Great Business Rivalries: Bill Gates vs Steve Jobs, Edison vs Tesla, Space Race, Atomic Bomb

Series American Genius depicts 8 of America’s fiercest scientific and technological rivalries. It traces bold advances that grew out of competition between great thinkers, such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates for Personal Computers, Thomas Edison vs. Nikola Tesla for DC vs AC current, Wright Brothers vs. Glen Curtiss for the patent War in US Aviation, the Space Race between USA and USSR, the race between Germans and America to make the atomic bomb,  Samuel Colt vs. Wesson for Revolvers. American Genius by National Geographic Channel’s captures the rivalry, the clash, how patents were fought for. American Genius is available on NetFlix too.

Rivalry between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Personal Computers

In the 1980s technology innovators, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates built Apple and Microsoft, that revolutionized personal computers.  Bill Gates and Steve Jobs never quite got along, with Jobs famously condemning Microsoft for making “really third-rate products” in 1995, whereas years later Gates claimed “There’s nothing on the iPad I look at and say, Oh, I wish Microsoft had done it” in 2010. Over the course of 30-plus years, the two went from cautious allies to bitter rivals to something almost approaching friends. The American Genius episode shows how was the rivalry between them.

Gates saying “There was no peace to make. We were not at war. We made great products, and the competition was always a positive thing. There was no [cause for] forgiveness.”

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs weren’t always enemies. Microsoft and Apple worked hand-in-hand for the first few years of the Macintosh. At one point, Gates quipped that he had more people working on the Mac than Jobs did

Their relationship, already kind of rocky, fell apart when Microsoft announced the first version of Windows in 1985. A furious Jobs accused Gates and Microsoft of ripping off the Macintosh. Bill Gates famously said “Well, Steve… I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbour named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”

In 1997 Steve at his first Macworld keynote announced that he had accepted an investment of $150 million from Microsoft to keep Apple afloat. Bill Gates appeared on a huge screen via satellite uplink. The audience booed. But had that deal with Microsoft not been struck in 1997 then Apple would have gone bankrupt. Microsoft sold that stock back to Apple by 2003 as per the arrangement the pair had struck.  More details at The day Apple and Microsoft made peace

Steve Wozniak On Microsoft vs. Apple: “The real differences between where Steve Jobs is portrayed compared to Bill Gates is Steve Jobs having a very futuristic forward vision, almost a bit of the science fiction, ‘Here’s what life could be.’ But Bill Gates had more of an execution ability to build the things that are needed now, to build a company now, make the profits now, in the short-term. I think that was the biggest difference between them.

This YouTube video has Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in Macintosh software Dating Game 1983, 1991 interview and D5 conference interview in 2007.

Rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla: War of Currents

Thomas Edison, the iconic inventor of the light bulb, the phonograph and the moving picture and Nikola Tesla, whose inventions have enabled modern-day power and mass communication systems, waged a War of Currents in the 1880s over whose electrical system would power the world. Edison’s direct-current (DC) electric power or Tesla’s alternating-current (AC) system.

Nikola Tesla contributed to the development of the alternating-current (AC) electrical system which is widely used today and to the rotating magnetic field, which is the basis of most AC machinery. Born on July 10, 1856, Nikola Tesla went to the United States in 1884 and briefly worked with Thomas Edison before the two parted ways.

Tesla’s AC systems eventually caught the attention of American engineer and businessman George Westinghouse, who was looking for a solution to supply the nation with long-distance power. Convinced that Tesla’s inventions will help him achieve this, he purchased Tesla patents for 60,000 USD in cash and stock in the Westinghouse Corporation in 1888.

Thomas Edison launched a negative press-campaign in an attempt to undermine the interest in AC power.

Unfortunately for Edison, the Westinghouse Corporation was chosen to supply the lighting at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and Tesla conducted demonstrations of his AC system there.

Two years later, in 1895, Tesla designed one of the first AC hydroelectric power plants in the United States at Niagara Falls. The next year, it was used to power the city of Buffalo, New York. This feat was widely publicized throughout the world.

With its repeated success and favourable press, the alternating-current system became the leading power system of the 20th century and it has remained the worldwide standard since.

Despite his many inventions and patents, Nikola died an eccentric, destitute man in 1943.

Rivalry between Wright Brothers vs. Glen Curtiss, Patent War in US Aviation

Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright are credited with inventing, building, and flying the world’s the first successful aeroplane on December 17, 1903, four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. But Glenn Hammond Curtiss is considered to be the founder of the U.S. aircraft industry

A bitter rivalry was formed between Glenn Curtiss and Orville and Wilbur Wright as they develop powered flight and seek to control the aviation market.

