Bite-sized knowledge for the hungrily curious

What does the acronym Taser stand for?

The Answer

Tom A. Swift Electric Rifle

Okay, so it was invented by someone named Tom Swift, yes? No.

Tom Swift was a character from a series of science fiction and adventure novels by Victor Appleton from the early 20th century. The series was a childhood favourite of American inventor Jack Cover, who invented the Taser (or TASER, or taser) in the early 1970s.

The Tom Swift Series by Victor Appleton (from

Tom Swift, a young inventor, develops an electric rifle that proves to be the money-maker and constant savior for a group of white American ivory hunters on an African elephant hunt. “Elephant shooting in Africa! My! With my new electric rifle . . . what a fellow couldn’t do in the dark continent!”

Taser: A Surprising Acronym With An Unsettling Past – Everything After Z by

As you can see from the description above, the Tom Swift novels are not particularly PC. In fairness, not many books from the turn of the last century were, particularly those set in the so-called ‘dark continent’.

A short history of stun weapons

Electric cattle prods date back to the late 19th-century and in the early 1960s a baton was patented called the “Electric Stick for Postmen”. (yikes!) Similar batons were used by police against civil rights activists in the 1960s.

The Taser was invented in the early 70s as a ‘ranged’ electroshock weapon. Taser’s, can shoot the electrodes a distance of up to 11m (35ft) delivering up to 50,000 volts to incapacitate a subject.

Cover’s intent was to create a “non-lethal” alternative to using a firearm for situations where deadly force is not required, or in situations where a gun would be dangerous to the officer, or others (e.g. a hijacking).

Tasers are now widely used in law enforcement, and sadly they don’t always live up to the promise of being “non-lethal”.

United States military [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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