Elon Musk: A Bigger Fan Of Thomas Edison Than Nikola Tesla

Elon Musk


Tesla’s Elon Musk at the recent launch for the company’s SolarRoof/Powerwall 2 at Hollyworrd Studios in LA


On the face of it, the similarities between Elon Musk and Thomas Edison are not hard to see: Each is an American engineer turned entrepreneur with a long list of inventions, electrical and otherwise, to his credit. Both men have captured the popular imagination, and are deservedly revered for their contributions to society. Looking a little deeper, we find some uncanny parallels between the lives of these two, as Peter Mears writes in a recent installment of the Biz Vinci* blog.

*This article comes to us courtesy of Evannex (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Authored by Charles Morris.

Musk and Edison had different backgrounds – the former was born in South Africa, and the latter was born in Ohio and grew up in Michigan. However, both seem to have had difficult childhoods. Edison was a sickly child, and had lifelong hearing problems stemming from an early bout of scarlet fever (a cruel irony for a man who would later make great advancements in sound recording). Mears tells us that Musk was severely bullied as a child. Musk told biographer Ashlee Vance that his father had a domineering streak, and discouraged the young man’s interest in computers.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk talks to Leonardo DiCaprio about climate change (via Nat Geo Channel)

Both entrepreneurs got started making money very early in life, and each had a great capacity for self-learning. When Elon was about 12, he created a computer game called Blastar, sold it to a computer magazine for around $500, and invested the money in a pharmaceutical stock, which he later sold for a healthy profit. Edison, who was home-schooled by his mother, sold newspapers as a child and later published his own paper, called the Grand Trunk Herald. He went on to found the corporate giant General Electric, and no less than 14 other companies. He eventually amassed a fortune of over $12 million, equivalent to billions in today’s dollars.

After Musk found his way to the entrepreneur-friendly US, “where great things are possible,” he created Zip2, an online city guide that he sold to major newspapers, a forerunner of indispensable modern resources like Google Maps and Yelp. His next act was to revolutionize online payments with PayPal. He sold his share to eBay in 2002, and took home around $180 million from the deal. His next move could have been “retiring and buying an island somewhere and sipping mai-tais, but that was not of interest to me at all.” Instead, he went on to found (or help establish) Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity, with the unabashed goal of changing the world for the good of mankind. Today his net worth is estimated at over $11 billion.

Both Edison and Musk have made their marks in many different fields. The many devices that Edison invented or commercialized include the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and practical electric light bulbs. He was a major influence on the development of our ubiquitous electrical grid. He was also a pioneer in the application of mass production and large-scale teamwork to invention, creating one of the first research labs. Incidentally, he also built batteries for electric cars.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk & CTO JB Straubel talk all things battery and Gigafactory at the facilities opening last year

Elon Musk is also a polymath who has made his mark in many fields – the internet, finance, space, solar power, energy storage (Powerwall), manufacturing (the Gigafactory), and mass transportation (Hyperloop). He’s even acted in movies. And of course he is in the process of reinventing the automotive industry, with all the implications for our car-dominated society that that portends. “Elon is a paragon of enthusiasm, good humor and curiosity – a Renaissance man in an era that needs them,” said director Jon Favreau, who told Time that he used Musk as his model for the superhero Iron Man’s alter ego, Tony Stark.

And we do need visionary superheroes. In a time when our leaders are telling us that we can’t afford to invest in grand projects, that we need to withdraw behind walls and try to slow down the pace of change, it is men of action like Musk who offer us hope for a future in which we can use technology to build a better world. “Elon thinks bigger than just about anyone else I’ve ever met,” former PayPal COO David Sacks told the LA Times in 2003. “He sets lofty goals and sets out to achieve them with great speed.”

Of course, there are also important differences between these two visionaries. Musk may not be a serial inventor, like Edison, but he has an intuitive understanding of the big picture. His technical brilliance is beyond question, but without his financial and marketing talents, he could never have built the strong companies that are making electric cars, solar panels and rockets into real products that people want to buy. This gift for turning big dreams into everyday reality is what assures the very rare Edison or Musk a place in history.

