Edison Publicly Tortured Animals To Discredit AC Power

“We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.” —Thomas Edison

In A Nutshell

In an effort to showcase the dangers of alternating current (AC) and discredit Nicola Tesla, Thomas Edison held public demonstrations in which he electrocuted animals—dogs, cats, horses, and even an elephant—in front of an audience.

The Whole Bushel

The bitter rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nicola Tesla is now the stuff of legend, and it all came to a head during the War of the Currents. On the one side, Edison felt that direct current (DC) was the wave of the future. On the other side, Tesla believed that alternating current (AC) was more efficient for transmitting power over longer distances. Edison launched a massive public campaign to discredit AC, while Tesla partnered with financial mogul George Westinghouse in an attempt to convince power companies to switch over to AC using Tesla’s patented AC induction motor.

By this point, the two inventors were old acquaintances, although there was nothing friendly about their relationship. When Tesla moved from France to New York in 1884, the penniless immigrant got a job at the Edison Machine Works as an engineer. Within a year, he was already solving technical problems for the company, and Edison approached him with the task of redesigning the DC generators for the entire company. He famously offered Tesla $50,000 if he could make the generators more efficient, and a few months later, Tesla came back with an improved design. But when he asked for his money, Edison laughed and said, “When you become a full-fledged American, you will appreciate an American joke.” Since Tesla had redesigned the generators while working for Edison, he had no claim to the patent, and essentially got nothing out of the agreement (although Edison offered him a raise of $10 per week. Tesla resigned on the spot).

A few years later, Tesla built his AC induction motor, and the War of the Currents began. Edison’s main campaign strategy was to prove that AC, which used much higher voltages than DC, was simply too dangerous to use in homes. And to prove that, he went to ruthless extremes. Most famously, he organized demonstrations executing stray dogs and cats, and later cows and horses. One of the first demonstrations took place in 1888, with the electrocution of a large dog named Dash. Edison first sent 1,000 volts of DC through the dog to prove that he would be—if not unharmed—still alive. Then, he hooked the dog up to 300 volts of AC and smoked the pup into oblivion.

And he was just getting warmed up. In 1903, Edison created his largest demonstration yet: He sent 6,600 volts of AC through a circus elephant named Topsy while 1,500 people stood by and watched. The execution was filmed and later released under the name Electrocuting an Elephant.

The real test came in 1890 though, and it was no ordinary animal: The victim was a convicted murderer named William Kemmler. Edison campaigned for the opportunity to create a “more humane” method of capital punishment and, still in the midst of the War of the Currents, he opted to create the electric chair with AC. After all, what better way to prove the dangers of AC than by killing a man with it? And he couldn’t have asked for a more visceral demonstration: The first charge burned through Kemmler’s insides for a whole 17 seconds, after which he was still gasping for breath. The second charge lasted four minutes, and Kemmler burst into flame before finally dying.

Show Me The Proof

Time Magazine: Shock Treatment
Wired: Edison Fries an Elephant to Prove His Point
Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World, Jill Jonnes

  • Blahblahblah

    Edison’s just a moron

  • KS52

    Though I grew up to be edison fan as a child but watching what all he did to tesla(stealing his work and disregarding him) made me hate him. TESLA all the way, he was a better scientist and a better person

    • Bert Sierra

      Consider also how D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks teamed up to form United Artists as a direct retaliation against monopolists like Edison who wanted to control the early film industry. They wanted to provide a haven for artists to operate under, a considerably left-wing idea at the time.

      I agree with you that Edison was a bit of a patent troll and monopolist, but history portrays a far kinder “elderly inventor” picture of him than should be the case.

    • Domina Elle

      Better person? I used to think so too. HOWEVER I now know that Tesla was a supporter of Eugenics. Ironic. I wonder if his views would have changed a few decades later after the nazis had he lived long enough to see. Tesla supported forced sterilization and a society based on bee behaviors, as in HIVE structure. Brainless workers under a queen bee? Do a google search for Tesla ‘when woman is boss’ and Tesla Eugenics and you’ll find some interesting things that put Tesla as being any better than Edison into question!

  • CariHislop

    All kudos to Tesla who didn’t retaliate by showing that he could electrocute Edison with Edison’s current (let alone some poor animal). The more I learn about Edison the more I dislike him.

    • sally

      Shut up PETA , u make me sick.

