starting in the late 1880s, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were embroiled in a battle now known as the War of Current situation shirt. Edison developed direct current — current that runs continually in a single direction, like in a battery or a fuel cell. During the early years of electricity, direct current (shorthanded as DC) was the standard in the U.S. But there was one problem. Direct current is not easily converted to higher or lower voltages. Tesla believed that alternating current (or AC) was the solution to this problem. Alternating current reverses direction a certain number of times per second and can be converted to different voltages relatively easily using a transformer.
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Edison, not wanting to lose the royalties he was earning from Current situation shirt, began a campaign to discredit alternating current. He spread misinformation saying that alternating current was more dangerous, even going so far as to publicly electrocute stray animals using alternating current to prove his point. The Chicago World’s Fair — also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition — took place in 1893, at the height of the Current War. General Electric bid to electrify the fair using Edison’s direct current for $554,000, but lost to George Westinghouse, who said he could power the fair for only $399,000 using Tesla’s alternating current. That same year, the Niagara Falls Power Company decided to award Westinghouse — who had licensed Tesla’s polyphase AC induction motor patent — the contract to generate power from Niagara Falls. Although some doubted that the falls could power all of Buffalo, New York, Tesla was convinced it could power not only Buffalo, but also the entire Eastern United States.