October 06, 2008

Word of the Day: Westinghousing

Westinghousing: a term used in the late 1800s for the death penalty administered by electrocution

Interestingly enough, the term Westinghousing is attributed to Thomas Edison, who famously competed against the Westinghouse Corporation in the “current wars” of 1887. So why would Edison give a competitor free publicity?

Thomas Edison had patented Direct Current (DC) electricity and with it, created the standard for electricity in the 1800s. The system was hugely inefficient, which opened the door for Nikola Tesla, a professional and personal rival to Edison, to devise a more streamlined technology. Tesla patented AC, or alternating current, and partnered with the Westinghouse Corporation to establish alternating current as the new standard for transmitting electricity.

In attempt to protect his royalties (and name), Edison launched an intense publicity campaign against Tesla’s invention. When AC was put to use in electric chairs, Edison realized the power of name association and suggested that the process of electrocution be named Westinghousing.

It was a good try. In one word Edison had linked his competitor’s name to a gruesome act, and also reminded consumers that AC was lethal, and therefore, potentially unsafe.

But Edison’s branding tactics were not enough to overcome the simple fact that AC was the superior method of electricity distribution. Tesla’s alternating current became the standard and (among many other inventions) is still in use today.

Contributed by: Maghan Cook

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