Edison's Experiment

Edison's Experiment

Edison electrocuted an elephant in 1903. Many believe Edison killed the elephant Topsy to prove a point, but some historians argue otherwise.

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In 1903, Topsy the elephant died of electrocution on Coney Island.

Many believe Topsy was a victim of the so-called War of the Currents, the battle between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison over alternating and direct current. "Captured on film by Thomas Edison, the event was one of a string of animal electrocutions Edison staged to discredit a new form of electricity: alternating current," writes Tony Long for Wired.

But some disagree, saying that Topsy was destined to die anyways, and Edison's electrocution was merely seen to be a convenient and humane way of accomplishing her death. After all, the War of the Currents ended in the 1890s, while Topsy's death came later. Their ranks include Michael Daly, the author of Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked Tailed Elephant, P.T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison. He says Topsy was a victim of the "elephant wars" between circus proprietors, not the War of the Currents.

"Topsy had, in fact, killed a man, but her execution was ordered only later, after she proved unmanageable at the hands of a trainer who savaged her with a pitchfork," writes Vicki Constantine Croke in a review of Daly's book for The New York Times. What Daly argues, she writes, is that the War of the Currents was well over by that time, and what had been proven is that Edison's direct current was effective at killing animals.


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