      • poison ice blade

        dude killing animals is just wrong. tho peta really shoves it down your throat. i hate people who are killing animals and find it fun.

    • Zero

      yea; 0 fact checking; this is pure rubbish article based on rumors and conjecture…

      Just a quick heads up; topsy and other animals had nothing to do with edision.

      ie:
      Luna Park management initially planned to hang Topsy. But the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals objected, claiming that this method of execution was unnecessarily cruel. To meet these objections, park officials, with the approval of the SPCA, subsequently decided to use a combination of poisoning, strangulation, and electrocution.

      The New Bedford Mercury reported that the SPCA officers present had said that “they had never seen a more humane manner of causing death,”

      Telsa then was ripped off by his manager; Charles W. Batchelor when working at edison machine works. Doubt Edison even knew his name then.

      Also fails to mention that Telsa stole the arc lighting system from Edison machine works when he walked out.

      The other huge irony; 95% of our devices in our houses are DC; exception is fridge and AC; almost everything else is converted over.

      etc…

      • RPW

        Hey don’t make it look like Edison had nothing to do with it. He was integral to it and it marked an unnecessary violent end to the tortured life Topsey endured. If Edison had any humanity he could have refused and bought Topsey instead and set up a sanctuary for her. He certainly had the money to do it just not the humanity.

  • Arjan Hut

    The band Tesla has often been ridiculed for their band-name and sometimes focusing on a-typical rock ‘n roll topics like mechanical resonance and writing songs like Edison ‘s Medicine. (But then again, what’s more rock ‘n roll than AC/DC?)
    Consequently, for many headbangers from around the globe -especially those with a taste for raspy vocals and groove-heavy guitars- it comes as no shock that Edison was a complete douche. May elephants escort him to oblivion.

  • Errkism

    Edison is a thief and an asshole, I hope everybody starts reading up on his evil doings. He stole endless inventions, had slaves, and mistreated many people.

    • 2cc4

      I sure had my eyes open reading this page. Truly I’m horrified by what was revealed. Edison is no one worthy of honoring.

  • Exiled Phoenix

    Edison really was just a hack. That sorry S.O.B. held humanity back. One day I plan on visiting his grave to piss on it!!

    • WhiteExodus

      Dude I bet alot of people have already pissed on Edisons grave, instead of pissing on his grave, why not stomp on it?

    • Domina Elle

      Be sure to look into Tesla deeper- he wasn’t such an altruistic man as you seem to believe. He supported Eugenics such as forced sterilization. I’m not so sure you’d like the world Tesla would have established if given the chance- any better. Google Tesla eugenics.

      http://www.tfcbooks.com/tesla/1926-01-30.htm

      If you research eugenics It’s also of interest to note that the American eugenics society was rebranded as planned parenthood. I am pro choice and also want access to reproductive services but I do not care for the philosophies that planned parenthood was founded upon:

      http://www.dianedew.com/sanger.htm

      I hope that Margaret Sangers founding ideals have no place in the present operation, but since the structure was built upon such a cornerstone as its foundation how can we know for sure?

  • Anonymous

    This is ridiculous and false. First, the Time Magazine link is about the first man to die in an electric chair. The second link, now missing, relates to the execution of an illegally smuggled elephant who killed its trainer. This article claims he electrocuted cats and dogs, but I cannot find any evidence to this. People need to stop believing ever garbage they hear..

    • Bri

      Really? You couldn’t perform a simple Google search to find evidence of any other? Wow..

    • Bobbi

      The first link mentions Westinghouse, Edison and the AC involvement with the first electric chair…..repeatedly and the battle for dominance over electric markets. I think you got the AC/DC wires in your head crossed. No point in discussing the second argument you made, because you didn’t bother to read the articles apparently.

    • J.G. Bouler

      The elephant Edison killed had indeed killed it’s trainer, but only after he stuck a lit cigarette on the tip of her trunk which is a very tender and sensitive area. The other two men she killed had also abused her. Truth be known, Topsy was a very gentle and docile elephant. There is actual video footage of Edison electrocuting a dog on YouTube in addition to the video footage of the execution of Topsy the elephant. He killed countless innocent animals to demonstrate the danger of AC current and discredit Nikola Tesla. Edison was a cold hearted animal abuser and a miserable son of a bitch!!

      • Catherine Adams

        Correction: Topsy only killed the one who hurt her with a lit cigarette.

