At 3 pm on September 4, 1882, [Thomas] Edison threw the switch that would start up America's first power plant, serving a square-mile area that included some very wealthy and influential customers: J.P. Morgan, the Stock Exchange, and the nation's largest newspapers. "I have accomplished all that I promised," the inventor said.
It would take another two years for the public to trust electricity enough to purchase orders for plants in other cities. Edison promoted electric light as being clean, healthy, and efficientunlike foul-smelling, dangerous gasand had reason to think the public believed him. Cables insulated with beeswax and paraffin had been laid under the streets, but before long problems surfaced: horses were shocked trotting down wet streets, workmen electrocuted. [...]
[I]ndustrialist George Westinghouse had developed a a far-reaching system that used high-voltage alternating current (AC), and a former employee of Edison's, Nikola Tesla, invented AC motors and generators that threatened Edison's domination of the electrical industry. In a last-ditch effort to save the business he had created, Edison took advantage of an unusual opportunity to discredit Westinghouse. He gave his full endorsement to a plan to use 1,000 volts of ACfrom a Westinghouse generatorto execute criminals sentenced to death in New York State. The first execution turned into a grisly spectacle, damaging Edison's reputation. The board of Edison General Electric decided to adopt AC power, and dropped Edison's name; the company was now called "General Electric."
Edison would refuse to set foot in any General Electric plants for the next 30 years, but his ability to reinvent himself matched his scientific prowess. In the second half of his life he would invent the first motion picture camera, improve his phonograph, and become America's first entertainment mogul. "People will forget," he stated with typical bravado, "that my name ever was connected with anything electrical."
—from The American Experience: Thomas Edison's Miracle of Light
And let's not even mention Topsy the elephant.