Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
“Stay weird…stay different.” That was Graham Moore’s hopeful message to young people everywhere, when he accepted the 2015 Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for “The Imitation Game.” As a teen, he himself had felt weird and different, and struggled with severe depression. He didn’t expect he’d end up on that Oscars stage…and certainly not in his early thirties. But today he makes his living writing historical moments into reality, for both the screen and the page. His new novel, “The Last Days of Night,” depicts the dramatic legal fight over the invention of the lightbulb. Screenwriter and novelist Graham Moore on making it as an outsider, and what he calls the “great privileges” of historical fiction.
- Graham Moore Academy Award-winning screenwriter and novelist; winner of the 2015 Oscar for best adapted screenplay for “The Imitation Game”; author of the bestselling novel “The Sherlockian”
Read An Excerpt
Watch: Moore's 2015 Academy Awards Acceptance Speech
Speech starts at 1:40
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. When electric light was first introduced to the world in the 1880s, many reacted with terror. It was unlike anything anyone had ever seen. The light bulb would change the world and the early battle over ownership of the technology was fierce. This is the backdrop for Graham Moore's new novel, "The Last Days of Night." Moore is also the author of the bestselling novel, "The Sherlockian."
MS. DIANE REHMHe's perhaps best known as the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 2014's "The Imitation Game" about the English mathematician who helped crack that enigma code during World War II. Graham Moore joins me in the studio. You are welcome to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. It's so good to have you here, Graham.
MR. GRAHAM MOOREIt's my pleasure to be here.
REHMThank you. You know, every single time we talk about Thomas Edison on this program and his invention of the light bulb, everybody calls in and says, don't forget Tesla. So now, you bring in Westinghouse, of course. Tell us about this book and how it got started in your own mind.
MOOREYeah. I was so fascinated by this period of electrification in America, this kind of hinge moment in American history where the night sky was lit up for the first time. When you read the diaries, the journals of people living in America in the 1880s, they'll talk about seeing electric light for the first time and the effect was so shocking, they describe it as if they were seeing a new color. I mean, they just never seen anything like it before.
MOOREAnd so the invention of the light bulb was quite valuable and unsurprisingly there were a number of people who thought they were the man responsible for it. Certainly among them, Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla.
REHMAnd you create a fictional account of how all this came about. You could have simply done it historically, but fiction was more important to you?
MOOREYeah. What I love about historical fiction is you can get inside the minds of the characters and really see it from their perspectives. What I wanted to do was tell the story not from Edison's perspective, not from Westinghouse's perspective, not from Nikola Tesla's perspective, but the lead character of the novel is a lawyer named Paul Cravath. And you ask me who is Paul Cravath?
MOOREExactly. He is later will become the sort of name partner in Cravath, Swain and Moore. But at the time, he was this young lawyer who just moved to New York. Thomas Edison had just sued George Westinghouse in 1888 over the invention of the light bulb. Edison claimed it was his. Westinghouse claimed it was his. Edison sues Westinghouse for what was valued to be worth about a billion dollars in 1888.
MOOREWhich you imagine is the sort of money worth going to court over. So in...
MOOREIt's worth fighting a war over something, right? So, you know, in response, Westinghouse did something crazy. Westinghouse hires this untested 26-year-old lawyer, Paul Cravath, who's 18 months out of law school, never had a real client before, much less tried a case.
REHMWhich is why he gets hired.
MOOREUm-hum. It was -- so yeah, historically, this is one of the reasons that I was so excited about writing this as a novel. We don't know exactly why Westinghouse did this. We don't have great records of this. We don't know what was going on in the quiet studies over cigars when they have these conversations and made these plans. But so this novel is my attempt to say this is what I think happened and this is the narrative I'd like to tell about the kind of great rivalry, great scientific rivalry of the late 19th century from the perspective of this young ambitious lawyer who's in over his head and just try to figure it out.
REHMOkay. So now, I am curious as to why you began the novel as you did and if you would be good enough to read that portion for us and then explain why.