Above: Elon Musk discusses role models leading off with Thomas Edison (Source: The Henry Ford)

Ironically, Musk reveres Edison even more than he does Edison’s rival Nikola Tesla, as he explained in an interview for The Henry Ford’s Visionaries on Innovation series in 2008: “I think Edison was certainly a role model, probably one of the biggest role models. The car company is called Tesla… because we use an AC induction motor, which is an architecture that Tesla developed. And the guy probably deserves a little more play than he gets in current society. But on balance, I’m a bigger fan of Edison than Tesla because Edison brought his stuff to market and made those inventions accessible to the world, whereas Tesla didn’t really do that.”


*Source: Biz Vinci

*Editor’s Note: EVANNEX, which also sells aftermarket gear for Teslas, has kindly allowed us to share some of its content with our readers. Our thanks go out to EVANNEX, Check out the site here.

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84 Comments on "Elon Musk: A Bigger Fan Of Thomas Edison Than Nikola Tesla"

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Fittingly, Edison used propaganda to trash his rivals’ AC power systems (favoring instead his own DC parents, which ultimately lost) just as Musk uses the same tactics to piss on hydrogen. There is nothing new under the sun.

Sorry, but Elon does not piss on Hydrogen. The laws of Physics and Hydrogen’s own energy inefficiency pisses on Hydrogen. He merely presents actual facts why he can’t support its use in passenger vehicles.

Also, Elon is South African– not Amercan, like Edison.

Maybe we should be thankful IEV didn’t pick up the (plug-in) bone news this week, of Honda and GM uniting to build another hydrogen development center. It promises 100 jobs.

All for the huge sum of $85mm for these two little companies. /sarc

Would this be happening if Trump didn’t get elected?


Except Musk is correct in this case.

H trashes itself, no need for Elon to do that. But no matter what he or anyone else says, if it turns out to be cheapest solution, it will succeed, just like how AC dominates over DC in power distribution.

But as far as I can see, there’s no way H will be cheaper. You can’t sell people on “green” aspect alone; just ask all those giant SUV drivers on your commute who are the majority.

AC was superior to DC in long range electrical transmission.

It’s not a straight up comparison. Hydrogen cars and electric cars have both their negatives and positives.

Tesla is free to pursue the technology they want, and their competition are the largest car companies in the world. They are at the severe disadvantage when it comes to PR.

As a serial troll and anti-Tesla FUDSTER, 4E will never miss an opportunity to try and spread his “Alternative Facts” here.

Edison was a thief who failed to pay Tesla for the work he had done.

Exactly, Edison was a total dick who lied, cheated, & stole to get where he did. I hope Elon does not go down that path! Tesla was a much better role model & engineer!!!

if musk is the new edison then who is the new tesla

There have been several Tesla vs Edison discussions on /r/AskHistorians recently. Worth reading if interested in the interactions between the two.



Collecting teams of highly accomplished engineers and driving them with the fervor of a charioteer trying to win the Circus Maximus, is certainly something they both have in common, along with many other similarities, such as their wide ranging interests and accomplishments.

Nice read Steven.

If Musk is Edison, who is Tesla?

Any brilliant mind squandering his life working on the unattainable.

Tesla’s biggest problem is that he failed to recognize insurmountable problems, and refused to accept practical advice from others. His ego reigned supreme.

So, you’re saying it’s someone working on Fool Cells?

I’d say there are very few people in the history of the human race who have “squandered” their lives less than Nikola Tesla. He invented the practical AC motor, the practical electrical distribution system — which is basically what we still use today — and he was an early experimenter in radio whose achievements arguably are equal to Marconi.

It’s true that Tesla squandered many of his years, especially later in life, working on the unattainable or at least the utterly impractical. It’s also true that Tesla was hopeless in practical matters and personal finances, and died a pauper. But none of that in any way reduces his towering accomplishments, and how those have stood the test of time. Arguably Tesla was the greatest electrical engineering inventor-genius of all time.

