San Francisco apparently has a panel looking at renaming schools that commemorate individuals who are now considered to be “inappropriate.” Mariposa Villaluna, who is described as being a panelist at a September 2020 meeting of the committee overseeing this project, wants Thomas Edison Elementary School renamed.
In a September meeting, panelist Mariposa Villaluna urged the committee to include Thomas Edison Elementary School on the list to change, saying he euthanized animals, including Topsy the elephant, according to a video of the meeting.
“He euthanized them without scientific research,” Villaluna said. “It wasn’t like hamsters in a cage, you know what I mean.”
The committee, however, said that didn’t meet the criteria.
“Long live Topsy,” Villaluna said after the decision.
Edison was not responsible, however, for the decision to euthanize Topsy, nor did he participate in the euthanization of the elephant.
Topsy was a female Asian elephant who was born around 1875 and secretly imported into the United States. She was part of the Forepaugh Circus, and according to Wikipedia,
. . . gained a reputation as a “bad” elephant and, after killing a spectator in 1902, was sold to Coney Island’s Sea Lion Park. When Sea Lion was leased out at the end of the 1902 season and replaced by Luna Park, Topsy was involved in several well-publicized incidents . . .
The elephant’s owners planned to hang her at the end of 1903 and sell tickets to the cruel spectacle. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals intervened, however, and she was strangled and electrocuted.
Although Edison had no involvement in the electrocution, a 2008 Wired magazine article by Tony Long made this baseless claim without citing any evidence or sources.
The myth has persisted from there and showed up in pop culture in depictions of the infamous “war of currents” between Edison and Westinghouse. That dispute, however, had largely ended with the creation of General Electric in 1892.
Edison did, however, euthanize animals at the request of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. According to an article hosted by Rutgers’ Thomas A. Edison Papers site,
Edison was prompted to conduct experiments on animals after SPCA founder Henry Bergh, Jr., contacted him to ask whether electrocution might provide a humane way of killing unwanted animals. During these experiments, Edison and his assistants electrocuted a number of animals, chiefly dogs provided by the SPCA.
These experiments at Edison’s West Orange Laboratory did convince SPCA officials that electrocution was a more humane and efficient way of euthanizing animals than either drowning (in the case of dogs) or hanging (in the case of other animals).