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Electrocuting an Elephant (1903)

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The execution of Topsy, a female elephant, in a publicity stunt advertising the opening of Luna Park on Coney Island. Topsy was originally owned by Forepaugh Circus where she killed a ... See full summary »

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Title: Electrocuting an Elephant (1903)

Electrocuting an Elephant (1903) on IMDb 3.4/10

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Credited cast:
Topsy ...


The execution of Topsy, a female elephant, in a publicity stunt advertising the opening of Luna Park on Coney Island. Topsy was originally owned by Forepaugh Circus where she killed a drunken spectator who burned the tip of her trunk with a cigar. She was sold to Sea Lion Park in 1902 which was then sold to new owners who turned it into Luna Park. After they decided they could no longer handle her, the owners of Luna Park announced they would hang Topsy, leading to an outcry by the ASPCA. The owners then decided they would electrocute the elephant, with a backup plan of feeding her cyanide-laced carrots and strangling her with a cable. Written by Rob O

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Documentary | Short




Release Date:

12 January 1903 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Electrocution of an Elephant  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


This may have been the first death ever capture on film. See more »


Referenced in QI: Electricity (2007) See more »

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User Reviews

RIP Topsy
7 May 2007 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

Now here is a fascinating little film from the archives of Thomas A. Edison. 'Electrocuting an Elephant' is sure to arouse highly conflicting feelings among different audiences. Some people see it as absolutely despicable, the equivalent of an "animal snuff film" and an indicator of how loathsome the human race actually is. Others may see it as a glorious demonstration of the power of Alternating Current electricity, an invention that has since revolutionised life as we know it (though this definitely wasn't what Edison had intended). The film-goers among us may view 'Electrocuting an Elephant' as a fascinating cinematic curiosity from the early twentieth century, and a testament to film's ability to incite powerful emotions. I, myself, am unsure how exactly to approach this film – in any case, no verdict may be reached until we know all the facts.

Topsy the elephant was born around 1875. She was a domestic animal with the Forepaugh Circus at Coney Island's Luna Park, measuring ten feet in height and 19 feet 11 inches in length. Over a three year period, Topsy killed three men – two of her keepers in Texas, and a third abusive trainer who tried to feed her a lit cigarette. She was then deemed an unacceptable threat to humans and sentenced to be put down, or "executed," if you were so inclined. Thomas Edison, who had been looking for a means to discredit AC electricity – which had been stealing the market for his DC electricity – suggested that Topsy be electrocuted, and he was able to convince the ASPCA that it would be a humane death.

On January 4 1903, after being fed carrots laced with 460 grams of potassium cyanide, Topsy was led to her execution. A hawser (a heavy rope) was place around her neck, one end attached to a "donkey engine" and the other to a post. Wooden sandals lined with copper were attached to her feet, and these were connected by a copper wire to the Edison electric light plant. It took 6600 volts of electricity less than one minute to kill her, and 'Electrocuting an Elephant' captures every uncomfortable moment of it. Is this an entertaining film? Most certainly not. But, at the same time, isn't it all just incredibly interesting?

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It wasn't Edison's idea to kill Topsy.... stokepogue2001
I was horrified by this film Localfreak
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