MOORESure. Here, I'll read the beginning of the novel and we can talk about it. So this is how it starts. "On the day that he would first meet Thomas Edison, Paul watched a man burn alive in the sky above Broadway. The immolation occurred late on a Friday morning. The lunchtime bustle was picking up as Paul descended from his office building onto the crowded street. He cut an imposing figure against the flow of pedestrians, six feet, four inches, broad-shouldered, clean shaven, clothed in the matching black coat, vest and long tie that was to be expected of New York's young professional men.
MOOREHis hair, perfectly parted on the left, had just begun to recede into a gentle widow's peak. He looked older than his 26 years. As Paul joined the throng along Broadway, he briefly noticed a young man in a western uniform standing on a ladder. The workman was fiddling with electrical wires, the thick black cables that had recently begun to streak the skies of the city. They criss-crossed the thinner, older telegraph wires and the spring winds had gusted them into a knotty bundle.
MOOREThe Western Union man was attempting to untangle the two sets of wires. He looked like a child flummoxed by enormous shoelaces. Paul's mind was on coffee. He was still new to the financial district, new to his law firm's offices on the third floor of 346 Broadway. He hadn't determined which of the local coffee houses he preferred. There was the one to the north along Walker and the slower-serving but more fashionable one on Baxter with the rooster on the door.
MOOREPaul was tired. The air felt good against his cheeks. He hadn't been outside yet that day. He'd slept in his office the night before. When he saw the first spark, he didn't immediately realize what was happening. The workman grabbed a hold of a wire and tugged. Paul heard a pop, just a quick, strange pop, as the man shuddered. Paul would later remember seeing a flash, even if at the time he wasn't sure what it was. The workman reached out for support grasping another wire with his free hand.
MOOREThis, Paul would come to understand it, was the man's mistake. He'd created a connection. He's become a live conductor. And then, both of the workman's arms jolted with orange sparks."
MOORESo we move on from there to describe this very public immolation of a workman along Broadway and so this was the fabric of the world that I wanted to talk about. Electric wires were being run over Manhattan and this is a true story, this immolation.
REHMSo it did happen.
MOOREYes. Pretty much every major event in the novel did occur, if not quite in the order that I presented them. But this is based -- real news accounts of a real kind of public burning. And this was happening with some frequency at the time. People were kind of lighting on fire in the middle of city streets as the streets were being wired for electricity. The technology was so new and so shocking and so dangerous. People were freaked out. They didn't know how it worked.
MOOREIt seemed mysterious, magical, alchemical and so a lot of the fight between Edison and Westinghouse was the argument about safety. Who is making electrical current, light bulbs that won't, you know, light your house on fire.
REHMDescribe Tesla for us. He is quite a character.
MOORESo I think of Tesla, yeah, as sort of the third leg of the Edison/Westinghouse tripod. He was born in a small town in what is now Serbia, lived in Paris for a bit, sort of -- there's this great story of him kind of coming to New York with literally a nickel in his pocket. He marches into Thomas Edison's office and he'd never had sort of connection there and he marches in and says, you know, I'm Nikola Tesla. I'm here for a job. And they all kind of laugh at him. And he has this very thick accent. Everyone describes this impossibly thick Eastern European accent and, you know, Edison and his people sort of say, oh, we have this thing broken down by the harbor.
MOOREIf you can fix it tonight, you know, we'll give you a job. And they're just sort of blowing him off because they -- it'll take weeks to fix and the guy's coming from Boston to fix it and there's no way anyone can do this at this night. So sure enough, Tesla goes and fixes it and comes back the next morning and is, like, I'd like a job please. So Edison gives him one. And he works for Edison for a bit, gets in a huge fight with Edison, gets fired, then kind of goes off on his own, will later come to work for Westinghouse for a bit before getting in a huge fight with him and quitting.
MOOREAnd he was, you know, if Westinghouse was kind of the great businessman behind all of this and if Edison was the great salesman behind all of this, I would suggest that Tesla was, like, the great idea man, the great thinker. He was certainly schizophrenic, to use a term that didn't exist at the time, but I think that's the word that in modern terminology would apply to him.
