Monday, June 9, 2014


I watched a great series last month ... The Men Who Built America.

Learning about a handful of American industrialists who revolutionised their country and the world was fascinating. A mixture of good fortune, timing and no shortage of courage and ability built the basis for an economy that would dominate the world for more than a century, but would also create some fortunes that are unmatched to this day.

While watching these programmes, one set of developments, or perhaps coincidences, was more striking than any other.
In the late 1800's, John D Rockefeller took control of the early railroads in America. This was necessitated by his need for a delivery system for the product his Standard Oil company produced. It was in an era before cross country pipelines existed.

With Standard Oil company,  Rockefeller controlled the nations source of artificial light, Kerosene, and this was put under severe threat by the invention of electricity. As Thomas Edison invented the light bulb and powered it by Direct Current (DC), his apprentice, Nicola Tesla was concerned about the safety of DC and went on to develop Alternating Current (AC) electricity generators and grids, which is what we still use today.

Nicola Tesla
Tesla's AC changed the world and posed a serious threat to Standard Oil's kerosene business. Never one to give up without a fight,  Rockefeller looked at ways to combat this threat. While not a direct solution, Rockefellers search within an industry he already controlled led him to find a practical use for gasoline, previously a discarded waste product from oil refining. He found that it's highly flammable and unstable constitution proved to be its forte, and with this fuel, the internal combustion engine was born.

Originally used in heavy machinery to power engines,  it's demand reached insatiable levels when applied to the horseless carriage,  or "car"!

A century or so later, we live in an age where the automobile has changed our world, but we are at a stage where the environmental damage being caused by internally combusted cars is demanding a "cleaner" solution. Queue Elon Musk,  founder of the most revolutionary electric car company on the planet (My Tesla review).

Rockefeller versus Tesla all over again!

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