Douwe Osinga's Blog: Killing an elephant

Saturday, July 26, 2003

I came across this weird story. This year it is a hundred years ago that Topsy the elephant was electrocuted. Not by accident, but as a way of killing her because she had been bad and had killed three of her keepers. Apparently the last one had tried to feed her a lighter cigaret.

An interesting aspect of this strange tale is the involvement of the Edison Company. At the time, Thomas was trying to prove the superiority of his DC to AC, which was promoted by George Westingthouse. In the end he lost this battle, but one of his arguments was about savety. AC was supposed to be much more dangerous. Edison started to electrocute animals to prove how danerous it was. Financing and setting up the electrocution of Topsy was his last attempt to convince the American public.

He didn't succeed. We're using AC now most of the time and remember Edison for his light bulb and the gramophone and not for his cruelty against animals. Edison did convince the American public that killing by electrocution is an excellent way to execute convicts. It's still done in 10 states.