MOOREHe had these visions. He would describe his inventions coming to him in these kind of fantastic sights before his eyes. The ground would open up in fire and flame and he would have this idea for a new alternating current motor and would sort of go off and invent it. But what he didn't like doing was building things. He loved having these sort of grand ideas, would kind of loosely sketch them out and then leave someone else to go do the actual assembling of machines. You know, he was -- it was all ideas.
MOOREIt was all about his own head. And he was so brilliantly ahead of his own time, I mean, he was -- he had these early ideas for wireless telephones and things that -- I mean, the telephone wasn't even ubiquitous yet. Who wanted a wireless one? But Tesla was thinking about it.
REHMGraham Moore, he's the Oscar-winning screenwriter of "The Imitation Game" and a novelist as well. Author of the bestseller, "The Sherlockian." His latest novel is titled, "The Last Days of Night." It's an historical thriller that tells the story of the legal battle over the invention of the light bulb. We'll take a short break here. Do call us, 800-433-8850 and stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. If you've just joined us, Graham Moore is with me. he did win the Oscar as screenwriter of "The Imitation Game." He's also the author of the bestselling novel "The Sherlockian." His new book, titled "The Last Days of Night," tells the story of the legal battle over the invention of the light bulb. And when our hero, if I can call him that, certainly our narrator, Paul Cravath, begins this exploration, he has no idea where this is going. What happens when he first talks to Westinghouse?
MOOREOne of the things that I was excited about in this novel was writing about scientists from the perspective of a non-scientist. If Edison and Westinghouse were these kind of once-in-a-generation, or in their case twice-in-a-generation, geniuses, you know, Paul Cravath, I love the perspective of Paul, this kind of clever, ambitious, hungry young attorney who's just trying to make good. So he, you know, meets Westinghouse for the first time, Westinghouse is way out of his league.
MOOREI mean, Paul grew up on a farm in Tennessee. The idea of kind of even just going to Westinghouse's palatial mansion in -- outside of Pittsburgh for the first time is this life-changing experience for Paul. I mean, he's just never been in an environment like this. It's this entryway into this high-class world with all these rules he doesn't really know or understand, and he's kind of trying to keep along.
MOOREAnd what he meets in George Westinghouse is a man who he can really come to believe in, a man who really seems, you know, to believe that he's in the right, to believe that he's making this technology for the good of Americans. You know, Westinghouse talks about how he's making better technology than Edison. Edison -- maybe Edison was first, maybe he wasn't, but either way Westinghouse's is better, and why won't people know that. And shouldn't the better technology win out? Shouldn't -- isn't that better for the country if we're using -- if we're using the best stuff, and shouldn't he have the right to make the best stuff. And I think that's quite compelling for Paul.
REHMAnd Paul really has a far better reception from Westinghouse than he does from Thomas Edison.
MOOREYes, in the novel one of the fun bits was rendering Thomas Edison's dialogue. Edison, if you read his journals, if you read his public statements, I mean, he was kind of verbose and bellicose in a way that was a ton of fun for me to write.
MOORESo when Paul then is kind of summoned to this midnight at Thomas Edison's office, Edison scares him pretty thoroughly, and I think -- I love that idea of, you know, this 26-year-old kid kind of goes into the great Thomas Edison's office for the first time, and, you know, Thomas Edison basically invented, or could be credited with inventing, the modern concept of branding, of putting the same logo, his name, on every product that came out of his factory, you know, the same size, the same shape on a variety of different products.
MOOREI mean, Edison was a celebrity. Edison was in the newspaper every day, and Edison played into his celebrity very much.
REHMSo the question of how Paul Cravath tracks down Tesla and brings him into the fold with a check for something like $40,000 as I remember, which Tesla is about to walk off and leave, money is not what Tesla is interested in.
MOOREAnd this was a dynamic that I was also really interested in exploring. Tesla in his whole life did not seem -- the pursuit of money was not something that seemed to excite him very much. it was all about having -- having the idea, and once he had it, and once he knew that it was a good idea and that it would work, he would move on. He'd be on to the next thing. He was this kind of voracious, always flittering mind that was always on to the next project.
REHMDid you find out what it was that Edison and Tesla argued over?
MOORESo there are different accounts of this from different people who were there, from Tesla after the fact. We know they got into a fight about money. Tesla was getting paid I think $15 a week, I want to say.
