Day in Tech History

January 4, 1904: Edison Electrocutes an Elephant

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Day in Tech History

Jeffrey Powers

Madison, WI

Description: Technology History in a Daily Podcast

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January 4, 1904: Edison Electrocutes an Elephant

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Topsy the Elephant on Forepaugh & Sells Brothers Circus

1904– To show the effects of how dangerous Nikolai Tesla’s Alternating current was, Thomas Alva Edison filmed the electrocution of the elephant, Topsy. This was falsely advertised as the first Elephant to be born in America by the Forepaugh Circus. Topsy was named after a slave girl in the book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.

Topsy was sold to Cony Island’s Sea Lion park. Her handler, William Whitey Alt, used Topsy to try and go after police. He also was involved in an incident where he used the elephant as an intimidation factor to the local police. Alt was fired and the owners of Luna Park were ready to get rid of her but no one wanted Topsy.

The owners planned to euthanize her by hanging, but the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stepped in and said hanging was a needlessly cruel means to killing. After debate, it was finally arranged that the Edison Electric Illuminating company of Brooklyn would perform the electrocution.

The electrocution was witnessed by 1,500 who payed for their seats at Coney Island, along with 100 media personnel.

Wikazine – Full show notes for January 4

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