Agreed, I believe Tesla made the world we live in work. Einstein understood how it works. Edison, well he was a smart opportunist. Now, if I could only figure out who is making tomorrow today.

Good link, thank you.

I won’t take away from the amazing accomplishments of Tesla. I just think it’s sad, he did not continue to grow as an inventor, and his later years were spent on a fruitless quest.

He wanted to give everyone free power, and video. LOL, however, the person who was flipping the bill couldn’t figure out how to bill people for power distributed over the air. So he cut funding, and forced Tesla to put his money to make it a reality. Funny, that companies have played with the concept and can only deliver power a few feet away. Also there is this MIT project as well. https://www.ted.com/talks/eric_giler_demos_wireless_electricity

not to mention that many of teslas patents were shelved until they ran out – like the brushless pump motor used in FRACing

“Instead, [Musk] went on to found Tesla. . .”

Nope. Elon Musk is not the founder of Tesla. Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning founded Tesla.

In 2003, Eberhard and Tarpenning chose the name Tesla Motors, incorporated the company, and developed the their business plan, and Musk had absolutely nothing to do with it. In 2004, Eberhard and Tarpenning approached Musk seeking venture capital for Tesla Motors. Musk gave them $7.5 million and became the chairman of the board.



It’s amazing how this misconception continues to be spread about, considering the information is readily available from sources like Wikipedia.

Elon has started some great companies over the years, but Tesla is not one of them.

Steven, you should correct your article!

For that matter, Musk didn’t found SolarCity either (it was co-founded by his cousins, and his involvement started many years later).

While Musk’s a US citizen, I wouldn’t call him an American “like Edison”: His formative years weren’t in the US but in South Africa, and he became a Canadian citizen afterwards. He only became a US citizen in 2002, years after Zip2 and after he was already a successful entrepreneur.

I really expect InsideEVs not to re-publish an article that gets os many basic facts wrong.

Just checked Wikipedia, and it says this:

“Tesla Motors (often shortened to Tesla) is an American automaker and energy storage company co-founded by Elon Musk, Martin Eberhard, Marc Tarpenning, JB Straubel and Ian Wright, and is based in Palo Alto, California.”

That’s ridiculous, that people are posting that there.

Even more ridiculous is the result of the lawsuit between Musk and Eberhard & Tarpenning, in which the judge ruled that Elon Musk had the right to be listed as co-founder of Tesla Motors right alongside the actual founders, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning!

“Pravda” is a Russian word meaning, approximately, “official truth”. So calling Musk a “founder” of Tesla Motors is pravda.

But it’s not Truth.

I’m a Russian speaker and, no, pravda just means truth. You are conflating the the word with the name of the newspaper Pravda, which was the propaganda mouthpiece of the USSR.

Это действительно правда.


Just because you speak Russian doesn’t mean you’re an expert on the language.

Let’s look into the difference between “pravda” and actual Truth a bit more deeply:

The Russian language has two words for truth — a linguistic quirk that seems relevant to our current political climate, especially because of all the disturbing ties between the newly elected president and the Kremlin.

The word for truth in Russian that most Americans know is “pravda” — the truth that seems evident on the surface. It’s subjective and infinitely malleable, which is why the Soviet Communists called their party newspaper “Pravda.” Despots, autocrats and other cynical politicians are adept at manipulating pravda to their own ends.

But the real truth, the underlying, cosmic, unshakable truth of things is called “istina” in Russian. You can fiddle with the pravda all you want, but you can’t change the istina.


I come from a Russian speaking household and Pravda is the only word for truth I know.

You’ll find that here all the time Roland:

The louder people here are EXPERT on every single subject – they even fake it where necessary until they can’t any more and just dummy up.

I did not know that lawsuit came to such a conclusion.

Here is a link, if others want to read it:

That’s ridiculous. Elon contributions to Tesla cannot be understated, and Tesla most likely would not be in the position it is in today without Elon’s money and efforts, but to rewrite history, and claim he is a co-founder is not right.

On the Wikipedia article it also says:

“Tesla Motors was incorporated in July 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning who financed the company until the Series A round of funding.”

