Thomas Edison’s Cruelest and Most Seedy Stunt: The Electrocution to Death of a Circus Elephant
Thomas Edison’s most seedy – and cruel – act during the Current Wars might have been the time when he electrocuted an elephant to death as a stunt. As seen above, the Wizard of Menlo had millions invested in direct current, and that investment was threatened by alternating current. When a dentist named Alfred Southwick sought his help to develop a humane method of execution by electrocution, Edison decided to turn AC’s strength into a liability, by highlighting its ability to kill.
Edison talked Southwick to use alternating current to execute condemned prisoners in what became the electric chair. Also, to cement in the public’s mind the link between AC’s risks and its promoter, George Westinghouse, Edison came up with a catchy name for the new method of execution: “Westinghousing”. The intrepid inventor then went on a whirlwind public tour to demonstrate alternating current’s deadliness. To demonstrate the rival current’s lethality, Edison used AC to publicly electrocute dozens of dogs, cows, horses, and a circus elephant named Topsy.
America’s most powerful dynasty today is probably the Koch family. They own Koch Industries, America’s second biggest privately owned company with revenues of $115 billion in 2019. Politically active for decades, the Kochs have been generous patrons of conservative and libertarian causes and figures. More recently, the brothers David and Charles Koch have garnered widespread attention for heading a network of hundreds of libertarian and conservative think tanks, policy groups, and candidates. The rise of the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement owed much to Koch generosity. The dynasty’s power was so great that in 2011, House Speaker John Boehner turned to David Koch when he needed votes to prevent a government shutdown.
The Kochs have been key financial supporters of climate change skeptics. However, although staunchly libertarian and conservative, they have at times partnered with progressives. In 2015, for example, they worked with the American Civil Liberties Union on criminal justice reform, specifically on the issue of asset forfeiture. It goes without saying that the Kochs have been adamant opponents of communism and all that has a whiff of socialism. As seen below, that did not stop the dynasty’s founder from working for Joseph Stalin. In one of many seedy moves in a long business career, he helped the Soviet dictator modernize the USSR’s oil industry.
Fred C. Koch’s Seedy Ties to Both the Nazis and Stalin
Fred C. Koch (1900 – 1967), paterfamilias of the Koch dynasty, founded the Winkler-Koch Engineering Company with an MIT classmate in 1925, and went into the oil business. When the duo lost a series of patent infringement lawsuits to bigger oil companies, they decided to seek their fortunes overseas. So they headed to the Soviet Union, where they helped Stalin modernize the country’s oil industry. They trained Soviet engineers, and built fifteen thermal cracking units to turn crude oil into gasoline. Fred became a radical anticommunist after Stalin purged his Soviet trainees, reneged on their deal, and deprived him of revenue. Stalin was not the only totalitarian dictator helped by Fred C. Koch.
The seedy businessman worked with American Nazi William Rhodes Davis, who had personal ties with Adolf Hitler. Shortly after things went sour for him in the USSR, Fred headed to Germany, where he built the Hamburg Oil Refinery, the Third Reich’s third biggest refinery. Fred admired the Nazis, and in a 1938 letter, he wrote: “Although nobody agrees with me, I am of the opinion that the only sound countries in the world are Germany, Italy, and Japan, simply because they are all working and working hard“. The Hamburg refinery was a big help to the Nazis as they swept through Europe, until it was finally taken out of action by Allied bombing in 1944.
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945), founder of his country’s Fascist Party, was Italy’s prime minister and leader from 1922 to 1943. He was the first European fascist dictator, and was an inspirational figure for Adolf Hitler, who modeled himself after Mussolini in his own rise to power. Eventually, the Italian dictator was overshadowed by his German imitator, and Mussolini ended up as Hitler’s sidekick. Mussolini had delusions of grandeur, and sought to revive the Roman Empire. Neither he nor Italy were up to the task, however, and Mussolini often bit more than he could chew.
The results were often farcical, and led to sundry humiliations and setbacks. Towards the end of his career, after he dragged an unprepared Italy into World War II and bungled it badly, Mussolini’s image morphed from that of a great statesman to a hapless buffoon. It ended badly for him, when his countrymen captured him in the final days of WWII in Europe. They killed him and his mistress, and displayed them in downtown Milan, suspended upside down by their ankles from meat hooks. That the man was a comic dictator was well known. That he had a seedy sensual side and habitually penned erotic letters, few knew of at the time.
To unwind, Mussolini liked to write erotic letters. The fascist dictator habitually wrote cringe-worthy dirty letters, as was discovered when the diary of Clara Petacci, the mistress killed and strung up by his side, came to light in 2009. For all his shortcomings, one thing Il Duce (Italian for leader) had going for him was an incredible libido and remarkable stamina. As described by Petacci, Mussolini often had up to fourteen mistresses at a time, and would regularly go through three or four different women in a single evening.
The fascist dictator was also jarringly loud during love making: “his screams seem like those of a wounded beast“, as Petacci put it. He was a total hound, who seemingly lusted after every woman he met. As he described it, after his first intimate encounter with a hooker at age seventeen: “Naked women entered my life, my dreams, my desires. I undressed them with my eyes, the girls that I met, I lusted after them violently with my thoughts“. Luckily for him, many Italian women had the hots for him as well. At the height of his power, thousands sent letters in which they propositioned him every day.
Il Duce had underlings sort his fan letters by senders into “known” and “new”. After police background checks on the “new” women, the more interesting ones were put in folders and passed on to him. Those who caught his eye – usually big breasted and broad hipped – were summoned for an afternoon liaison at his palace. He wasted no time, and often got down to business immediately on the carpet, against the wall, or on a stone window seat. Those who pleased him were added to his many mistresses, and in correspondence with them, Mussolini held little back.
E.g.; ” Orgasm is good for you: it sharpens your thoughts, it widens your horizons, it helps your brain, makes it vivid and brilliant“. Or “Be afraid of my love. It’s like a cyclone. It’s tremendous; it overwhelms everything. You must tremble.” And “I tremble in telling you, but I have a feverish desire for your delicious little body which I want to kiss all over. And you must adore my body, your giant…” Or “Your flesh has got me – from now on I’m a slave to your flesh.” And ” I’m bad – hit me, hurt me, punish me, but don’t suffer. I love you. I think about you all day, even when I’m working.”
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading