When it came to using the electric chair as a method of capital punishment, there had to be someone that was the first unlucky human that put the approach to the test. Up until 1890, only animals had been used to demonstrate the effects of electric currents being used as a method of execution. Did the first time go smoothly or were there complications? You will find out in this article.
Who Was the First Electric Chair Execution Victim?
The first victim to die in the electric chair was William Kemmler at Auburn Prison in New York. His execution took place on August 6, 1890. The first passage of current that went through Kemmler’s body lasted for 17 seconds and rendered him unconscious. However, his heart did not stop and he continued to breath. The attending physicians came forward to examine Kemmler and confirmed that he was still alive. It is said that the second physician called out, “Have the current turned on again, quick, no delay.” But, the generator needed time to recharge.
The second pass of electricity was measured at 2,000 volts. This jolt caused blood vessels under the skin to rupture and bleed. The places where the electrodes were attached to his body started to singe. The entire execution lasted about eight minutes. A witness later stated that the job would have been done better if they had used an axe. Another witness reported that it was far worse to watch then a hanging.
Despite what could be called not the smoothest of executions, the electric chair was adopted by a handful of states around the United States.
The Chair Catches On
The electric chair started to replace hanging as the preferred method of execution in the United States when other states started to embrace the concept. Ohio stepped up in 1897 with Massachusetts following in 1900. New Jersey started to electrocute prisoners in 1906 and Virginia adopted the method in 1908. The majority of states that currently use or have used the electric chair are found east of the Mississippi River. This method of execution would continue to be embraced until the mid-1980s until lethal injection became more of a widely accepted method of capital punishment. This approach was seen as an easier and more humane way to kill criminals.
The electric chair is not a dead method altogether , there are still some states that will allow a condemned person to choose between electrocution and lethal injection. Across the nation, there have been 12 inmates that preferred electrocution over lethal injection in states, such as Virginia and South Carolina.
To learn more about the infamous electric chairs in the United States, read the article titled, “Famous Electric Chairs,” which takes a look at some of the nicknames given to chairs in various prisons, such as Yellow Mama , the electric chair associated with Kilby State Prison.