When George Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla presented alternating current, threatening the royalties on Edison’s direct current patent, Thomas Edison needed a plan. His marketing solution? establish fear throughout America on his rivals’ form of electricity by conducting multiple animal executions that demonstrated the dangers of alternating currents. Among these animals was Topsy, a former circus elephant who swatted her trainer after he fed her a lit cigarette, the animal torturer died from the swat and Topsy was sentenced to death. Animal cruelty controversy was on the rise, so instead of being hung Topsy was electrocuted.
“When the day came, Topsy was restrained using a ship’s hawser fastened on one end to a donkey engine and on the other to a post. Wooden sandals with copper electrodes were attached to her feet and a copper wire run to Edison’s electric light plant, where his technicians awaited the go-ahead.
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 and Edison, in his mind anyway, had proved his point.
A crowd put at 1,500 witnessed Topsy’s execution, which was filmed by Edison and released later that year asElectrocuting an Elephant.
In the end, though, all Edison had to show for his efforts was a string of dead animals, including the unfortunate Topsy, and a current that quickly fell out of favor as AC demonstrated its superiority in less lethal ways to become the standard.”