In 1906, the Wrights received a patent for their method of flight control which they fiercely defended for years afterwards, suing foreign and domestic aviators and companies, especially Glenn Curtiss, in an attempt to collect licensing fees. But Curtiss boldly went public with his ‘June Bug’ aeroplane and quickly became the popular face of flight. When Wilbur dies, Orville blames Curtiss for driving him to exhaustion

Many say that the patent war stalled the development of the U.S. aviation industry. As a consequence, aeroplane development in the United States fell so far behind Europe that in World War I American pilots were forced to fly European combat aircraft, instead. After the war began, the U.S. Government pressured the aviation industry to form an organization to share patents

Were Wright brother excellent self-taught engineers who could run a small company, but they did not have the business skills or temperament to dominate the growing aviation industry? How was their rivalry with Glenn Curtis?

Philo Taylor Farnsworth  vs David Sarnoff, First Television

Philo Taylor Farnsworth is known as the Inventor of the first fully electronic television in 1927. But he had to fight in court with David Sarnoff of Radio Corporation of America. The dispute was over which inventor can lay claim to coming up with the idea for a working television: Farnsworth or Vladimir Zworykin(working for RSA)

RCA was a pioneer in the introduction and development of television, both black-and-white and especially, color television. RCA also created the first American radio network, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).

Farnsworth worked out the principle of the image dissector in the summer of 1921, not long before his 15th birthday, and demonstrated the first working version on September 7, 1927, having turned 21 the previous August. A farm boy, his inspiration for scanning an image as series of lines came from the back-and-forth motion used to plow a field.

Sarnoff buries Farnsworth under appeals and injunctions, buying Zworykin the time he needs to match Farnsworth’s television.

In the course of a patent interference suit brought by the Radio Corporation of America in 1934 and decided in February 1935, his high school chemistry teacher, Justin Tolman, produced a sketch he had made of a blackboard drawing Farnsworth had shown him in spring 1922. Farnsworth won the suit; RCA appealed the decision in 1936 and lost.

Sarnoff and RCA go public with their television in a historic broadcast during the 1939 New York World’s Fair

Farnsworth received royalties from RCA, but he never became wealthy. The outbreak of World War II puts the television on hold, and when the war ends, so does Farnsworth’s patent rights. Farnsworth loses any claim to the royalties on the television, as Sarnoff makes millions as the father of the television age.

The video camera tube that evolved from the combined work of Farnsworth, Zworykin, and many others was used in all television cameras until the late 20th century, when alternate technologies such as charge-coupled devices began to appear.

William Hearst vs Joseph Pulitzer: Newspaper Rivalry, Yellow Journalism, 1895

We know about the Pulitzer Prize, the highest award in journalism. Pulitzer Prize is funded by the funds of Joseph Pulitzer(similar to Nobel Prize).

But Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were caught in the rivalry while running their newspaper. Some of the History books accuse Hearst and Pulitzer of pushing the United States into a war with Spain over Cuba.

Pulitzer purchased the “New York World” in 1883 and revolutionized the newspaper: He revamped headlines – from one-column headlines to banner headlines. He created sports and women’s pages. He put illustrations on the cover. Under Pulitzer, the “World” had circulation grow from 15,000 to 600,000. However, things started to change in 1895.

William Randolph Hearst purchased the New York Journal and started a circulation battle. The two papers embellished stories and sometimes made them up altogether. This strategy of sensationalizing the news to raise circulation was named “yellow kid” Journalism after a popular cartoon that both papers ran at the time, but was soon shortened to yellow journalism. One of the prime examples is their coverage of the Spanish-American War.

Orson Welles’ 1941 film, Citizen Kane, was loosely based on Hearst’s life

 Samuel Colt vs. Daniel Wesson, The Revolver

Before all of the endlessly debated firearms rivalries of today, AR vs. AK, 870 vs. 500, or even Mauser vs. Lee Enfield, there were Colt vs. Smith & Wesson.

In the 1800s, the competition to perfect the revolver goes ballistic as Samuel Colt and Daniel Wesson seek to refine their highly profitable weapons.  For decades, the rivalry between Colt and S&W was akin to the rivalry between Ford and Chevy.

Sam Colt invented the revolver as we know it, offering the first one for sale in 1836. That first Paterson was a five-shot, cap-and-ball revolver.Aided by the invention of the percussion cap, he began to produce revolvers in earnest. Colt even pioneered the concept of mass-production decades before Henry Ford. The only problem was the lack of sales. His new revolver was expensive and delicate. Though it was tested by the US Army, it wasn’t soldier proof. His Paterson factory closed in 1843.