MOOREAnd wanted a raise to $18, and Edison has some famous quote where he says, oh, I can hire anyone I want for $18 a week, you're nothing special, you're -- you're not doing anything that any other engineer in the lab isn't doing.
MOOREWestinghouse saw the value of Tesla. Westinghouse knew that what Tesla was absolutely revolutionary, and so then some years Westinghouse tries to bring him into the fold. But it doesn't actually work much better because Tesla won't work in these, like, corporate, laboratory environments, the kind of rigid structures of here's the next thing you have to work on, and you have to work on a team, and there's like a team of engineers, and they all have to get together to design the same product, and every part of it has to work with every other part.
MOOREThat was just -- it was like pulling teeth for Nikola Tesla. He couldn't have someone tell him how to approach the next project or even what the next project should be, so he quits.
REHMIt's interesting because we've gotten a tweet from Ben, saying I see Elon Musk as the modern-day Edison, no technical skill but pushes innovation and carves a path for his vision. What do you think?
MOOREI agree with that very much. One of the things that I was trying to pull out in the novel is these almost eerie similarities between the late 19th-century scientific rivalries and modern ones. You know, Steve Jobs would always say about Bill Gates, oh, you know, he's just a businessman, he's not really a visionary, which is exactly what Edison would say about Westinghouse. And then conversely, you know, Gates was always saying about Jobs, he's not an engineer, he's not a scientist, he's just a salesman, which is word for word what Westinghouse would say about Edison.
MOOREAnd I think with Elon Musk and perhaps Peter Thiel we're seeing the sort of next round of these scientific rivalries, which gets at this really sort of fundamental question that I was so interested in talking about. What does it mean to invent something? What does it mean to create something? What does it mean -- what's valuable, the idea, the building of the object, selling it to a public, explaining to a public how it works? Can you do one of these things without the other and still call yourself an inventor?
REHMAnd what was the issue that both Edison and Westinghouse were trying to get at?
MOOREI think it's this really profound philosophical question of what -- what does it mean to invent something. What -- in their case what was the light bulb? Edison was saying, oh, I built this light bulb first, and Westinghouse was saying effectively sure, but then I improved upon it 100-fold, and the thing that I have now made is so much better than what you made that your patent shouldn't apply to it.
MOOREAnd this is this really fundamental question. Did Edison invent the light bulb, or did he invent a light bulb? Did he invent one manner of making one, or did he -- does he deserve credit for the entire field of light bulbs?
REHMDid you come to a conclusion?
MOOREThe -- you know, they went through this massive lawsuit that is the plot of the book. I think -- I think it's a -- it is -- so what I would suggest is that this is the question that in a lot of ways all patent suits are fought over and all kind of -- all these battles over invention are fought over. Is it the thing, or is it a thing? I would suggest -- well I'll say this. Edison ends up winning the lawsuit, but Westinghouse ends up winning the war.
MOOREIt is Westinghouse's technology that is responsible for all the electronics we're staring at in front of us right now. But Edison did win the lawsuit, and how that reversal happened is very much part of the book, as well.
REHMDo you see a connection between this book and "The Imitation Game"?
MOOREIn a sense, I mean, I was writing them sort of at the same time. I had just started this book right before "The Imitation Game." And, you know, at the time my plan was to kind of write this book and be off with it, and then I met the producers of "The Imitation Game," and it was a story that I'd always wanted to tell, and there was this kind of rare -- what I felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write that.
MOORESo I sort of had this plan that was, like, okay, I'm going to go off and write this script for six months, and then I'll come back to my novel. And, you know, I wasn't getting paid for that movie or anything, so it was an easy thing to kind of dash off and say, okay, I'll just -- I'll spend six months, and then I have to go back to, like, my real job.
REHMYou weren't getting paid for it?
MOOREOh gosh no. It was just me and some producers I had just met who had never made a film before, who had this idea, and we thought it was a really beautiful story, and I had always wanted to write about Alan Turing, so we just -- you know, I sort of cleared off six months where I didn't need to make any money, and I could just write this thing I loved before getting back to my real job writing books.
