Video: All India Radio, “Persist”June 3, 2008
[embedded YouTube video; if you can’t see it, click here]
In the new video for the All India Radio song, “Persist”, Australian animator Lucy Dyson hauntingly tells the story of Topsy the Elephant, who was electrocuted by Thomas Edison on January 5, 1903. The death of Topsy, together with the deaths of a number of other animals and the invention of the electric chair, was part of Edison’s propaganda campaign to discredit AC current by convincing the public that it was dangerous. Edison had developed a DC-based system to generate, transmit and use electricity. However, his former employee Nikola Tesla, backed by Westinghouse, went on to design an AC system that had significant technical advantages over DC (for example, AC can be transmitted for long distances with little power loss, while DC can be only transmitted a mile or so). The resulting competition between the two systems (known as the War of Currents) turned pretty nasty – not only was money at stake, but apparently it was also driven by a personal animosity between the two men. Edison filmed the death of Topsy (“Electrocuting an Elephant“) and circulated it widely. Despite Edison’s efforts, the advantages of AC won out and it was widely adopted, and that’s why those of us in the northeast US get power from Niagara Falls and why we’ve learned to be careful with hairdryers around bathtubs. Topsy’s fate seems to be in the zeitgeist; Brooklyn-based artist (and friend of z=z) Paul Davies created a piece on the elephant’s sad end as well.