Same article, contradicting itself.

Clearly not a founder of Tesla.

European point of View

this article is nothing but a personality cult ubris story .

An your post is nothing but trolling.

The h in hubris is silent, not invisible.
Your response certainly smacks of hubris.

European point of View

ubris : in ancient greek written upsilon beta rho iota sigma

That’s Greek to me.


and so is the idea that Edison was an actual inventor – more like a business man

um, the ‘h’ in hubris is not silent.

True, but it may as well be.

Maybe he gets rides from Ubris?

You have a good sense of umor.

Bit surprising. Musk really has more in common with Tesla than with Edison, being an outsider with disruptive ideas that threaten the establishment.

Guess Elon Musk is wisely not interested in advertising himself as a threat to vested interests.

i agree to disagree.

Elon mUsk isn’t American he’s a south African immigrant!

The article says that:
“Musk and Edison had different backgrounds – the former was born in South Africa, and the latter was born in Ohio and grew up in Michigan.”

He’s currently an American citizen.


I thought Mr Trump is not very immigration friendly…

Just because you have a rule to find a way to properly vet people from countries that harbor terrorists over the next 90 days, does not make you anti-immigration.

That twisting the narrative to fit your political inclinations.

Blocking permanent residents from entering the country under a vague pretense of risk might not make you anti-immigration, but it does make you a bastard.

AlphaEdge said: “Just because you have a rule to find a way to properly vet people from countries that harbor terrorists over the next 90 days, does not make you anti-immigration.” No, what makes a certain highly successful demagogue anti-immigrant is the way he has used, and is continuing to use, racist and Islamophobic language to whip up fear of immigrants and Muslims, and use that fear to attract attention and bring himself to power. Rather like the way a certain highly successful demagogue back in the 1930s-1940s used racist and anti-Semetic language to whip up fear of immigrants and Jews, and use that fear to attract attention and bring himself to power. They say that once you compare someone to Hitler, you’ve lost the argument. But in this case, the comparison is so obvious and fits so well that it’s impossible to ignore. More to the point, Trump isn’t doing diddly squat to make our country safer by this counter-productive and very poorly executed executive action. For example, the refugees from Syria entering the USA already go through the most stringent, longest vetting period of any in history; it takes literally years. Trump can’t improve on that. He’ll just… Read more »

> “is continuing to use, racist and Islamophobic language”

Please provide quotes where he has used racist language?

If he was a racist, I would never support him.

The whole Islamophobic language claim is questionable, as the entire media reporting on accounts of Muslim’s causing harm to others through terrorism, could be construed as Islamophobia.

Here in Québec two days ago a stupid lunatic of alternative fact, shot dead 6 Islam and injured at least 5 more in a mosque and a couple hours later Trump Puppet, Mike Pence tried to link it to terrorist is something that made me sick.
The guy was born and raised here, just like most French author of terrorist massacre.

You don’t remember Tim McVeigh, no you don’t.

BTW, even has horrible as it is, terrorist is not even scaling up to a tiny part of homicide anywhere in the free world.
What Trump is doing is called Tyranny.
Making people fear everything out of smoke.
He is clueless about solution to this problem.

So Djoni, where is the racist quotes I asked for? Here for your own little absurd rant.

Trump phoned and offered his condolences to Trudeau over the attack. So, you are the one who does not have a clue.

If you’re serious about not knowing, then just Google [trump racist remarks]. Be prepared to spend some time, as there’s rather a lot to go through.

I did and any comment that he has made in the past showing ethnic differences is construed as racism by the media.

Racism definition: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

And yet, one could argue that everyone of those statements does not met the definition of Racism. Of course if you are a lefty fanatic, your bias will paint Trump as a racist, and COMPARE HIM TO HITLER!!! Based on those comments to you, he is Hitler?

It’s funny, as I did the same for Hillary. I Googled [Hillary Clinton racists remarks] and what do you know, I get a list of similar remarks on ethnicity that Hillary has made. Do I consider her a racists for making those remarks. No. No more, than the remarks Trump has made. I guess in your eyes, she’s Hitler also? Or you got a double standard going there?

