Saturday, September 19, 2009
An oldy that I missed along the way...
1903: Thomas Edison stages his highly publicized electrocution of an elephant in order to demonstrate the dangers of alternating current, which, if it posed any immediate danger at all, was to Edison's own direct current.
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.
It was definitely a harsher world.
Edison seems to have played very rough when rivals threatened one of his money trees. DC and motion picture patents were two of the most important.
Just how rough is hard to say. More than one book has explored the topic but I never saw anything well documented.
Yet all-in-all he must have done some good. I have never been bothered by elephants eating my garden.
One more tidbit: Edison pondered that Dr. Guillotin, inventor of the modern head chopper wound up having his name affixed to it: guillotine. So Tom came up with the notion that anyone who was fried by electric current should not be said to be "electrocuted" but instead should be considered to have been "westinghoused."
The old boy was ruthless.