History Electrocuted Elephants Are a Rich Metaphor
posted by January 4 at 11:51 AMon
One hundred and five years ago today, Thomas Edison electrocuted an elephant to try and discredit Westinghouse and Tesla’s 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”).
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.
In order to make sure that Topsy emerged from this spectacle more than just singed and angry, she was fed cyanide-laced carrots moments before a 6,600-volt AC charge slammed through her body. Officials needn’t have worried. Topsy was killed instantly.
It’s a gruesome anniversary, but I’m still excited about last night, and it’s hard not to think about it as a good omen.
From Mike Daisey: “I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the reason Edison killed the elephant was to help bolster his monopoly on DC current, which Tesla was upending with his AC current. I bring this up because the monologue MONOPOLY!, which I’m bringing to CHAC, is actually about this very conflict.”
Right you are, sir. I’m so excited for HTFA, I failed to mention the more relevant monologue—MONOPOLY!: Tesla, Edison, Microsoft, Wal•Mart, and the War For Tomorrow, which runs Jan 18 to Feb 3 at CHAC. Buy tickets here.