MOOREAnd then for very happy reasons, you know, six months sort of turned into a year, two years, five years by the end of it, and it was nice that then I got to finish my novel. So I wrote, I mean, most of the first -- half of the first draft of "Last Days of Night" I wrote on the set of "The Imitation Game."
MOOREIt became my -- it was like my security blanket when I was on set because being on set for a writer is this strange experience where you're -- it's like what people say about being the vice president of the United States. Like you have all this ceremonial authority but no actual authority. Everyone's so nice to you, and they're, like, oh, the writer's in the room, we should be so polite, but then, like, you don't actually have authority to do anything.
MOORESo I would kind of deal with the stress of that by kind of hiding in my trailer for hours at a time and typing away on this novel. And so in a sense it's -- you know, they're both about scientists in a way, but, you know, whereas "The Imitation Game" was all about telling Alan Turing's story from Alan's Turing's perspective, let's tell the story of his life the way he would've told it, this is about telling the story of Edison, "Last Days of Night" is then about telling the story of Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla not the way any of them would've told it. It's the way this young lawyer would've told it.
REHMAnd this young lawyer actually went on to become a big-time lawyer.
MOOREHe did. Cravath, Swaine & Moore is one of the most preeminent firms in the United States.
MOORESo he makes good on his promise, and this is the case that sort of first puts him on the map.
REHMWhen you stood before that Academy Award audience, tell me a little about your thinking, what you said and how what you said came from within you.
MOOREYou know, it was very surprising. I certainly did not think that I was going to win. But it felt as if -- I'm a professional writer, and so how many times in my life am I going to stand on a stage like that in front of an audience like that and get to say something. You know, that was kind of my 45 seconds on television with that audience in my entire life. So it felt like this was the only chance I'd have to have a camera and an audience like that in front of me, so I might as well use it to say something meaningful. So I did.
MOOREThat was my, yeah, 45 seconds in the spotlight, and it felt like I may as well use it for a valuable purpose.
MOOREI talked about -- I talked about staying weird and staying different and difficulties I had had in my own life. I think that that was -- it was a funny thing to sort of talk off the cuff like that in front of an audience like that. But -- and I did not expect it to become kind of as much of a meme or something that would live on in the Internet afterwards.
MOOREBut I was very -- I'm very happy to have done it, and even now, every now and again, you know, someone will sort of come up to me on the street and say something nice to me about it, which, you know, for a speech, for 45 seconds in front of a camera is very gratifying.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. What was it about your own life you wanted to convey that night?
MOOREI think I said what I wanted to say in the speech, that, you know, we all go through difficult periods in our lives and that having been through difficult periods as a teenager, I then got to stand on the stage at the Academy Awards and that that's a pretty powerful journey, and I wanted to get to share that with others.
REHMAnd do you think that saying that helped you?
MOOREIt felt, yeah, like a load off my chest in a way. It was a great experience, and, you know, I got to go to the Academy Awards that night with my mother, with one of my brother and sisters, so it was sort of just a wonderful moment to get to share with my family and people who'd known me since I was literally born.
REHMAnd I want to let people know that your speech is on our website, drshow.org, for people to see. The idea of "The Last Days of Night" with this light bulb took a certain amount of mystery that nobody could quite figure out, and the same mystery that is sort of in "Imitation Game" about figuring out the enigma code, just the fascinating connections between the two.
MOOREYeah, I think -- I mean, they are both sort of thrillers in a way.
MOOREOne is a thriller about breaking a code, and one is a thriller about inventing a light bulb.
MOOREAnd that seems to be something that I'm drawn to, sort of finding thrillers in spaces that might not obviously present themselves as such. But it's something that I think I'm very drawn to, kind of finding these topics that, I don't know, could be really dry or something but instead saying no, if you look at it from the perspectives of the people involved, this is -- the weight of the world was on their shoulders, and certainly in the case of "Last Days," you know, Edison and Westinghouse had spies in each other's operations, they were -- factories were kind of burning down left and right.
MOOREI mean, this was quite literally a violent conflict between them, just as you had these guys kind of burning up on the street every day. And so it was not this abstract kind of philosophical debate. it was, I think, a very profound debate with very real-world, lethal consequences.
