Kind of related to the question specific to Topsy the elephant, the (somewhat famous) Oatmeal comic about Tesla claims, among other things, that Edison would pay schoolboys to kidnap people's pets, after which he would publicly electrocute them.

Edison on animals

Verifying this claim is rather difficult; electrocuting animals was indeed a thing during the War of Currents and many articles cite more famous cases, like the one with Topsy. In addition, it seems it was actually Harold P. Brown and not Edison himself who advocated electrocuting animals (some accounts, however, suggest Edison hired him to do so).

That said, I found these two sources:

  1. Edison the Executioner claims Edison himself was "killing cats and dogs by luring them onto a metal plate wired to a 1,000 volt AC generator". It also later states that "Edison himself offered a bounty of 25 cents for every animal caught and delivered for the experiments".

  2. Myths and Mysteries of New Jersey: True Stories of the Unsolved and Unexplained likewise claims that he himself "purchased stray cats and dogs from local schoolboys for 25 cents each". In addition, it claims that animals used were (ironically) initially provided by the ASPCA, before they were aware of his plans. While it also claims many of these were actually conducted by Brown, it clearly states Edison was orchestating the whole thing.

Neither of these, however, make any mention of Edison using people's pets. In addition, the Wikipedia page for Brown claims that "Brown would continually claim he had no actual association with Edison". My question here is therefore twofold:

  1. Is there any proof that Edison (or someone else on his behalf) kidnapped people's pets for use in his (cruel) demonstrations?

  2. How many of these public executions of animals were actually conducted by Edison himself, in person? While it's clear that Edison was supporting (financially and via other means) and in many cases even initiating these, I got the idea (which I failed to either prove or disprove) he was trying not to personally get involved in these (possibly as to avoid the reputation that goes with killing innocent animals).

  • Your image doesn't actually claim that Edison paid people to kidnap peoples' pets; it just seems that way due to the juxtaposition of the two (claimed) facts. (although, I imagine the image means for you to draw that conclusion yourself despite not claiming it outright) You might want to clarify whether you're specifically asking about Edison paying for kidnapping, or whether you're asking about the other facts.
    – user27389
    Nov 15, 2016 at 12:19
  • I really see no other way to interpret this; "people's pets disappearing near Edison's laboratory" followed by "Edison was paying to have animals kidnapped", especially in the context of an article about Edison (well, Tesla, but large parts of it are related to Edison), seems quite clear to me. Or am I missing something here? Either way, my questions are whether people's pets were kidnapped and then electrocuted by Edison or on his behalf and whether it was publicly known at the time that Edison was behind most of these demonstrations.
    – fstanis
    Nov 15, 2016 at 13:29
  • Note your other sources are also along these lines: "bounty .. for every animal caught", "purchased stray cats and dogs". The obvious alternative to consider is that, rather than conspiring to kidnap pets, Edison did exactly what these quotes claimed, and that whatever pet disappearances happened were for other reasons. (e.g. coincidence, or kids being the rapscallions they are, decided that strays were too hard to catch and kidnapped the domestic variety instead, and sold them pretending they were strays)
    – user27389
    Nov 15, 2016 at 13:38
  • Sure, that makes sense, that's why I became skeptical in the first place of the claim by Oatmeal (the one of disappearing pets) and was wondering whether it's backed by anything or was it just to make his point more dramatic.
    – fstanis
    Nov 15, 2016 at 13:58
  • 1
    The wikipedia page on Topsy states that this incident was 10 years after the "War of the Currents"
    – JimmyJames
    Nov 21, 2016 at 18:04

1 Answer 1


There, on any day in 1887, one might have found Edison and his assistants occupied in certain cruel and lugubrious experiments: the electrocution of stray cats and dogs...The feline and canine pets of the West Orange neighborhood were purchased from eager schoolboys at twenty-five cents each and executed in such numbers that the local animal population stood in danger of being decimated

Matthew Josephson, Edison: A Biography, 1959, page 347

  • 9
    What is the biographer's source? Nov 20, 2016 at 22:59
  • 1
    @sumelic don't know, don't have full text
    – DavePhD
    Nov 20, 2016 at 23:28

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