The method of executing a criminal by electrocution usually took place with the help of an electric chair. The practice dates back to the late 1800s. The condemned was strapped into a wooden chair that was specially built for their punishment. Electrodes were placed on the body and the victim was then electrocuted. To this day, the electric chair is still an option for a method of execution in nine of the U.S. states. In this article, you will learn about the historical journey of the electric chair.
Employees of Thomas Edison are responsible for creating this method of electrocution. This approach towards punishment was used throughout the United States and in the Philippines , in connection to American occupation. The aim of the electric chair was that a person was attached to the chair and went through various cycles with differing levels of voltage and duration of electricity. The alternating currents would pass through the body and cause fatal damage to the internal organs, including the brain.
The first jolt of electric current was designed to cause immediate unconsciousness and literally kill the drain. The second jolt was made to cause fatal damage to the vital organs. A person typically died because their heart became overstimulated.
The First Electric Chair
It was 1887 when the state of New York was interested in finding a newer method of execution that that was more humane. They wanted to find a replacement for hanging criminals. A committee was created with one of the members (Alfred P Southwick) coming up with the idea that running electric currents through the body of a victim would make a suitable punishment after hearing how a drunk man died relatively painlessly and quickly after touching exposed power lines. Southwick was a dentist and was used to performing procedures on people while they were in a chair so he developed an electrical device that took the shape of a chair that would restrain a criminal while they were being electrocuted.
Harold P. Brown and Arthur Kennelly developed the first electric chair. Brown actually worked for the infamous Thomas Edison (inventor of the light bulb) and was hired to research electrocution, as well as a way to develop a electric chair. Kennelly was Edison’s chief engineer at the West Orange facility and was assigned to work with Brown on the project. Since the two worked for Edison and he heavily promoted their work , some people are under the impression that Edison himself invented the electric chair, but this is not so.
It was Brown’s intent to use alternating current (AC) over direct current (DC), as Edison believed that AC was more lethal than DC. To highlight the danger of AC electricity and why it was a better choice for electrocutions, Brown and Edison put on public displays where they killed many animals with AC. Through these events, the term ‘electrocution’ was born. The demonstrations eventually led to the committee adopting the AC electric chair in 1889.