From the Wall Street Journal: In the 1880s, Thomas Edison backed direct-current electricity against the alternating-current system favored by Westinghouse, his great competitor. As a scare tactic, he persuaded New York state to buy Westinghouse's high-voltage AC system for its new electric chair. "Kemmler Westinghoused," ran the grisly 1890 headline, reporting the capital punishment of murderer William Kemmler.

As Edison came to learn, changing the course of technology can be as hard as inventing it. Alternating-current electricity -- transmitting power over great distances and at low cost -- won the day, and Samuel Insull, a former clerk of Edison's, consolidated the


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