REHMHas this already been sold to a moviemaker?
MOOREYes, and the moviemaker is me and my friends again. So we're -- we are -- we've assembled the entire kind of behind-the-scenes team from "The Imitation Game" to kind of come back and make a film of the book, which I was not expecting. You know, we all were a very intimate team. It's myself, our three producers, our director Morton, and we'd all been looking for something to do together again since "Imitation Game" ended.
MOOREAnd the whole time, I mean, I'd been writing the book on set, so everyone kept asking, oh, what about your book, do you want to do your book, do you want to write a script of it, and I kept saying you guys are crazy, it's just a novel, I don't want to do a movie of this, we'll do something else. And they convinced me otherwise.
REHMAnd it will be done. Graham Moore, he is the author of "The Last Days of Night," a thriller that tells the story of the legal battle over the invention of the light bulb. When we come back, time to open the phones. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. Graham Moore is here with me. We're talking about his brand new novel, "The Last Days of Night." It talks about the relationship, when one existed, between Thomas Edison Westinghouse and Tesla, the lawsuit that came to be over who manufactured the light bulb. Let's go now to Carl, in Brooklyn, N.Y. You're on the air.
CARLWell, thank you. I would like to ask your guest if when he has done research for this foundation of the historic fiction, coming across the facts that were there that Mr. Thomas Albert Edison was tinkering -- many times tinkering with other people's inventions. And that they were already bulbs and they just burned out very quickly, the filaments didn't last. And so he tinkered with it in his laboratory. But that created so much friction and concerns or grievances, really, foundation for grievances of other inventors.
CARLAnd he had that legendary thing going on with, of course, Westinghouse over the DC, you know, the alternative current and Westinghouse with the direct current, the feasibility of the materials then, that those would have been huge gauges to push the electricity through. And similarly with Tesla. But did he discover something there about his factor that in those laboratories, as he had the workers there, that they were actually existing patents or existing inventions, maybe not patented and there was the legal problem with some of (unintelligible).
MOORESo I think it's a great question. And yeah, whether what they did was stealing or not, a little bit difference on one's perspective. So Edison -- here is one of Edison's great geniuses. Maybe the thing that I would argue he was the best at. Edison could define the scope of the problem that they were trying to solve and then set a very, very large and not very well paid team of people to going and solving it.
MOOREHe invented industrialized invention, this process of invention. So with the light bulb you had people trying to make them for 100, I mean, it would be 100 years of people sort of getting close and it would kind of worked and it blow out too quick -- blow up too quick. And what Edison realized, and this is pretty remarkable, is he sort of said -- he looked at the existing technology, looked at all the existing patents and said, you know, I think we're pretty close.
MOOREI think we're a couple years away. So I'm gonna hire 100 engineers. I'm gonna stick them in a lab in New Jersey. And I'm gonna basically tell them they can't leave until they have a working light bulb. And it'll take two or three years and then they'll have it. And I'm gonna give them all the resources they need to try any experiments they want to and set them loose. And it worked. And that -- so you can argue that that's -- it is certainly profiting off the labor of others. It's also saying, you know, we're close. It's been 100 years but we're pretty close.
MOOREAnd this is sort of how we start approaching the problem. On the other hand, Westinghouse had this very -- he had like a different corporate perspective on it. Westinghouse was great at acquiring existing patents, buying a patent out of Britain, buying some other U.S. patents. And then assembling the patents together into one unit. He had this -- Westinghouse had this amazing patent portfolio that he had acquired. And he would sort of combine them to make new inventions.
MOORESo this is part of the issue of kind of what is invention. Like, it's always -- as an author, I would even say that, like, I don't love the idea of -- I think this idea of singular authorship or singular creation is always a myth. I think it always takes a team. And I find that kind of inspiring.
REHMTalk about the difficulty in merging the alternating current with the direct current as the big problem they were trying to solve.
MOOREYeah, so this was kind of the VHS versus Beta of the 1880s, but with much higher stakes. As the battle between Edison and Westinghouse goes along, Edison kind of throws all of his weight behind direct current, on which his system runs. Westinghouse does the same behind alternating current, which effectively Nikola Tesla has made work for him. And so now they have two competing incompatible systems.
