Editor’s Note: Stewart Wolpin is on the CTA Hall of Fame selection committee and writes all the inductee bios.
Perhaps the most consequential period in technology history, the first format war that determined how the world would be powered, is lovingly portrayed in the new film, The Current War. The film depicts the business, technological and personality battles that pitted the direct current (DC) scheme promoted by Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) versus alternating current (AC) supported by industrialist George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), assisted by Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult).
Cinematically speaking, The Current War is not a great film. But it is a great live-acted documentary, with Cumberbatch giving the most fully-formed cinematic portrayal of the world’s greatest inventor. More impressively for those of us in the consumer technology industry, The Current War will feel familiar to any and all who have experienced any aspect of any subsequent tech format war, with all the egos, technological disputes, public demonstrations, banker influence, partnership and supporter acquisition, lack of foresight, and the risks taken to protect companies, employees, livelihoods and reputations, all convincingly depicted.
More importantly, the film presents the foundational formation of our industry, and how dangerously close we came to not having the electrical grid we have today if Edison, financially backed by J.P. Morgan, had won the war. If you’re unfamiliar with how our business was founded, I heartily recommend the film.
The timing of the film’s release is wonderfully and coincidentally relevant. Next week, Nov. 6, CTA will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the CTA Hall of Fame at its annual induction dinner, to be held at SIR Stage37 in New York. Edison and Tesla were part of the inaugural CTA Hall of Fame class in 2000; Westinghouse was inducted in the second group the following year.
This year’s CTA Hall of Fame inductees to be honored at next week’s dinner include:
- Colin Angle, co-founder and CEO of iRobot and co-inventor of the Roomba vacuum cleaner.
- James “Jim” Barry, who spent 18 years as an influential consumer technology reporter and editor, then 22 years appearing across the country on TV and radio as CTA’s Digital Answer Man.
- Henry Chiarelli, who has been a ubiquitous executive for numerous leading consumer technology, e-commerce and retail businesses, including RadioShack, for four decades.
- Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler organized the online information system for Arpanet, the early version of the Internet, and led the team that devised today’s familiar top-level internet dot-com domains, including .com.
- Shuji Nakamura invented the blue LED, which makes “white” power-efficient LED light bulbs possible, and the blue laser that made the Blu-ray disc format possible.
- Owen D. Young founded the U.S.’s first radio company, RCA, which enabled the commercialization of radio and the creation of the consumer technology business.
Young’s induction as part of this year’s class is timed to coincide with the centennial of RCA, the most dominant company in consumer technology industry history, which was officially established October 17, 1919. Young’s induction is particularly significant since he has somehow been otherwise lost to history, yet is likely the executive most responsible for founding the entire consumer technology industry.
You can still register to attend the CTA Hall of Fame dinner here; the Innovation Entrepreneur Award winners also will be honored. And The Current War is still playing at a theater near you.