Edison’s PortrayalA dreamer, an inventor, and above all, Thomas Edison was an ambitious and ruthless businessman who manifested the deep determination to take over the electricity market. Edison’s portrayal in Moran’s book “The Executioner’s Current” holds much more realistic and in depth aspects of his personality, than shown in the short excerpt, “They Transformed the World” pertaining to “America’s greatest change-makers.” On top of being an inventor, as shown in the excerpt, Moran’s portrayal of Edison displays him as an aggressive and competitive businessman by using the media and press to influence public opinion, as well as by pushing for the Electrical Execution Act.
Edison knew he could persuade the public to think and perceive him and his ideas in a positive way through the media. At an early age, Edison worked for the Weekly Herald newspaper, and “became fascinated with the power of the media to inform and influence; it was an experience that he would later cultivate in media blitzes for his numerous inventions” . Through his training at the newspaper, he found the important value and significance of publicity and press.
After being confident for the future of the incandescent light bulb, Edison knew positive publicity was needed to convince the public that his product was a good investment. In order to accomplish this task, an article was published in the New York Herald by Marshall Fox that described this new incandescent lamp in a glorious fashion. Fox, being the poetic author that he was, stated that the lamp gave off “a bright, beautiful light, like a mellow sunset in an Italian Autumn.”1 (Moran 41) Edison had accomplished his mission of favorable publicity of his new invention, and manipulate the public’s view into what how he wanted them to think.
Once Edison found competition and rivalry over the light bulb business, he turned to the media in means to destroy his rival George Westinghouse. Westinghouse and Edison had competing businesses over the incandescent light bulb industry, and once Westinghouse invented the alternating current (AC) power, Edison found that business struggling. Edison was not willing to give Westinghouse the market, and fought back with his aggressive businessman skills of once again, using the media to sway their opinions. Edison spoke out to public of the dangers which would be connected to investing in AC power. He convinced the people into thinking that the public should not be able to “trust” Westinghouse and his company the way they could trust him. Edison announced, “Just as certain as death, Westinghouse will kill a customer within six months after he puts in a system of any size. He has got a new thing and it will require a great deal of experimenting to get it work practically. It will never be free of danger”1 Through these tactics, he did indeed accomplish his mission of alerting the public, and it was not about to end.
After receiving the attention of the public due to the speech, Edison published a pamphlet entitled “A Warning from the Edison Electric Company”. This red pamphlet included attacks on competitors such as Westinghouse, who Edison claimed was a patent violator. (Moran 58) Edison’s attack was on-going and continued as the newspaper consisted of an article, “Edison Predicted It”. “‘It’ was the New York Board of Health’s conclusion that the only way to light safely by electricity was to control, by ordinance, the strength of the current.”1 (Moran 58) Edison manipulated the public to think that by using by the AC power it would succumb to death due to the dangerous tension. The aggressive businessman Edison gained the dominance of the market and trust of the public.
Edison was not done in trying to destroy Westinghouse’s business and reputation, which is evident through his support of the new electrical execution law to use Westinghouse’s alternate current power. Dr. Alfred Porter Southwick was the leading advocate for replacing hanging with electrocution. (Moran 70) He wrote to Edison asking him to support the electricity which would be used in the electrocutions. Edison wrote immediately back saying that he was in no position to support capital punishment. Southwick wrote Edison again, convincing him that capital punishment would always exist and using electricity was a more humane way to kill verses using the rope. Edison, once again displaying his strong characteristics of a ruthless and crafty businessman used Southwick’s request in ways to improve his market, by crushing his competitor, Westinghouse. Contrary to Edison’s first letter to Southwick, his second response had supported the use of the electrical chair. Edison wrote that he believed electricity would kill the victim in a short, painless manner and considered the procedure much more humane, verses the long and lingering pain of using the rope to execute victims. He suggested that Southwick should consider using stronger currents, like alternating machines, which were manufactured by George Westinghouse.1 (Moran 74-75) Edison knew if Westinghouse’s electricity was used in electrocutions, than the public would associate his electricity with killings and capital punishment. This would lead to the common man to view AC power electricity as too strong and dangerous to wire in one’s home.
Evan’s article only manifests the inventions accomplished by Edison, but not his tactics and skills which he used to ultimately take over the electricity market. As one can identify, Edison was a smart man who used the press, and favorable publicity in ruthless means to get to the top. Of course as Evan’s mentioned, he was a great inventor of our time, and he did “plant the acorn from which grew the giant General Electric Company”, but on top of that, he planted the acorn not just on knowledge of science, but knowledge of business. In conclusion, I am sure that one would find it evident that the portrayal of Edison through the Moran’s book is much more realistic than the way which one may perceive Edison through reading the short excerpt on him. Although it is true that Edison was a great inventor, he rarely is portrayed as the ruthless businessman he in reality was. After reading Moran’s The Executioner’s Current one can realize that he was not a timid scientist, but in reality was a cunning man. Evan’s excerpt shows qualities which Edison manifested, but only in the inventor and achievement aspect. Moran’s book went deep into portraying Edison’s true characteristics and traits.