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Big Electric Switch

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Besides, he's the one holding all the power.

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 Steampunk 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 & 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.

    Comic Books 
  • Fantastic Four: One of Doctor Doom's inventions has a Big Electric Switch.
  • A Wonder Woman comic has a knife switch beneath a sign that says "DANGER: DO NOT PULL SWITCH" in large, red letters. If nobody should *ever* pull it, why is it there?
  • Wonder Woman (1942): Once everything has been calculated and calibrated one activates the teleporter Paula invented, called a Space-Transformer using a large knife switch.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Dr. Lazarus' second laboratory, which he built after he started losing his mind to grief, has a panel with several large knife switches on it.

    Comic Strips 
  • In the Bizarro strip for August 27th 2015, a guard is about to pull a switch that will electrocute a prisoner using a hand puppet on his hand. A person nearby says "If that's what it takes to relieve your conscience, maybe you're in the wrong business".

    Film — Animated 
  • 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, much to her horror.
  • 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 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.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas. Jack uses one to turn on his electric chair (which is covered with festive Christmas lights).

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Addams Family. Wednesday has her brother Pugsley strapped into an electric chair. She electrocutes him by throwing a large knife switch.
  • Addams Family Values. Evil nanny Debbie (Joan Cusack) has the entire clan (minus baby Pubert) wired up to electric chairs with an enormously-handled electric switch. Gomez and Morticia have a marital-torture nostalgia-fest whilst Pubert does some handy re-wiring.
  • The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
    • The electrical apparatus that Lord Whorfin uses to give himself electrical shocks is activated by one.
    • The sled that Dr. Emilio Lizardo uses to fling himself into the wall is also activated by one.
  • Barbarella. In the revolutionary headquarters in the city of Sogo, several pieces of equipment are activated by electric knife switches, including a secret door.
  • Batman (1989). After Batman drives into the Batcave with Vicki Vale, he turns on the lights by throwing a switch.
  • Batman: The Movie (1966). The Instant Bat Costume Change device (between the slide poles to the Batcave) is activated with one of these.
  • And in another Australian WW1 movie Beneath Hill 60, what looks like a knife switch is used to set off the massive mine the tunnellers have planted beneath the German lines.
  • Carry On Screaming!: The machines to recharge the monsters Oddbod, Junior, and Dr. Watt himself have big switches, complete with sparks flying.
  • Clue: The Jump Scare of the electricity to the house being turned off is shown by a gloved hand pulling down a big lever.
  • The Mad Scientist Laboratory in Frankenstein Island is crammed with antique electrical equipment and so naturally includes many large knife switches.
  • From Beyond. The Resonator is activated by throwing one of these switches.
  • The Ghostbusters have one attached to the containment-grid that holds the captive ghosts.
  • The climactic scene of The Lighthorsemen (1987) involves the Turkish/German force trying to blow up the wells at Beersheba before the Australians can capture them intact. Rather than the traditional Plunger Detonator, the wires are connected to a switchboard with one of these.
  • Metropolis
    • Workers struggle to throw switches and turn wheels in the Nightmarish Factory. One man collapses as he's too exhausted to reach up and grab the off switch when the system starts to overload, causing the colossal machine to explode in lethal bursts of steam.
    • Naturally Rotwang has them in his Mad Scientist Laboratory.
  • A Big Electric Switch turns on the Psychophraculator in Mystery Men.
  • Our Man Flint. Flint throws several of these in the Galaxy communications room in an attempt to mess up their operations, and throws one to start the shutdown of their Weather-Control Machine.
  • Outpost: Black Sun. Wallace slams them up and down in an ultimately futile attempt to destroy the Nazi Zeerust Secret Weapon by Explosive Overclocking.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show features Frank N. Furter throwing two Big Electric Switches to start the floorshow.
  • Sin City: The electric chair used to execute Marv is activated by a Big Electric Switch.
  • Top Secret!
    • When Nick Rivers is being taken to be executed, the electric chair is activated with an electric switch.
    • The electric fence around the castle is turned on and off with one of these.
  • In the 1939 The Wizard of Oz film, the "wizard" uses these to create the thunder and lightning effects in his throne room.
  • Woman in the Moon (1929). The control panel of the moon rocket resembles something you'd find in a generating station (which would be the most technologically sophisticated installation at the time).
  • Young Frankenstein. During the reanimation of the monster, Igor throws the first two switches with no particular result. When he reluctantly throws the Third Switch (labeled "The Works"), sparks fly out of it and all of the lab equipment goes to full power.
    Igor: Not the third switch!
  • Several in Zack Snyder's Justice League, always giving out a shower of sparks whenever they're thrown.