MOOREIs American -- and this was the heart of the matter. And this is why their fight was so valuable. It wasn't just about the light bulb. It was about the entire American electrical system. Was America gonna be wired with AC or was America gonna be wired with DC. And that was going to define the infrastructure of the country for the next 100 years.
REHMBut there had to be -- Edison kept talking about looking blocks and blocks away and how you get the light from here to there and how merging these two ideas would, in effect, finally solve how you get from here to there.
MOOREYes, exactly. I think -- so this was one of the tricks, that AC worked well over long distances. You can send it over long distances, whereas DC kind of worked better over very short distances. So the American electrical system today is built on -- basically, it comes to the building in AC and then sort of smaller electrical devices will kind of convert to DC to run. But this was, you know, it became this almost -- it became a social battle as well.
MOORE'Cause Westinghouse was saying -- in Edison's system you had to -- every house had to have its own generator. He was selling generators one by one to very, very wealthy people. And they would put a generator in their house and hire a staff to maintain it. And then they could light up their house. Westinghouse was saying, no, no, no. We don't need to sell everyone a generator. We can make this much cheaper. We can make this much more democratic.
MOOREWe can put one generator in the center of a small town and then wire all the houses to that town -- to that generator. And think of this, no one had done this before. I mean, this idea that all the houses in a neighborhood were linked together by wires had never happened before Westinghouse suggests this. And so I think this is quite a profound cultural shift in the United States, where people are -- there is this recognition that, oh, we are kind of not just figuratively, but literally in this all together.
REHMAbsolutely. And so in that sense, both minds worked to create something very worthwhile.
MOOREYeah, and so that's the irony, I think, maybe of this rivalry. Is that because they were such rivals they were able to create something that was better than either would have been able to do alone.
REHMExactly. All right. Let's go to Pierre, in St. Louis, Mo. Hi, there. Welcome to the program.
PIERREHi. Thank you. And, Diane, we want to say that we're really gonna miss you. We've enjoyed over the years and we're really gonna miss you.
REHMThank you so much.
PIERREOkay. From a historical standpoint point of view, it seems to me that history seems to overlook contributions of blacks, as it relates to even the invention of the light bulb. And I was just wondering what his perspective would be on the fact that when we talk about these things from a historical perspective, Lewis Latimer, for example, was totally left out in the equation. And so would the light bulb have really been effective had it not been for the filament?
PIERREAnd so there seems to be no discussion of that. It's almost totally left out of the history books, to the point where even on history tests, you know, if a student would say that, you know, Lewis Latimer invented the light bulb, since it would not have worked without the filament, he would get that question wrong on a historical test because Thomas Edison obviously gets the credit for the light bulb.
REHMYeah, very interesting.
MOOREYeah, and I think that's very much -- that was Edison's objective. I mean, as we were talking about, Edison was the guy who was putting his name on everything. Edison was the one who put his face in every magazine. And he gave every interview. And he talked about himself as the singular author of these things. But as you're pointing out, I don't think there's any one person responsible for it. It was a team effort. And Edison had hundreds of people of -- whites, blacks working in his laboratory to make the light bulb function and to continually improve it, as did Westinghouse.
MOOREAnd I think that we don't -- I think there's -- the historical bias is often towards this idea of singular authors and singular inventors, when, exactly as the caller is pointing out, it took a large and diverse team to make the light bulb work.
REHMAnd just to elaborate a moment. Lewis Latimer was an American inventor. He worked at the U.S. Electric Lighting Company in 1881. And he patented a carbon filament for the incandescent light bulb. The invention helped make electric lighting practical and affordable for the average household. And that is thanks to our producer, Alex Botti, that we have that information. All right. Let's go to Portsmouth, N.H. Hi, there, Fred. You're on the air.
REHMHi. Go right ahead, sir.
FREDHi. I'd just like to make this point, which is there in the background of the discussion. But it's generally considered, at least among scientists, that Edison's greatest invention was the modern scientific laboratory. In other words, the whole idea that you would take, as (unintelligible) described, 100 people and lock them in the lab to work on one project, which is essentially what we would do today, was his idea. And that took more than just adding up numbers.