  • Anonymous

    For that matter, it does not even make sense. Why would Edison want to discredit Nicola Tesla’s AC current when AC was invented by Michael Faraday and Hippolyte Pixii? Basic facts aren’t even here..

  • David Murphy

    Edison was also on the wrong side with sound recording favouring at all cost cylinders and later being strictly opposed to electrical recording. His rigidity and lack of generosity actually makes him very similar to other exceptionally original thinkers, but he was also wrong a lot of the time.

  • Domina Elle

    Schools literally program into kids heads that Edison was a wonderful person who changed the world. Teachers don’t tell them that he was a cut throat jerk who was willing to torture and kill animals as a marketing campaign! All in the name of control, manipulation of a market for personal gain. He was likely a sociopath based on his clear lack of empathy. There was NOTHING altruistic about Edison or any of the corporate meatbags that have followed in his footsteps. Children are taught to admire such people blindly! Gross humans.

  • Mack

    Topsy was killed by Frederick Thompson and Elmer Dundy, owners of Luna Park on Coney Island. They hung, poisoned, AND electrocuted her in front of press and a live audience. I’m no fan of Edison, but the current wars were over when this happened.

  • heyheythere

    This article is 2 years old, but it’s also 2 AM. I don’t really care who’s Batman and who’s Superman of 19th Century inventors or whatever you people were fighting over back in 2012. I do know, however, that that Oatmeal guy is the real douchebag here.

  • noiritall

    I remember learning more about Edison after visiting Menlo Park. His parents often embarrassed him in front of people in an effort to control him. They realized that they went too far when he came home from a fishing trip without the friend he left with. The friend had drowned. Edison was unaffected by the death of his friend.

  • Michael Pechner

    Edison never electrocuted Topsy. 1903, he as not owner of the company. AC had won. That fact is wrong. This article has a wrong fact and lazy of the author to include it in this article show he did not truly reasearch the topic.

  • Ray Stiles

    This is actually Edison’s attempt to prove that Alternating Current was much more powerful that Direct Current. Andrew Handley who posted this article is an asshole! He doesn’t even know the difference between AC and DC electricity, what a dummy!!! http://engineering.mit.edu/ask/what%E2%80%99s-difference-between-ac-and-dc

  • Jason

    The left has been on a campaign for 60 years to bring down every white achiever. They do not care that wind farms are chopping up millions of innocent flying creatures and solar panels fry millions more every year. How about the drugs and surgeries they love so much made possible by the constant torture of dogs, primates and rabbits in tiny cells held and battered for years until they finally die in pain. Ya fing hypocrites. It makes Edison look like Jane Goodall.

    • Gennaro Esposito

      Tesla, Westinghouse, etc… were whites too, so you comment doesn’t make any sense.

      • Jason

        They are the also-rans. Edison has always been the icon, the master and the hero. They go after the best of the best first and then the rest. Wake up dip shit.

        • Gennaro Esposito

          Edison it’s always been a hack: if he wasn’t unjustly idolized you wouldn’t have had the need to “wake -up”.
          Also, Tesla is getting more and more appreciated this days, so you’re wrong twatwaffle.

          Tesla’s quote: “If he [Thomas Edison] had a needle to find in a haystack, he would not stop to reason where it was most likely to be, but would proceed at once with the feverish diligence of a bee, to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. … Just a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety percent of his labor.”

          • Jason

            This proves you lack education and get all your information from hate sites. You are so stupid, you are too stupid to know how really stupid you are. The list of Edison inventions we still rely on is incredibly long. But I shall waste no more time on challenging your 4th grade inner city scholarship. You do not even know what Edison is responsible for inventing and what he had to go through just to bring us electric lighting alone. Forget the cameras, recorders, phonographs, projectors and others. You should just enjoy slurping your mothers smelly vagina and taking it in the ass from her pimp.

          • Gennaro Esposito

            Sure, inbred hillbilly. Did you read all that in the Bible? “thay gun take mah white men”.

          • Jason

            Yeah it said your mom loved to pull trains in the ghetto to get her crack. Last night your dad brought over all the neighbors. After they were done with her she shit the bed. Thank Jesus you were licking her ass at the time and you just kept on licking it up. Nice job shit/cum guzzler.

  • Zach Dugan

    Yet another fact-check lapse: Kemmler did not catch fire before death.
    While there were reports of “the smell of burning flesh” at his execution, claims he caught fire are simply false.