So the start of the rivalry sounds like it had a great deal to do with Edison’s stubborn refusal to honor the contribution that Tesla had made to his work, and Tesla’s desperate need to push his idea forward. From one perspective you can see how this makes Edison out to be the villain, the man that has no idea of what it means to value new and innovative ideas despite his already impressive work in basically laying the foundation for the power grid that eventually powered the city of New York. His denial of AC current was something that seems rather foolish since it was a new idea and could have made him even richer than he’d already been.
The downside of this is that accepting new ideas when one has already come up with something that is revolutionary in and of itself can be a bit threatening. Tesla’s ideas could have seemed rather risky and even a bit foolhardy to Edison, who was obviously enjoying the notoriety brought on by his own idea. But to cheat someone in this manner, if this is what happened, then there is no doubt why a rivalry started and why Tesla seemed like the wiser between the two.
In the movie The Prestige we see this rivalry renewed as well, though it is a mere backdrop of what history could possibly offer. Tesla at this time is seen as a rather odd man that believes that his science is something that is revolutionary in a way that cannot be easily explained. In the movie however Edison was seen as a more vengeful presence that didn’t even make an appearance, sending hired thugs to roust Tesla from his place of seclusion and burn his laboratory to the ground. Whether or not anything like this happened in the historical feud is unclear but many historians might say that it did not and was for theatrical purposes only.
What is certain is that Edison made a very foolish move in dismissing Tesla’s AC current out of hand. For one thing it’s a lot more efficient than direct current, even though it is a bit disruptive in some regards. For another Tesla was a much more bold inventor and did not rest on his laurels while attempting to enact change in the world through his inventions. Edison was not idle either, but he had a great deal more backing than Tesla ever did, as his name went on through history to become something rather special, while Tesla faded into obscurity until his death in the early 1940’s.
You could argue that since he did not possess the same backing as Edison’s ideas that Tesla was doomed to eventually fade because his rival could effectively push him out. But if anyone believes that Edison truly won the rivalry all they have to do is look at Telsa’s legacy and see for themselves that between the two men, people’s lives changed immensely thanks to their contributions. Neither one is really greater than the other unless you look at the history books, which always tend to favor the one with the most staying power.