[D8828AEA], Publication, Harold P Brown, December 1888


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[D8828AEA], Publication, Harold P Brown, December 1888

Editor's Notes

"I address you on a matter of LIFE and DEATH which may personally concern you at any moment. Last spring alarmed at the large number of deaths caused by careless methods and criminal economy on the part of many electrical lighting companies, I started a movement in favor of greater care for public safety. In a careful essay I tried to point out the sources of danger and to indicate means whereby arc lighting could be made safe. But there is no possible way of making safe the high-tension alternating current, which is now extensively used for incandescent lighting. At once representatives of the alternating current syndicates, which are both wealthy and unscrupulous, made vicious personal attacks upon me and put themselves on record as claiming that their current was 'absolutely harmless' and 'personally safe' (see Electrical World, July 28). The only course open to me to maintain reputation was to demonstrate by experiment the exact death pressure in the continuous and the alternating currents; but to do this with scientific accuracy required apparatus which cannot be obtained at short notice in this country. ### I therefore called upon Mr. THOS A. EDISON, whom I had never before met, and asked the loan of instruments for the purpose, which could not be obtained by me elsewhere. To my surpise Mr. Ediosn at once invited me to make the experiments at his private laboratory and placed all necessary apparatus at my disposal. The results proved beyond question that the alternating current would PRODUCE INSTANT DEATH at one-sixth the pressure used by the alternating current companies for electric lighting and pronounced by them 'pefectly safe.' (See inclosed report Medico-Legal Society.) ### Under the auspices of Dr. Cyrus Edson of the BOARD OF HEALTH, I then made two public demonstrations at the School of Mines, Columbia College, which the alternating current people were invited to attend and were given opportunity to verify my measurements with their own instruments. This, of course, they failed to do, and in spite of the fact that their current has killed and crippled for life a large number of men, they still endeavored to deceive the public, objecting to my experiments because the subjects used 'weighed less than a man and were therefore more easily killed.' I then invited the Committee of the Medico-Legal Society having in charge the determination of the BEST METHOD OF EXECUTING CONDEMNED CRIMINALS (under the N.Y. electrical execution law which goes into effect Jan. 1, 1889) to witnes the kiling with the alternating current of animals weighing as much as or more than a man. This so impressed the Committee with the death-dealing qualities of the alternating current that they drew up the inclosed report, recommending its adoption for EXECTUTION PURPOSES at exactly the pressure used for 'safe and harmless' electric lighting. At the Society's meeting of Dec. 12this report was unanimously adopted, after the representatives of the alternating current companies had be give ample opportunity to defend their views. ### Even this did not discomfit them for Mr. Geo Westinghouse, Jr. Prest of one of the alternating current companies published on the 13th a letter upholding his high-tension alternating current as 'less dangerous than the continuous.' To test his sincerity in making so absurd a statement, I published on Dec. 18th the enclosed challenge which will explain itself. This has as yet received no acceptance.### Now, HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOU? The special danger in the use of the high-tension alternating current lies in the fact that its physical effect on the nerves is many times greater than the continuous current with the same pressure, and the rapid alternations place the insulation of its conductors under a tremendous strain, similar to what produced by what is known as 'water hammer' in pipes. This strain causes leakage to the ground from the wires which I find upon careful measurement, is sufficient to kill or cripple any person standing on a damp place and touching either wire, and the danger increases in direct proportion to the length of the wire and the dampness of the day. That this danger is not imaginary is shown by over fifteen deaths and a large number of serious injuries within the past year from this very cause, and many of these cases were not electric light employees. In every city having a large alternating current station many crippled pensioners can be found. The most serious cases of injury are those of a son of Prof. Young of Princeton College who was paralyzed by stepping on a ground connection while touching an alternating current wire; and W.J. Bell, of St. Paul, whose nervous system was completely shattered by touching a guy wire on a district telegraph pole which happened to be in contact with a Westinghouse alternating current wire some distance away. In this case the 'insulation' of the alternating current wire was apparently perfect. It is not an uncommon thing for telephone and district telegraph apparatus to be burned by their wires coming in contact with the alternating current conductors; any person who then touches the telephone or call box runs a terrible risk. This BRINGS THE DANGER HOME TO ALL OF US. ### What is the remedy? Simply a limitation of the pressure to 300 Volts or less, which will then make the alternating current no more dangerous to the general public than the arc light wires since in order to kill it would be necessary to grasp both wires. The leakage to ground would then be less the pressure required to kill. The expense occasioned to the electric lighting companies by this reduction of pressure to SAFE LIMITS would be simply the cost of about twice as much additional wire as they now have in use, which would be insignificant in comparison with the good result thus obtained. ### I therefore ask you as a public-spirited man, to oppose with all means in your power the extending of the high-tension alternating system in any city or town where you have influence; to lend me your aid in securing legislation which will keep this EXECUTIONER'S CURRENT out of our homes and streets and prevent reckless corporations from saving their money AT THE EXPENS OF THE LIVES OF THOSE DEAR TO YOU. ### The killing of a little child in the streets of Philadelphia on Dec. 17th, outweighs all possible considerations of 'economy in first cost' so temptingly set forth by Mr. Westinghouse's company and others. I shall be glad at any time to send you printed matter on this subject or to assist you in any way against encroachments of the executioner's current. In return I shall esteem it a favor to receive information of any deaths or injuries from electric lighting in your vicinity, or any 'answers' to my arguments brought forward by my opponents." Sincerely yours, Harold P. Brown
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Thomas A. Edison Papers, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers University
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