Topsy belonged to the Forepaugh Circus and spent the last years of her life at Coney Island's Luna Park. Throughout her life she had been tormented by several people, multiple trainers and several audience members. Louis Dodero, a resident of Poughkeepsie, New York, was present during the unloading of Topsy from a train while traveling Forepaugh Circus. Dodero used a stick in his hand to "tickle" Topsy behind the ear. Topsy then seized Dodero around the waist with her trunk, hoisted him high in the air and just held him there.  She proceeded to throw him down and was raising her right foot in apparent preparation for finishing the job when trainer, William Emery came running over and stopped her. Topsy had killed one trainer, James Fielding Blount, who burned her trunk with a lit cigar, and subsequently became aggressive towards two other keepers who had struck her with a pitchfork, one of whom was the only person who could handle her while at Luna Park, Frederick Ault, also known as "Whitey". Topsy was deemed a threat to people by her owners and killed by electrocution on January 4, 1903 at the age of 36. Inventor Thomas Edison oversaw and conducted the electrocution, and he captured the event on film. He would release it later that year under the title Electrocuting an Elephant. Edison used the film in his campaign against George Westinghouse and AC technology.
Initially, Topsy was supposed to be hanged, but other ways were considered when the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals protested. Edison then suggested electrocution with alternating current, which had been used for the execution of humans since 1890.
Frederick Thompson and Elmer Dundy were planning to collect twenty-five cents a head, but the event had received enough press attention that a whole squad of special agents from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals arrived. They announced they would not allow the elephant’s death to be made into a public spectacle and the event no longer collected money, but spectators were still allowed to watch. Frederick Ault, "Whitey," had become upset over the impending execution despite the many times he had abused Topsy. He declined an offer of twenty five dollars to coax her to her death. He said he would “not for $1000”. Before the electrocution, Topsy was fed carrots laced with 460 grams of potassium cyanide before the deadly current from a 6,600-volt AC source was sent coursing through her body, partly as a demonstration of how "unsafe" his competitor's (George Westinghouse) alternating current design was. In Edison's film she topples to the ground and is seen to move for several seconds. According to at least one contemporary account she died "without a trumpet or a groan". The event was witnessed by an estimated 1,500 people and Edison's film of the event was seen by audiences throughout the United States.
- Thomas Edison
- List of individual elephants
- Mary (elephant)
- Shooting an Elephant
- Tyke (elephant)
- War of Currents
- "CONEY ELEPHANT KILLED; Topsy Overcome with Cyanide of Potassium and Electricity". The New York Times. 5 January 1903.
- Daly, Michael (2013). Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked-tailed Elephant, P.T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0802119042.
- "Book Review: "Topsy"". The Wall Street Journal. August 2, 2013. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
- "ELEPHANT TERRORIZES CONEY ISLAND POLICE.: Big Animal Tries to Enter ...," New York Times, New York, December 6, 1902. Retrieved February 14, 2014.
- "Bad elephant killed. Topsy meets quick and painless death at Coney Island," The Commercial Advertiser, New York, Jan. 5, 1903. Retrieved October 27, 2006.
- McNichol, Tom (2006). AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War. USA: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0-7879-8267-9.