Edison's pachydermal AC/DC stunt


If you're still sad about the Coney Island revamps and Astroland's swan song, here's something to rub in the melancholy a little. Last week, Wired commemorated January 4th, 1903, the day Thomas Edison decided he needed to electrocute an elephant to prove his point: that DC was superlative, AC atrocious.

Edison had established direct current at the standard for electricity distribution and was living large off the patent royalties, royalties he was in no mood to lose when George Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla showed up with alternating current. Edison's aggressive campaign to discredit the new current took the macabre form of a series of animal electrocutions using AC (a killing process he referred to snidely as getting "Westinghoused"). Stray dogs and cats were the most easily obtained, but he also zapped a few cattle and horses. Edison got his big chance, though, when the Luna Park Zoo at Coney Island decided that Topsy, a cranky female elephant who had squashed three handlers in three years (including one idiot who tried feeding her a lighted cigarette), had to go.

Other elephant burial grounds here.