1903: Did Edison have Topsy the Elephant Killed by Electrocution?

1903: Did Edison have Topsy the Elephant Killed by Electrocution?
Photo Credit To https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/Topsy_elephant_death_electrocution_at_luna_park_1903.png

On this day the the circus elephant Topsy was killed by electrocution. The elephant belonged to Forepaugh Circus and was considered too violent, so it was decided to put her to death. Namely, the elephant killed three people in the last three years, including her abusive coach who allegedly tried to give her a lit cigarette to eat.

There was some discussion on which method of execution should be used. Initially, Topsy was supposed to be hanged, this was decided to be needlessly cruel and electrocution was used instead. On this day, the elephant was connected to a voltage of 6,600 volts. The execution was observed by about 1,500 people, this terrible scene was filmed by Edison studios, a company founded by the famous inventor Thomas Alva Edison. The film was screened throughout the United States.

Decades after the event took place, the fact that it was filmed by Edison’s film company became associated with the so-called “War of Currents” between Edison and his opponents, chiefly Nikola Tesla. It was a debate whether it is direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC/DC) better for commercial use. Edison promoted his direct current (DC), and was against Tesla’s alternating current (AC).

The story went that, to prove that Tesla’s alternating current is supposedly dangerous, Edison used the elephant Topsy, who was meant to be killed anyway.  Edison’s intention was for the people to connect Tesla’s alternating current with something deadly and dangerous, and therefore reject its application in households.

However, Edison himself was not involved in the incident, and the “War of the Currents” actually took place a decade before the execution. Therefore, this connection between Topsy and Edison has no basis in reality.

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