Google any famous person who has been in the public eye for decades, and you going to see them making remarks based on race, ethnicity, nationality, etc.

Might as well show some fact like the one you’re asking for.
I never said Trump is a racist, just said he could be and he have the wrong target.
But since you’re so convince of yours own claim concerning my province racism and what you (don’t) think you know about it.
Where’s the beef?
I don’t have any tactic.

Are you one of the few true Canadian that promise to get paid to prove their love of our nation in the last referendum?
Didn’t get the check, I guess.
We’re still in Canada, but with comment like yours, it seems not a good place to be.
To be right, I personally don’t care, because we will still be awesome whatever goes on.

I think Tesla was a pure genius, but he was a little bit on the edge of sanity.

Racisim issues are not alway expose openly.
But lies ans intimidation is in thé POTUS case.

Not as open as you Quebecois. You guys are some of the biggest racists on the planet.

I should know, I grew up in Ottawa, and many times received racism from you “superior” Quebecois.

English only signs! What a joke, having your here, talking about racism. Do something about it in your own backyard first.

You guys hate anglophones.

French only signs, I meant of course.

LOL, You just don’t know noting about me or Québecer.
Sorry if you were victim of racism, but in some case, it seems it’s self inflicted.
And that seems to blind your thought.

And reading back your definition of racism I find it precisely describes your comment.
Strangely you won’t get it.

Shame on you!

> it seems it’s self inflicted.

That’s right, blame the victim!

> And reading back your definition of racism I find it precisely describes your comment. Strangely you won’t get it.

I had a feeling, you where going to say that. Common tactic of yours, to insult people’s knowledge, intelligence if they don’t agree with you.

Again, blaming the victim! Not saying you’re a racist, as I don’t know you, but that tactic is something racists do.

I like how over time the population of Montreal goes down, and Toronto goes up. If I lived in Montreal, I would leave also.

Remember that separation vote! 0.5%. Hope you get your French paradise next time. Good riddance!

Alpha Edge as a Buffalo-ian what surprised me 30 odd years ago is when Quebec was insistant on leaving, why did English-Speaking-Canada just let them? It would have meant more tax money in your pocket.

It seemed the same in my own NY State when NY City wanted to become its own state.

At the time (I think I was in High School or possibly Junior High) I was cheering them on to “LEAVE PLEASE LEAVE” !!! (hehehe).

I agree Bill. Many Canadians have those feelings, as we are sick and tired of Quebec complaining all the time.

They always want special recognition as a “distinct” society, but many places in Canada could be given that also, based on their cultural history.

They are afraid of being anglicized, but the whole world is getting anglicized.

It went to vote, as you know, and the separatists did not get what they wanted.

Many people in Quebec believe in Canada, and they are afraid what kind of francophone society will be forced on them, if Quebec would succeed in their separation. I sympathize with them.

Anyway, I think the argument on my part has gotten out of hand. I wish Djoni well.

We are here to talk about the exciting world of EV’s.

Not surprising, as Edison was a complete ass and even welched on paying Tesla (Nikola, that is)when he supplied the solution to a problem that Edison was unable to solve.

Nikola Tesla also thought that Edison was a bit of a head-strong dolt – a lot of “do-do-do” without a lot of forethought.

And the source of all that, is Tesla himself!

The same guy, who claimed he was owned a bonus from Edison of $50,000 in 1884!

Where was the contract for such an outrageous huge sum? No where! Only in the mind of Tesla.


“Several months after Edison employed him, Tesla announced that his work was successfully completed. When Tesla asked to be paid, however, Edison seemed astonished. He explained that the offer of $50,000 had been made in jest. “When you become a full-fledged American you will appreciate an American joke,” Edison said. Shocked and disgusted, Tesla immediately resigned.”

That’d be like Trump promising me a billion dollars for building a reactionless drive or accomplishing something else he thought was impossible.

