[QE003A1016D], Letter from Westinghouse Electric Co, George Westinghouse, Jr. to New York Post, December 10th, 1888


View document images in UniversalViewer or scroll to bottom of page


To the Editor of the Evening Post##Dear Sir: I have been favored by a correspondent with as article printed in your paper of a recent date, describing an experiment made by one I Harold Brown, at the Edison laboratory, in Orange, N. J., with the alternating current; and as your journal and others are likely to be misled, the public interests injured, and very extensive vested interests also injured, I think it due to those whom I resent to ask the indulgence of your columns for some remarks on that subject.##It is generally understood that Harold P. Brown is conducting these experiments in the interest and pay of the Edison Electric Light Company; that the Edison Company, business can be vitally injured if the alternating current apparatus continues to be s successfully introduced and. operated s it has heretofore been, and that the Edison representatives, from a business point of view, consider themselves justified in resorting to any expedient to prevent the extension of this system. To show the absurdity of connecting the experiments made at Mr. Edison's laboratory at Orange, N. J., with the commercial use of electric currents, it is only necessary to call attention to the manner in which the current was applied. To use a simple illustration: A piece of lead weighing one ounce may strike the human body with great force in any one of 100 places, without producing any permanent injury, and even when fired from a rifle must enter one of the few vital parts to have fatal effect, although, when so directed, it is perfectly easy to produce instantaneous death. The method of applying the current used in these experiments was carefully selected for the purpose of producing the most startling effects with the smallest expenditure of current, and regardless of any connection between the nature of the current and the special and extraordinary means used to apply the current for these experiments. The parts brought under the action of the current were not only those most easily affected by it, but were so carefully placed in the circuit s to receive a shock, such as would be utterly impossible if the current were applied in any ordinary or accidental manner. In order to injuriously affect any organ of the body, it is necessary that a certain quantity or volume of current pass through it for a greater or less time, dependent upon the amount of the current. To thoroughly appreciate the ease, it must be understood that the current is increased to a given pressure, in exactly the same proportion as the resistance offered to its passage is reduced. It was for this reason that a vital part of the body was selected (in the experiments at Mr. Edison's laboratory) that could be reached by the current without traversing any considerable, portion of the body, and in addition to this, the resistance of the contacts was made as low as possible, by giving them a large surface and moistening the parts where the electrodes applied. The result of this carefully arranged plan was, that a large quantity of current was made to pass through sensitive portions of the brain and spinal chord. The same current applied to any other portion of the body would not have been likely to produce any injurious result, and, moreover, in order to such a current it would have been necessary to very greatly increase the electro-motive force, so that, instead of 700 volts, as claimed in the case of these experiments, several thousand would have been necessary to have the accidental shocks received from electric circuits are through the hand, or some portion of the body protected by tissues of greater or less thickness, and, as a matter of experience, it has been found that pressures exceeding 1,000 volts can be withstood by persons of ordinary health, without experiencing any permanent inconvenience. Further, the alternating current is less dangerous to life, from the fact that the momentary reversal of direction prevents decomposition of tissues, and injury can only result from the general effects of the shock; whereas, in a continuous current there is not only the injury from the latter cause, but a positive organic change from chemical decomposition, much more rapid and injurious in its effects. A large number of persons can be produced who have received a 1,000 volt shock from alternating currents without injury, and among them, a wire-man became insensible, and held his hand in contact with the wires for a period of three minutes without fatal results, in fact, was able to go on with his work after a short period. We have no hesitation in charging that the object of these endeavor to create in the minds of the public a prejudice against the use of the alternating currents. The Edison Company, who are to be benefited by the dissemination of literature of this character, in their annual report, issued this fall, show that during the past year they sold of their continuous current 230-volt apparatus, for central stations, to the extent of 44,000 lights for the current year. The Westinghouse Company, during the month of October, 1888, alone, received orders for 48,000 lights for central station use on the alternating current system, 25,000 of which were for use in London, where the laws with reference to the distribution of electricity are more carefully scrutinized than they ever have been in this country. Since the Westinghouse Electric Company began its business, it has sold more central station plants on the alternating current system than all of the other electric companies in the country put together have of the continuous current system. This large business has been mainly due to the fact that the alternating current system permits the use of an electro-motive force which brings the price of incandescent lighting within the reach of the multitude, and enables central station companies to distribute their current over ally desired area, such as, for instance, the city of New York and other large places.##One word more with reference to the alternating system: It not only permits the use of current of 1,000 volts for street mains, but requires its conversion into currents of fifty volts or less, for house wiring. The converters are so constructed that the primary or street current can never, by any possibility, enter the house. With the Edison system, the pressure is about 230 volts; and while no person coming in contact with the alternating current, as used for domestic lighting, would be aware of its presence, with the Edison system the shock would be painful, if not absolutely dangerous, if the person were at all delicate. We believe there should be reason and right in all things, and that this company is perfectly justified in drawing the attention of the public to the reasons why Harold P. Brown conducts his experiments with alternating currents in the manner stated, at the laboratory of Mr. Edison, since, if that company cannot counteract the inroads made into their business by the alternating system, they must necessarily continue to occupy an inferior place, and the protection of their vested interests has led them to use, as correct and proper, any methods that under other circumstances that under other circumstances would hardly be resorted to. The Westinghouse Electric Company has introduced its alternating system at the present time into Eat central stations in this country and Canada, all within the brief period of two years. Thirty-six of these stations have increased their plant by ordering additional apparatus from this company, after having started with their initial order; and we feel justified in saying that, in addition to our own experience with the alternating system, the business would not have had this enormous and rapidly increasing growth, if there had been connected with it the dangerous features which Mr. Harold P. Brown and his associates of the Edison Company so loudly proclaim.##Finally, we shall be glad to have you send an expert connected with your valuable paper, who is disinterested and competent, to investigate free from prejudice, the subject of the alternating and continuous currents. We will afford him every opportunity to satisfy himself of the vast superiority as to safety and economy of the alternating system. Yours truly,##THE WESTINGHOUSE ELETRIC COMPANY, Geo. Westinghouse, Jr.., President.##Pittsburgh, Pa., December 10, 1888,-Adv't,









Folder Set



[QE003A1016D], Letter from Westinghouse Electric Co, George Westinghouse, Jr. to New York Post, December 10th, 1888

Microfilm ID



Thomas A. Edison Papers, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers University


December 10, 1888

Item sets