When you want to activate a Weapon of Mass Destruction
, a Mad Scientist
's invention, an electricity-based method of execution (especially an electric chair), or other badass electric device to be suitably dramatic, you have two options. One of them is the Big Red Button
, and the other is the old-fashioned electric switch with a huge handle, which sends sparks flying when activated. Called a "knife switch" in supply catalogs and that other wiki
While the Big Electric Switch is obviously common in Steam Punk
and period pieces (including neo-retro Film Noir
pastiches like Sin City
), it can make surprising appearances even in technologically advanced contexts, despite the obvious anachronism.
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Anime and Manga
- In the animated adaptation of Howl's Moving Castle, the spell that removes the magical powers of the Witch of the Waste is activated by a Big Electric Switch.
- Jack And The Witch.
- Allegra throws two such switches to close a door and cause the stairs that Jack and his friends are on to disappear.
- Allegra throws a single switch to turn on the machine that turns normal creatures into harpies.
Films — Animated
- In Igor, all Mad Scientist devices are activated by one of these. It is the job of the titular Igors to pull the switch.
- In Cats Don't Dance, Darla tries to stop the animals' big musical number by pulling "The Grandaddy Of All Switches◊". It only makes it more spectacular.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas. Jack uses one to turn on his electric chair (which is covered with festive Christmas lights).
- In The Iron Giant, a large knife switch - conveniently labeled "ON" and "OFF" - is used by the main character to turn off an entire power substation.
Films — Live-Action
- Hex the literal Magical Computer in Discworld, specifically Hogfather:
Ponder: Initialise the GBL!
Ridcully: What does that mean?
Ponder: It means...pull the great big lever.
- The switch in The Green Mile was facetiously labeled "Mabel's Hair Drier (sic)"
Live Action TV
- The Twilight Zone TOS episode "Shadow Play''. Adam Grant is put to death by electrocution when the guard throws two of them on a console.
- Befitting his status as a Mad Scientist, Dr. Forrester from Mystery Science Theater 3000 uses one of these to launch both Joel and Mike into space.
- and when planning to "cleave in two this puny planet".
- "King Tut's Coup". King Tut throws a switch to lower Batman (who's in a sarcophagus) into a pool of water using an unnecessarily slow dipping mechanism.
- "The Cat and the Fiddle". Catwoman throws one to turn off an elevator so Batman can't easily reach a high floor in a building.
- "The Joker's Hard Time". The Joker uses one to drop a net over the Dynamic Duo.
- "Catwoman's Dressed to Kill". One of Catwoman's henchmen throws one to activate the pattern cutter saw that is supposed to slice Batgirl in half.
- "The Duo is Slumming". One of the Puzzler's henchmen pulls one to activate a shower of balloons on the Dynamic Duo, which allows the Puzzler and his henchmen to escape.
- "A Riddle A Day Keeps The Riddler Away". One of the Riddler's henchmen throws a switch to drop a net on Batman and Robin, and one is later thrown to start the spinning Death Traps to kill the Dynamic Duo.
- Supernatural. In the episode "Monster Movie" along with many other cliches. The Genre Savvy villain takes his time reaching for it to drag out the suspense as much as possible.
- The infamous opening bout of the 1991 edition of WCW Halloween Havoc, an eight-man "Chamber of Horrors" match pitting the team of Sting, El Gigante, Rick Steiner, and Scott Steiner against the team of Scott The Diamond Studd (Scott Hall), Big Van Vader,Cactus Jack (Mick Foley), and Abdullah the Butcher. The match took place in a steel cage filled with weapons; the object of the match was to place a member of the opposing team in the electric chair in the center of the ring and pull the Big Electric Switch, thus "electrocuting" him (no electricity was involved, just pyrotechnics and overacting). The match can be found in three parts, but non-masochists may wish to skip to the third part. Sting's team won when Cactus Jack inadvertently threw the switch while his teammate Abdullah was in the chair, thinking that opponent Rick Steiner was seated there instead. The real winners were Oz (Kevin Nash), The One Man Gang, and Barry Windham, all of whom were scheduled to participate in the match but, for various reasons, didn't do so, and were replaced by Vader, Foley, and Abdullah. This was an early inductee into WrestleCrap.
