A Short Note on Tesla and the Electrocution of Animals

Those with a high tolerance for the internet’s habit of deifying great scientific minds — especially when done in obnoxiously long infographics — might remember the Oatmeal making sounds a few years ago about the endless virtues of Nikola Tesla. This contained the following note:

I could write a novel on the differences between Tesla and Edison, but seeing as how this comic is already huge I decided to leave many things out. For instance, Edison killed cats and dogs [to show AC was unsafe], but Tesla loved animals and had a cat as a child.

So imagine this blogger’s surprise when, following references from the Wikipedia article on ball lightning, he came across several online copies ([1][2]) of an early edition of Pearson’s magazine, where the journalist writes about his tour around Tesla’s factory. Tesla was indeed a smart man, and the tour begins with him doing a series of impressive tricks, such as conjuring up a ball of flame out of nowhere, rolling it along his body with no side effects, and then putting it inside a box. However, another part of the show is the following:

Some animal is now brought out from a cage, it is tied to a platform, an electric current is applied to its body and in a second the animal is dead. The tall young man calls your attention to the fact that the indicator registers only one thousand volts, and the dead animal being removed, he jumps upon the platform himself, and his assistants apply the same current to the dismay of the spectators.

One cannot be sure what definition of “animal lover” the author of the Oatmeal goes by. But it must be a warped one if it doesn’t include Edison for killing animals to make a point about safety, but does include Tesla for killing animals to show off to journalists. Perhaps it is excusable if you are a crazy cat lord.

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