100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Electric Alternating
Current (AC)
Year of Invention: 1888

What Is It? A system for transmitting electricity in which the electric current
regularly reverses direction, shifting back and forth 60 times a second.

Who Invented It? Nikola Tesla (in New York City)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

Electric alternating current (AC) made long-distance electrical transmission possible. Electricity is often transmitted for hundreds of miles over long-distance power lines. Without AC, that could never happen.

AC made electric utilities and a national electric grid possible. The greater efficiency of AC electrical transmission allowed the twentieth century explosion of electric motors, electric appliances, and electric lighting to happen.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

In 1800, Volta invented the electric battery. Michael Faraday invented the electric motor in 1831. Because batteries provided direct current (DC), and because that was all that was available, Faraday created motors that used DC. In America, Thomas Edison developed new DC motors and batteries.


How Was Alternating Current Invented?

Nikola Tesla was born in a poor, Serbian mountain village. By the age of seven, he was especially drawn to the new force of electricity that his mother, a skillful inventor of farm and home implements, feared as a force of evil and refused to use.

In 1881, 25-year-old Tesla graduated from college and took a job with the new telephone company in Budapest. During his year there he made his first important invention. As he strolled through a Budapest park with a friend one day while reciting a passage from a

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