Westinghoused

Trademark scholars, take note of a trade name that could have — but did not — become generic for something truly awful, and at the instance of Thomas Edison no less.  Google, Inc. worries about consumers using “to google” as a verb.  George Westinghouse had other things to fry.  Or so Edison claimed.

In the wake of Steve Jobs’s death and tales of the Apple / Microsoft, Jobs / Gates rivalry, Smithsonian.com has assembled this account of the rivalry between Edison and George Westinghouse and the battle between DC and AC current.  DC won a particular battle, at the expense of one poor elephant, but AC won the war.

When New York State sentenced convicted murderer William Kemmler to death, he was slated to become the first man to be executed in an electric chair. Killing criminals with electricity “is a good idea,” Edison said at the time. “It will be so quick that the criminal can’t suffer much.” He even introduced a new word to the American public, which was becoming more and more concerned by the dangers of electricity. The convicted criminals would be “Westinghoused.”

The “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ad campaign is pretty tame by anyone’s lights, but especially by these:

To further demonstrate the lethal nature of alternating current, [Edison] held a widely attended spectacle in Coney Island, New York, where a circus elephant named Topsy was to be executed after she was deemed to be too dangerous to be around people.  The elephant had killed three men in recent years—one a trainer who had tried to feed Topsy a lit cigarette. Edison had Topsy fitted with copper-wire sandals, and before a crowd of thousands, an AC current of 6,000 volts was sent coursing through the elephant until she toppled to her side, dead.