Who invented the electric chair?

The United States - a country of democratic freedoms and the main stronghold of human rights in the world - constantly sought to facilitate not only life, but also death to its citizens. So, 115 years ago in this state a new type of killing of criminals appeared - electric chair.

"Humane" form of execution

No matter what the statistics asserts, there has always been a large percentage of particularly dangerous criminals in the United States. Perhaps the blame is the contingent that has historically flooded new uncharted lands — adventurers, robbers, and treasure hunters. Such people were rarely stopped by moral principles, and their killing of their neighbor did not scare them. Perhaps it was the knowledge of its history that made the US senators so zealously advocate the death penalty. Of course, in the history of the States there was a period when a moratorium was imposed on the execution of criminals, but it did not last long - from 1972 to 1976. Today, execution in this country is permitted in 33 states, in 7 of them, to this day, an electric chair is used.

electric chair

Before his invention, hanging was used in the USA.Prisoners are not always "lucky." If the cervical vertebrae broke, death was relatively painless. Quite often, such a gift of fate did not occur, and the person died of suffocation, which was considered absolutely inhuman.

Albert Southwick and his "humanism"

Many ordinary people believe that this kind of penalty came up with a madman, in fact it is not. The opinions of historians in this matter are ambiguous. Who invented the electric chair? Edison, Brown or Southwick?

The idea of ​​electrocution belongs to the dentist Albert Southwick. One day, he saw a drunkard stepping on bare wires and instantly dying. As it seemed to Mr. Southwick, the death of a man was instant and painless. He spoke about his idea to Colonel Rockwell, head of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The dentist proposed to kill sick animals with a current, rather than drown them. Rockwell liked this idea, and the very next month, Southwick began experimenting on animals.

who invented the electric chair

He published his observations in a scientific journal. After a certain number of experiments, he turned to his friend, Senator David Macmillan, with a proposal to use the current as an instrument of the death penalty.Macmillan was a supporter of this procedure, and having heard that the current is less painful, he unconditionally agreed to transfer the papers to the Senate in order to approve the procedure. In 1886, the law "On the study of the most humane form of the death penalty." On June 5, 1888, they signed the document "On the introduction of a new humane type of execution in the state of New York."

Which current is more effective?

The humanists immediately faced the question of how to design the perfect electric chair. The law was passed, but the apparatus was not ready. In addition, the researchers did not know what type of current to apply: constant or alternating.


DC was the brainchild of Thomas Edison, alternating - Nikola Tesla. The battle of titans began between scientists, or rather, between Edison and Westinghouse, an investor who bought Tesla's patents. Addison did not want his invention to become a symbol of the death penalty, so he made every effort to discredit Tesla’s method and convince the commission that studied the death from electricity that AC kills more painlessly and quickly than a permanent one.

Development of devices for execution

The issue was resolved, the alternating current defeated the lethal injection.Discussions have begun on how the procedure should proceed. After long disputes, engineer Harold Brown proposed to put the prisoner on a chair and attach electrodes to his body. It is he who owes his appearance to the electric chair. On January 1, 1889, the law on execution using such a device came into force. By the above date, the first electric chair was ready.

Operating principle

Electrocution was supposed to reduce the torment of the criminal, reduce the pain. The developers of the apparatus planed a massive wooden chair, brought electrodes to it. One of them was attached to the head of the convict at the end with a wet washcloth, the other was planned to be brought to the spine. Electrodes in advance moistened in saline. The voltage of the electric chair was 2000 volts. The legs and hands of the criminal should have been rigidly fixed with straps. The current passed the generator.


Later this technique was improved. Now the wires are brought to the ankles and to the head. The voltage is 2700 volts.

First penalty

The first execution on the Westinghouse apparatus, namely this device for some time was called, took place as scheduled - on August 6, 1890. The first person, deliberately killed by the current, was a merchant from Buffalo - William Kemmler.In a fit of jealousy and drunken stupor, he hacked his wife with an ax. The candidate was excellent, and decided to try the electric chair. The prison warden was visibly nervous and could not cope with the trembling in his hands; this did not allow him to properly fasten the straps. Kemmler was even outraged and asked the warden to calm down. The switch was lowered by Edwin Davis. If you say who invented the electric chair, in the aspect of the one who designed it, then it was Mr. Davis. He was immediately assigned the nickname "State Electrician".

first electric chair

Tension ran through the wires, all those gathered began to enthusiastically exclaim that they had entered the era of humanity. But to the surprise of the witnesses, the criminal did not die. Then the current was given again, but the generator needed time to charge. All these few minutes, Kemmler made moans and gasped. The current was given again, the criminal's head began to smoke, and he finally gave up the last spirit. One of those present noted that it would have been faster with an ax.

Opponents of the electric chair

electric chair voltage

After the first killing of a person by a current, it became clear that the method was not only not finalized - it is brutal and cruel.The first opponent of the death penalty was John Westinghouse, but he hardly thought about the humanity of the issue. The entrepreneur did not want to use alternating current. Supporters of this type of execution immediately rushed to refine their device, and the opponents began to sound the alarm. Did the developers of this murder weapon know that their apparatus would be the impetus for the emergence of human rights organizations and human rights activists? It is precisely those who were electrocuted that became the reason for the formation of a movement against killing in this way. In the 20th century, the abolitionist movement began in the United States, and the search for the humane instrument of the death penalty continues to this day.

Today, an electric chair is only used in the state of Virginia; in seven states, this type of penalty is acceptable. The lethal injection has supplanted this “humane” device over time.

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