Friday, January 04, 2008

On This Day: January 4th, in Coney Island History

The standard system for distributing electricity is the alternating current (AC) system. This system was established only after a hard fought battle, the so called 'war of the currents.' Direct current (DC) patent holder Thomas Edison faced off against the Serbian-American genius inventor Nikola Tesla, and his financial backer George Westinghouse, the upstart proponents of the newer (and vastly superior) AC system.

Edison's primary tactic was to illustrate the alleged dangers of AC power to the public by using it to electrocute animals. The most gruesome display occurred 105 years ago today, on January 4th, 1903, when Edison electrocuted a rogue elephant named Topsy at Coney Island's Luna Park Zoo.

Wired Magazine's website has a pretty in depth feature on Topsy's electrocution, which includes not only details of the execution, but footage from Edison's film of the event, Electrocuting an Elephant.

Jan. 4, 1903: Edison Fries an Elephant to Prove His Point [Wired]

- post by Ben Nadler

See the unfortunate demise of Topsy in the video below

"Electrocuting an Elephant" - Most viewed on YouTube

(no sound)


Topsy (c 1875 - Jan 4, '03), was a trained elephant with the Forepaugh Circus at Coney Island's Luna Park. Due to her having killed three men in as many years (including an abusive trainer who attempted to feed her a lit cigarette), Topsy was deemed a threat to people by her owners and put down via electrocution on January 4, 1903. Inventor Thomas Edison captured the event on film. He would release it later that year under the title, Electrocuting an Elephant.

An initial means of execution discussed was hanging. However, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals protested and other ways were considered. Edison then suggested electrocution, in order to discredit the use of AC electricity that was cutting into the market for his DC electricity. Edison then convinced the ASPCA that this would be more humane.

To augment the execution, Topsy was fed carrots laced with 460 grams of potassium cyanide before 6,600 volts of electricity were sent coursing through her body. She was dead in well under a minute. The event was witnessed by an estimated 1,500 people and Edison's film of the event was seen by audiences throughout the United States.

Luna Park burned down in a spectacular fire in 1944.

On July 20, 2003, a memorial for Topsy was erected at the Coney Island Museum

Posted by Valdevious [YouTube]


Anonymous said...

according to a local politician, thats all a lie, for remember him thanking Thor for bringing a circus to coney island for the first time ;)


Anonymous said...

I read that the carrots had no effect on her. She was a tough old gal!