- SCP Foundation, SCP-520 "Knife Switch". When activated it opens or closes the primary power supply circuit of an electrical device somewhere on Earth. This can be anything from a toaster to a fail-safe device in a nuclear reactor.
- In the 24th episode of Freeman's Mind, Gordon comments how he likes how Black Mesa uses "big Doctor Frankenstein switches for everything."
- Parodied in Futurama: Professor Farnsworth hits a huge, antiquated switch to activate a device, and it just electrocutes him. Then he flips a tiny lightswitch to actually use it.
- ReBoot. As Herr Doktor says at 3:30, throw ze svitch!
- Jonny Quest TOS:
- "The Invisible Monster''. Race Bannon throws one of these to activate the machine to destroy the title creature.
- "The Sea Haunt". One is used to turn on a floodlight.
- In one of the Looney Tunes 'Wolf and Sheepdog' cartoons, Ralph Wolf has set up an armory's worth of missiles and cannons behind Sam Sheepdog, all focused on him at point-blank range, and the bluff Sam's sitting on has been rigged to break away, and far below is a big tank of hungry crocodiles. In his burrow, Ralph starts to throw the big master switch - and the five o'clock whistle blows. He lets go, rolls his eyes and mutters "Pshaw!" The two clock out together and walk home, chatting amicably.
- Superman Theatrical Cartoons episode "The Arctic Giant". After the generator malfunctions, two knife switches are pulled out to turn it off.
- 1973/74 Super Friends episode "Dr. Pelagian's War". When Dr. Pelagian sends a tidal wave against Carraway's freon gas plant, Superman throws a switch to send electricity through coils filled with freon to freeze the tidal wave as it passes over them.
- Parodied in Avenger Penguins—in one episode Big Bad Caractacus P. Doom has a machine operated by such a switch, and he orders his Igor to "throw the switch!"—only for him to literally pull it off the machine and throw it at him.
- Foghorn Leghorn
- In "Weasel Stop", a dog starts up a hay baling machine by throwing a switch.
- In "The High and the Flighty", the dog activates an electrified ear of corn by throwing a switch.
- Young Samson & Goliath episode "The Secret of Evil Island". The Big Bad Voltor throws a switch to launch 15 missiles that will each destroy a world capital. After the title characters destroy the missiles, Voltor throws another switch that activates a Self-Destruct Mechanism that causes the Island Base they're on to sink.
- Many early electrical switches really did look like this. It's a simple, easy-to-build design.
- Likewise, you still see knife switches in some low-power learning kits, because you can actually see the switch working.
- Every "switch" flipped to light a community Christmas tree appears to be one of these. In truth, the tree lighting is controlled not by a huge switch, but an offscreen/offstage electrical crew.
- When the KTLA TV station switched from analog to digital, it was done with a deliberately anachronistic Big Electric Switch.
- Though obsolete today, knife switches are still in use in older installations.
- Knife switches and other steampunkish looking large switches are very useful when it comes to really strong currents, from hundreds of amperes in starter circuits of trucks or locomotives to thousands of amperes in large industrial installations, as they're essentially a movable busbar. Modern age switches can drop it because they use relays instead, which can be operated from electronic control panels.
- Knife-shaped and water-tap-shaped switches◊ are sold to provide a very quick cut-off in emergency, directly at the battery terminal for large automotive / truck batteries. They are very simple inside (mostly a thick movable piece of copper) and they can easily withstand 1000 amps.
- Knife switches have largely fallen out of favor because they're dangerous. Note the bare pieces of metal making contact with the receivers. Considering the voltages and amperages running though a typical knife-switch-controlled circuit, it would be very easy to electrocute yourself if you accidentally brushed up against the wrong part.
- Shore power installations for ships usually have these.
- Because of their simplicity and ability to handle massive currents, electrical utilities use what are essentially massively upscaled and remotely actuated versions of knife switches to connect and disconnect power lines. Their operation can be quite spectacular.