The first execution by electric chair happened on this date in 1890. For almost 10 years, the state of New York had been looking for a more humane method of capital punishment to replace hanging. Alfred Southwick, a dentist from Buffalo, was on the committee. He’s the first one to suggest using electric current, because he’d heard a story about a man who had accidentally touched an exposed power line and died quickly and painlessly.
The chair’s first victim was William Kemmler. The execution wasn’t an immediate success. The “state electrician” only gave Kemmler enough juice to knock him out, so they had to try again, but it took a while for the generator to build up enough power to deliver the lethal voltage. The execution took about eight minutes, and Westinghouse later said, “They would have done better using an axe.”
August 6, 2012