FREDIt was a case that he could go in there and rub elbows and talk with these guys the whole time. Which is not a simple thing to do, you know, to run an operation like that. But his invention, the modern scientific laboratory is, you know, considered to be his best. Thank you.
MOOREI would certainly agree with that comment. I think that that is -- I think people don't realize how revolutionary that was at the time. I mean, when you look at the scientific process in the century before Edison, you're looking at a lot of, I mean, look at 100 years before. It's the royal society guys out of London. And those are basically a bunch of kind of -- it's like solitary rich people who sit alone in their castles kind of tinkering with stuff.
MOOREAnd that's what Darwin was. Right? Darwin was just this rich guy who could sort of hang out and, like, go on adventures and write about them. And they never have to make money off of their inventions. They never have to produce a product. And what Edison comes around and says, I mean, Edison was basically literally homeless as a teenager. He, you know, goes from riding on the back of railcars when he's 14, 15, to a mansion along 5th Avenue by the time he's 30.
MOOREHe has this unbelievable kind of American dream success story. And it's because he keeps inventing these products. He keeps making these little things that then he can sell to a marketplace and to an audience. And so that becomes the focus of his operations forever on, just as the caller is describing. You know, kind of hiring kind of teams of engineers to work for him to make work the things he believes there is a market for.
REHMAnd that's where Tesla had a real problem, being in that group, perhaps, and being told to work within a team.
MOOREYeah, he must have been there -- Tesla probably was there at the same time as Latimer, maybe Tesla was a little earlier if the -- I'm trying to think of how the dates work out. But, I mean, this was the thing. A lot of great inventors were going in and out of that laboratory. It was like they're, you know, a minor league baseball team or something. You work for Edison for a while and then hope to maybe go out on your own.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I want to go back, if you will allow me, to a portion of your acceptance speech at the Oscars. Because I think this was what got people to really perk up and listen. You said, "When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different. And I felt like I did not belong. And now I'm standing here and so I would like this moment to be for this kid out there who feels like she's weird or she's different or she doesn't fit in anywhere.
REHM"Yes, you do. I promise you do. Stay weird, stay different, and then when it's your turn and you are standing on this stage, please, pass the same message to the next person who comes along." Your mother was standing next to you as you gave that speech. I wondered how you felt about telling the world that you had tried to kill yourself at 16.
MOOREIt was, you know, it wasn't the most-planned out of things. And I certainly didn't think it was gonna be as much of a sort of a -- I guess in hindsight, I should have known how public a moment it was. But, no, as I said, you know, I knew that that was gonna be my only likely, certainly likely my only time with that kind of an audience in front of me in my entire life. And so it felt important to say something meaningful in that time, rather than just, you know, like, try to sell more copies of our movie or something like that.
MOOREAnd so to have my mother there, it was great. And that whole night, you know, I have this photo that I still keep on my phone, from later that night, of my mother eating popcorn in my hotel room at 3:30 in the morning, after the Vanity Fair party. And it's like, the idea that my mother would stay up past 9:30 at night is the most shocking thing about Academy Awards night for me. And it was just a lovely experience to get to share with her. And one of my brothers and sisters came as well. And so it was great, for a night that was so meaningful, to get to share it with my family, it was -- it made it even more so.
REHMBut to say you tried to kill yourself, that was really a big disclosure.
MOOREIt was something that felt important to talk about at the time.
REHMAnd now, how do you feel looking back at that 16 year old boy?
MOOREI'm glad things worked out as they have. And I'm, you know, I get to live this great life now. And I get to write novels about scientists. Right? Like, who -- if you had told me at 16 that now I would be sitting here talking to you as my novel about a bunch of scientists, my second novel comes out tomorrow, I would never have believed you.
REHMI'm so glad you're here. I'm so glad you wrote this. And I have found it extremely valuable, as well as enjoyable to read. So thank you.
MOOREThank you so much, Diane.
REHMGraham Moore. His new novel is titled, "The Last Days of Night," an historical thriller that tells the story of the legal battle over the invention of the light bulb. And thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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