  • 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 
  • Batman (1966)
    • "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.
    • "A Piece of the Action". Colonel Gumm throws an electric switch to activate the machine that will turn the Green Hornet and Kato into giant stamps.
    • "Scat! Darn Catwoman"
      • When Commissioner Gordon tries to trace the Batphone line to the Batcave, Batman throws three electric switches to activate Diversionary Batphone Lines to thwart the trace attempts.
      • Just before a fight between the Dynamic Duo and the villains, Batman throws an electric switch to turn on the lights in the room.
  • The Blake's 7 episode "Headhunter" is Frankenstein's monster IN SPACE!, but seeing as it's used to turn on an antique generator plant (to electrocute the Monster of the Week) instead of a Mad Scientist Laboratory the trope is entirely justified.
  • The Book of Boba Fett. In order to stop a Runaway Train, Boba uses his gaderffii stick to force down a floor-mounted version to turn the engine off.
  • In Doctor Who
    • This adds to the Anachronism Stew appearance of the TARDIS console (and slamming big levers also suits the Doctor's hammy persona). At the end of "Arachnids in the UK", the Doctor and her latest companions do a Team Hand-Stack to pull the lever at the same time, after agreeing to travel in time and space together.
    • Justified Trope in "Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror" given the era. Tesla's a Large Ham also, so naturally does a dramatic lever-slam when switching on his power generator at Niagara Falls for a group of potential investors.
  • 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".
  • Star Trek: The Original Series. In "Dagger of the Mind", Dr Helen Noel has to save the day by turning off the forcefield so Spock can do a Teleportation Rescue. As she's a doctor not an engineer she has no idea how to do this, but the red double-handed lever gives her a good idea. When Spock beams down, he then switches off the power properly via a row of switches in a locked cabinet.
  • Star Trek: Voyager.
    • Adds to the Used Future No OSHA Compliance look of the Malon toxic waste freighter in "Juggernaut".
    • Arturis uses one to activate the quantum slipstream drive in "Hope and Fear". The trope is necessary for dramatic purposes as two security officers are trying to restrain him at the time.
  • Supernatural.
  • 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.


    Professional Wrestling 
  • 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.

  • Spoofed in a theatre production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Todd has just murdered a customer and is now going to send his body through the trapdoor into the basement.
    Todd: And now, the lever!
    (entire theatre gets plunged into darkness)
    Todd: Wrong lever!

    Video Games 
  • Shows up in quite a number of video games in every genre to signal to the player that it's something they can interact with.
    • Used for activating various simple things such as the lighting in various places in Myst and Riven.
  • Used in the breaker room that's used to restore power after the blackout in Luigi's Mansion. Possibly a Chekhov's Gun considering that you can reach it as soon as the second area and the room otherwise seems to have no use.
  • One can be made in Minecraft. Whereas buttons create a quick burst of electricity to a nearby object, and a pressure plate can be activated with any weight, a lever can be used to keep the electricity at a constant flow.
  • Penumbra uses these for dozens of different functions, including an action sequence to kill a worm with electricity. They're all marked "Yort Industries".
    Philip: I don't know what it does, but that machine is clearly an electrical hazard waiting to happen.
  • In Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, Kurtis Trent's ultimate objective is to throw a big electric switch to restore power to the building.


    Web Original 
  • In the 24th episode of Freeman's Mind, Gordon comments how he likes how Black Mesa uses "big Doctor Frankenstein switches for everything."
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in one episode of Avenger Penguins. 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.
  • Darkwing Duck: In "Just Us Justice Ducks", Negaduck captures the Justice Ducks sans Darkwing and places them all in various Bond-villain-style contraptions designed to cause slow, torturous death; all of which will simultaneously activate "when I throw... THE SWITCH!" He then trolls them by pressing two smaller switches which do nothing before revealing the Big Electric Switch that actually activates the contraptions.
  • Parodied in Futurama: Professor Farnsworth hits a huge, antiquated switch to activate a device, and it just electrocutes him. Then he flips a tiny light switch to actually use it.
  • Jonny Quest TOS.
    • "The Invisible Monster''. Race Bannon throws a large electric switch to activate the machine to destroy the title creature.
    • "The Sea Haunt". A large electric switch is used to turn on a floodlight that's used to blind and drive back the title monster.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • In one of the '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.
    • 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.
  • Played for Laughs in the Phineas and Ferb episode "The Lizard Whisperer": Doofenshmirtz has a giant electric switch that he uses as a light switch for his building. The building's actual light switch is instead wired to his Gigantinator ray.
  • ReBoot. As Herr Doktor says at 3:30, throw ze svitch!
  • In the 1973/74 Superfriends 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.
  • In the Superman Theatrical Cartoons episode "The Arctic Giant", after the generator malfunctions, two knife switches are pulled out to turn it off.
  • Teen Titans (2003): In "Employee of the Month", Beast Boy repeatedly puts off defusing a giant planet-killing bomb, believing the task to be too complicated and beyond his skills. When he finally gets around to it, he punches a hole in the bomb's chassis and enters, only to find it completely empty inside with a giant electrical switch which he flips to the "off" position.
  • Young Samson and 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.

    Real Life 
  • 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 through a typical knife-switch-controlled circuit, it would be very easy to electrocute yourself if you accidentally brushed up against the wrong part.
      • That, and if you try to open the switch while it's driving a large inductive load, you will get a plasma arc and won't be able to interrupt the circuit. That's why large switches meant to quickly cut power to motors have been replaced either by devices with integrated solid state shunts/flyback diodes and/or vacuum-sealed or noble-gas purged cells with big insulating doors to interrupt the arc, instead of being just exposed to air.
  • Shore power installations for ships usually have these.
  • Something very similar to these exists in industrial environments. They are used to allow "lockout tagout", an industrial process used to prevent injury to mechanics, welders and electricians while performing maintenance. The worker will place a lock in such a way that the switch is rendered inoperable, "locking it out". They then place a tag on the lock, indicating who locked it out. This prevents an inattentive operator or cruel manager from turning a machine back on to resume production.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Knife Switch