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Friday, January 4, 2008

Electrocuted Elephants Are a Rich Metaphor

posted by on January 4 at 11:51 AM

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.

(Via Wired, Boing Boing, and Mike Daisey, whose new monologue—called How Theater Failed America—is coming soon to CHAC. Everyone buy tickets now.)


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.

RSS icon Comments


Jesus Christ, man!

I mean, seriously, fuck.....

Posted by Justin | January 4, 2008 11:57 AM

the thing that is laughable is that edison was on the wrong side of the argument.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | January 4, 2008 12:04 PM

Not cool, funny, exciting or whatever else you're trying to convey.


Posted by pablocjr | January 4, 2008 12:06 PM

hey it was all in the name of science back then.

Posted by apres_moi | January 4, 2008 12:27 PM

The German is *the* perfect touch!

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | January 4, 2008 12:53 PM

I did NOT need to see that.


Posted by Reverse Polarity (formerly SDA in SEA) | January 4, 2008 1:20 PM

edison was wrong wrong wrong

Posted by Bellevue Ave | January 4, 2008 1:26 PM

And, since DC was so unpredictable, you were far more likely to wind up like Topsy if you didn't switch to AC.

Posted by keshmeshi | January 4, 2008 1:26 PM

Tentacled Sawfish -- a side project of some of the Circus Contraption Band -- has a song about Topsy.

You can listen to it here:

poor topsy :(

Posted by | January 4, 2008 2:34 PM

Excuse me, but, why did you have to do that?

Posted by jean genie | January 4, 2008 3:34 PM

Yes, a story very similar to one Laurie Anderson told in her epic UNITED STATES over two decades ago.

Posted by andy niable | January 4, 2008 9:21 PM

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