Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Edison and the Elephant

Recently someone posted a video on YouTube of Thomas Edison (the founder of GE) electrocuting an elephant. It is not only real but Edison filmed it himself.

During the 1880’s, Edison, George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla were going through whats commonly known as the War of the Currents. Edison was a proponent of DC (direct current) while Westinghouse/Tesla had AC (alternating currents). DC was the standard method for the carrying of electric currents in North America at the time but AC was gaining popularity. To discourage the use of AC, Edison started a public campaign to show how dangerous it was. It mostly featured the electrocution of stray cats and dogs, but also a Coney Island elephant (which supposedly had problems and was scheduled for termination anyways). Think of this as like the battle between the Mac and Windows or between Blu-ray and HD-DVD but with the torturing of innocent animals. Edison also commissioned the creation of the first electric chair and referred to the act of electrocution as being "Westinghoused."

Part of the war was personal, Edison owed Tesla a lot of money. Not paying the "talent" appears to be a tenet of the GE philosophy. Westinghouse funded him out of spite. AC is now the standard for the distribution of electrical currents along long distances like from a power plant to your home. While DC is common in very short distances like the electrical system in your car.

No comments: