That Time Tesla Casually Invented The Cattle Prod

Let's go to the circus with Uncle Nikola.
That Time Tesla Casually Invented The Cattle Prod

If you ever want to have a swell Sunday afternoon, crack open the Tesla Universe, an archive that collects all writings about and, more importantly, of the eccentric Serbian scientist. Because Nikola Tesla had opinions, lots of them, from his skepticism about aliens to his personal strategy for winning the inevitable Italo-Ethiopian war. But among the journalistic puff pieces lie a few coiled heaps of bona fide Tesla genius. And one of them has to do with lion taming.

Of all of history's brilliant nutjobs, of course, Nikola Tesla was the type of dork who'd write letters to the editor. So it must not have come as a surprise to the staff of the New York Journal when they received a lengthy missive from the man who invented the 20th century letting them know how much he had enjoyed their article about the circus and the new and exciting ways they were punishing their animals.

Not that Tesla was a big fan of animal cruelty, flaming hoop related, or otherwise. A lifelong vegetarian, he readily admitted how much he valued animals throughout his life, from his cat, who gave him the idea to become an electrical engineer, to his pigeon for all the romantic love and support during trying times. Instead, Tesla was impressed by the "interesting possibilities in the training of animals by electricity," where "the physical effects of an electric shock are soon gone, only the moral ones remaining." In Austria, a lion tamer named Louis Koemmenich had invented the "electrical subjugator" (I swear this isn't going to turn into a sex thing). The subjugator was a dynamo operated electric harness whose back could deliver shocks up to 1,500 volts, plenty to scare off a particularly chair-resistant lion.

New York Journal
I, uh, think you're using it wrong.

But he did have a few notes, as a genius is wont to do. Did they involve noticing that, if a 400-pound lion did decide to pounce you, the only thing a 1,500-volt backplate would do was to cook you teppanyaki-style as the lion ate you? No, nothing so flippant. A constructive collaborator, Tesla merely noticed that "an apparatus could be designed that would be less dangerous to the man." Say, from the top of his head, a type of "wand" with "two prongs supplying the positive and negative poles" so that "an animal could be simply shocked, stunned or killed, as required."

And just like that, Tesla, in an offhand letter to an editor, had invented the cattle prod roughly 20 years before it was manufactured. Sadly, the electrical subjugator, handheld edition, didn't take off in circuses, which still preferred the less humane whip and poker. A shame, really, as that robs us of the image of Nikola Tesla, excitedly eating peanuts at the circus, finally able to ethically enjoy the spectacle of lion taming as all the lights around would dim and crackle with every "moral lesson."

To read all of Cedric's unsent letters to editors, do follow him on Twitter.

Top Image: New York Journal


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