In July 1820, Danish scientist Hans Christian Oersted published a groundbreaking pamphlet on the relationship between electric current and magnetic fields, effectively kicking off our modern electric age. You may think about electromagnetism every July when you look at your power bill and see how it spikes when your air conditioner is on. In honor of everyone getting zapped by the electric company this month, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to set us straight on some high-voltage misconceptions about electricity, correcting all of our shocking ignorance. He knows "watts" up. He keeps current.
The Debunker: Did Thomas Edison Electrocute an Elephant to Discredit AC?
In the late 19th-century land rush to light America's cities with electricity, the two biggest players were Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. The Edison Electric Light Company was expanding its direct current (DC)-based system, but Westinghouse Electric Company had licensed inventor Nikola Tesla's patents for an alternating current (AC) grid. This was VHS vs. Betamax writ large, with the future of the 20th century at stake. The stakes were so high, in fact, that the competition quickly got ugly, with Edison's company colluding with "activists" to convince the public that AC was a public health hazard that would soon be electrocuting consumers left and right, and even manipulating the State of New York into executing criminals with Westinghouse AC generators in hopes of sullying the brand.