AlphaEdge said: “Where was the contract for such an outrageous huge sum? No where! Only in the mind of Tesla.” Assuming that Edison made the offer, then this is an oral unilateral contract, which is enforceable once Tesla completely performed Edison’s requested action. “What is a Unilateral Contract?” “A unilateral contract is one wherein the offeror bargains for a completed performance rather than a promise to perform. To form the contract, one party (the offeror) makes a promise in exchange for the act of performance by the other party. That is, the offer is only accepted once the other party completely performs the requested action.” “What is an Example of a Unilateral Contract?” “A common example of a is a reward contract. For example, suppose that A promises B a sum of $100 if B is able to find A’s lost cat. This is a unilateral contract because the A is only obligated to pay the $100 sum once B finds the lost cat.” “In other words, A becomes legally obligated to pay the $100 if B finds the lost cat. However, B is under no obligation to find the cat. This is because, technically speaking, B will only have… Read more »

Also, don’t forget, Tesla made a lot of crazy claims over the years.

btw, for those who don’t know, Tesla is claiming a bonus of 12 million dollars in today’s money, that the $50,000 was in 1884, which puts great doubt in what he was claiming.

I see a claim of $1.2 million in current dollars, not 12 million.

Still, as has been pointed out in various online discussions which a brief Google search shows, that amount is so far out of line with what any low-level employee would be paid as a bonus, that it’s hard to believe that even someone as naive as Tesla might have been at the time (having emigrated not that long before to the USA from what is now Croatia) would have taken it seriously.

(Did I just set a record here for a run-on sentence? 😉 )

I did not check, but from Wikipedia Nikola Tesla page:

The size of the bonus in either story has been noted as odd since Machine Works manager Batchelor was stingy with pay and the company did not have that sort of cash (equivalent to $12 million today) on hand. Tesla’s diary contains just one comment on what happened at the end of his employment, a note he scrawled across the two pages covering December 7, 1884 to January 4, 1885 saying “Good By to the Edison Machine Works”.

I checked one inflation calculator:
$50,000 in 1884 → $1,183,033.35 in 2017

And so, the Wiki page, maybe off by quite a bit.

I was going to fix that Wikipedia page, but the page is locked. 🙁

“However, they say an oral contract isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Tesla would have to prove that Edison made the verbal offer. It’s always better to get it in writing.”

Right. Whether Edison was joking about the $50,000 offer, or not, is a he said / he said situation. Only Edison and Tesla would have known the truth. And even then, Tesla may have only thought Edison was serious. After all, Tesla was not a native speaker of English; subtleties may have escaped him.

Elon Musk has two things in common with Edison: He’s great at promoting innovations, and he’s also great at claiming credit for the work of others. Such as his insistence on being called “the founder” of Tesla Motors, when in reality he isn’t even one of the multiple founders.

But while Musk is certainly creative — witness his development of a commercially successful computer game when he was just a teenager — he’s certainly no inventive genius like Thomas Edison.

In my opinion, Nikola Tesla was an even greater electrical engineering inventor and genius than was Thomas Edison. Tragically, Tesla was hopeless when it came to business and practical matters; he wanted his inventions to benefit the public at large, without charging anything for their use. He willingly (and foolishly) gave up his patents for the AC motor and electrical distribution systems to Westinghouse, when the latter was having financial troubles. As a result, Tesla died a pauper when he could have been, should have been, a millionaire.

Somehow I think Musk is laying the ground work for replacement of Nikoli’s (he’s given the credit for it these days – I’d have given more credit to George Westinghouse – but whatever) Motor.

It will be interesting to see if there are any permanent magnets in the production ‘3’.

Wow! Even InsideEVs is so full of hate these days.

Get a life people! Go drive an EV, or something! :p

Hey Elon,
DO NOT be swayed by public pressure to do the right thing for the good of this country. You know who’s behind it USARussia aka’ puke factory. WE HATE HIM & bringing him to justice will be my pleasure.

Same puke that crashed your car yesterday, we stand as one powerful unit do your thing, you have the upper with The President don’t take it lightly, make changes for the better. I’m sick of that discussing foul freak, don’t be swayed!