Horace Smith and Daniel Baird Wesson partnered up in 1854 to purchase the patent rights to the Hunt-Jennings and the Volition repeating rifles. Improving the design, the new company was dubbed the Smith & Wesson Company and produced a lever-action pistol.

Both Colt and Smith & Wesson experienced failures early on but they kept on coming back. Colt was asked by a Texas Ranger captain named Sam Walker to build him a pistol that could kill a man or his horse at 200 yards. Colt dubbed his new pistol the 1847 Walker.

Colt fired Rollin White who presented him with a patent for a bored-through revolver cylinder. Wesson and Smith purchased White’s patent and the duo began to make the first cartridge revolvers in the United States.

The Episode of Colt vs Wesson captures this rivalry.

US vs USSR, the Space Race

Von Braun and Korolev face off in what will become the most crucial battle of the Cold War, the Space Race. At the height of the Cold War, America and the Soviet Union race to see which will reach space first, with each side creating trailblazing technology.

When World War II ends, former allies the United States and the Soviet Union raced to capture the men responsible for designing the German V-2 rocket, the first rocket capable of leaving the earth’s atmosphere the German scientist Wernher Von Braun and his team. The USA gets German scientist Wernher Von Braun. But his background as a Nazi scientist keeps Von Braun and his team on the sidelines for the next 5 years

The Soviet Union space program is led by brilliant engineer Sergei Korolev. The Soviets recover the Von Braun V-2rocket’s secret blueprints. Korolev builds upon the designs of the V-2 rocket to create something revolutionary – a rocket capable of delivering a nuclear payload. Korolev’s R-7 rocket successfully travels over 4,000 miles, becoming the first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) in history – and making the American mainland vulnerable to a nuclear attack.

American President Dwight D. Eisenhower then creates American missile program, but Wernher Von Braun is once again frozen out. The U.S. Navy leads the project instead.

After Korolev achieves another first with the launch of the satellite Sputnik, the U.S. announces it will launch its own satellite into space with the Navy’s new Vanguard Rocket. But as millions of Americans watch the test on live television, the Vanguard Rocket explodes before even leaving the launching pad. US President Eisenhower then turns to Von Braun and his team.

Von Braun launches the West’s first satellite and officially signals the beginning of America’s space program.

Korolev scores a crucial Soviet victory when he sends the first man into space in the form of Yuri Gagarin.

American President John F. Kennedy announces that by the end of the decade, the United States will send a man to the moon and Wernher von Braun will be the man to do it.

And the Soviets seem poised for victory until tragedy strikes. Sergei Korolev dies at the age of 59, and the Soviet space program never recovers, opening the door for Von Braun and his team.

Working alongside American engineer Tom Kelly, Von Braun finally succeeds in putting a man on the moon with the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969, using his Saturn-V rocket – leading the way for a new era of human exploration.

Oppenheimer vs. Heisenberg, The Atomic Bomb

World War II spawns a battle to achieve nuclear mastery as J. Robert Oppenheimer and Werner Heisenberg lead teams racing to build an atomic bomb. The onset of World War II means that atom-splitting and nuclear reactions are no longer just a scientific curiosity but a military priority.

The Nazi command selects brilliant, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Werner Heisenberg to put his subatomic theories to work to create a super weapon: the atomic bomb. Heisenberg’s plans for a uranium bomb are only in the earliest stages.

Albert Einstein alerts President Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the dangers of a German superweapon, and under the President’s top-secret order, the U.S. military begins the “Manhattan Project.” Colonel Lesley Groves chooses UC-Berkeley’s J. Robert Oppenheimer to lead the project.

Groves and Oppenheimer set up their base of operations in the New Mexico desert – by 1945, Los Alamos is home to 6,000 secret employees, including some of the country’s greatest physicists, chemists and engineers. They’re all in a life or death race with Heisenberg and the Nazi team.

In Germany, Heisenberg barely escapes a reactor explosion during one of his tests. The Americans send Moe Berg, a spy and former professional baseball player to make a decision: If Berg thinks Heisenberg and the Nazis are close to a nuclear bomb, he must assassinate Heisenberg. Berg senses that Heisenberg isn’t anywhere near to constructing a weapon,

On July 16, 1945, Oppenheimer successfully tests a plutonium bomb.

While Heisenberg goes on to enjoy a career in academia and government, Oppenheimer remains haunted for the rest of his life by the consequences of his invention. Despite his contributions to ending the war, Oppenheimer becomes a pariah in the scientific community

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