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Cindy Maddera

That’s right. I thought it was high time to bring back the weekly installments of Friday Science. Today’s science tale is a gruesome one and will make you see Thomas Edison in a whole new light. We all know Thomas Edison as the inventor of many things like the light bulb, phonograph, and electric power distribution. But what many may not know is that Edison was a shrewd business man. The Edison Electric Illuminating Company was the most evil Wal-Mart company of the time and Edison would stop at nothing to maintain his monopoly of electric power distribution.

Edison invented a power distribution system that relied on direct current (DC) and opposed all technological advancements that went against his business model, advancements like alternating current (AC) distribution invented by Nikola Tesla. AC distribution is more efficient then DC because power is sent in very high voltages to transformers and then sent over thinner, less expensive wires to the users.

Well, people started talking about AC and how much better it seemed to be then DC. So Edison started a propaganda campaign in 1887 to convince people that AC was too dangerous to use. To prove his point, he electrocuted small animals like stray dogs and cats, even some cows and horses. Then, on Jan 4th 1903, Edison electrocuted Topsy the elephant. All this was filmed and released as Electrocuting an Elephant. I don’t recommend watching the video. It’s bad enough just knowing that thing exists.

I’d like to think that heads of big corporations would never be able to get away with doing this today, but somehow I’m not so sure. I mean, in the end electrocuting Topsy didn’t help Edison save his precious DC. AC of course proved its superiority in less lethal ways to become our standard form of electric distribution. But it still makes you wonder. Remember the electric car? I didn’t think so.