Elon Musk interview reveals whether he prefers Nikola Tesla to Thomas Edison

In 2008, Elon Musk explained which of history's tech geniuses was his role model.

Elon Musk says he’s bigger fan of Edison than Tesla
  • In 2008, Elon Musk told an interviewer about his role models.
  • His father had less of an influence than has been reported.
  • Musk was a fan of both Edison and Tesla but preferred Edison.

Who was the greater genius — Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla? As the founder of Tesla Motors, you'd expect Elon Musk to be on the side of Tesla, but you wouldn't be fully right.

As he explains in a 2008 interview, Elon Musk saw both Edison and Tesla as role models. He read books about both and found both of the visionaries inspiring.

Edison (1847–1931), of course, was probably America's most illustrious inventor, being credited with important contributions such as the phonograph, an early motion picture camera, and a long-lasting light bulb. Overall, the impact of his ideas on how we generate electricity, make sound and film recordings, or communicate are hard to overestimate.

Edison, holder of 1,093 patents, is also credited with creating the world's first industrial-scale research laboratory.

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), who once worked for Edison, was often a rival of the more-famous inventor. While he died in relative obscurity and financial ruin, Tesla's reputation has grown over time to perhaps eclipse Edison's in the popular imagination. After all, Tesla came up with the alternative current — the electrical supply system that was adopted more widely worldwide than Edison's.

Tesla is also responsible for a variety of ahead-of-their-time inventions that have stoked the public's fancy. We are talking about wireless technology, including wireless transmission of electricity, early cellphones, self-driving and flying vehicles, as well as thought machines and death rays.

As you would expect, Elon Musk explains that he did name the car company Tesla after the inventor because it uses AC induction motors "which is an architecture Tesla developed." According to Musk, Tesla deserves "a little more play than he gets in current society."

But "on balance," says Musk, "I'm a bigger fan of Edison than Tesla." Why? Because "Edison brought his stuff to market and made those inventions accessible to the world." The shunned Serbian-Croatian inventor Tesla "didn't really do that," points out Musk.

Musk also names some other influences on his thinking – great "technologists" such as Apple's Steve Jobs and Microsoft's Bill Gates. Even Disney was a great "innovator," in Musk's eyes.

Interestingly, in the same interview Musk debunks another rumor. His father was often credited as being the inspiration behind the young Musk's interest in technology. But the SpaceX founder shares that his father was actually a "luddite". He was an engineer but not really a techie. In fact, Musk's dad refused to buy him a computer and thought such machines wouldn't amount to anything. Elon had to save up his allowance in order to buy his first computer.

Check out the full interview below – the question about role models comes in at 35:18:

Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Matthew Yglesias and moderator Charles Duhigg explore the idea on Big Think Live.

Big Think LIVE

Is immigration key to bolstering the American economy? Could having one billion Americans secure the US's position as the global superpower?

Keep reading Show less

Mystery anomaly weakens Earth's magnetic field, report scientists

A strange weakness in the Earth's protective magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.

Satellite data shows a new, eastern center emerging in the South Atlantic Anomaly.

ESA
Surprising Science
  • "The South Atlantic Anomaly" in the Earth's magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.
  • The information was gathered by the ESA's Swarm Constellation mission satellites.
  • The changes may indicate the coming reversal of the North and South Poles.
Keep reading Show less

Mars pole may be hiding salty lakes and life, find researchers

Researchers detect a large lake and several ponds deep under the ice of the Martian South Pole.

Mars.

Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Italian scientists release findings of a large underground lake and three ponds below the South Pole of Mars.
  • The lake might contain water, with salt preventing them from freezing.
  • The presence of water may indicate the existence of microbial and other life forms on the planet.
Keep reading Show less

In praise of nudity: The nudist beaches of Central and Eastern Europe

"Nothing but naked people: fat ones, thin ones, old, young…"

Photo by Jessica D. Vega on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
They lie on towels, blankets and mattresses, without wind screens, but under umbrellas.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast