The Electric Chair
World History, 5th Period

December 3, 2000

Invention: Electric Chair
Inventor: Thomas Edison

Invented: 1887

Target Audience: State and Federal Prison Systems

Price: Starting At $250


· No Pain

· Less execution duration

· Not gruesome

· Small, Compact, and Portable Unit

· Person being executed is restrained


· Costly

· Requires Energy

· Requires Executioner

Brief History:

The chair was designed as an alternative to hanging. The stated reason for its development was that it was a more humane way of executing people, but the actual reason was a bit deceiving.

At that time, electricity was ready to become the universal power source. Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse were the two major components in the struggle to control electrical utilities. Technical and economic circumstances at the time made Westinghouse\'s AC current superior to Edison\'s DC current. Edison had to resort to some manipulative way to insure the DC electrical “era”.

Edison\'s strategy was to convince everyone that Westinghouse\'s AC current was unsafe. He hired scientists to travel and give public demonstrations of this by electrocuting cats, dogs, and horses with AC current. His ultimate victory came with New York State\'s switch from hanging to the electric chair, which was powered by a Westinghouse AC generator.

By having Edison’s DC current be used in executions, people would not consider, and even be disgusted with using AC technology commercially (in homes and businesses), which was used in murdering animals and people. The first electric chair used on a person was in Auburn, New York on August 6th, 1890 to electrocute William Kemmler, who had been convicted of murder.

There are 9 states that currently use the electric chair as their primary, sub primary, sole, optional, and/or backup choice of execution. They are Ohio, Illinois, Nebraska, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, and Arkansas.

The Process:

The executioner straps the prisoner in the electric chair and attaches one metal electrode, an electric conductor, to his leg and another to his head. The executioner then throws a switch sending lethal electric current through the prisoner’s body. The initial voltage of 2000 volts and a current of about 5 amperes are used. Then the voltage is lowered to 500 volts and twice raised to 2000 volts. In less than 3 minutes the prisoner is declared dead.


Advantages surely outweigh the drawbacks, and humanity is upheld a little further. Pain is assumed not to be encountered because of the instant unconsciousness (Encarta Internet). Thus, the electric machine completes the amazing feat of painless death.

The remarkable 3-minute window of official death declaration should not be confused with actual and realistic death periods. These varying periods are apt to be, relatively, substantially lower in actual time.

Body parts and systems tend to remain intact achieving a more humanitarian approach to death-punishment, if that is possible. The unit is manageable and portable, yet the need for a electrical outlet limits the mobile benefit. And death row members are able to be restrained using leather buckles and straps, excellent for hostile or precautionary measures.

Price is a major downfall for the unit. With rising prices for copper (the machine’s major element) the chair remains reserved. But federal and state funding will, of course, allow plentiful capital. The need for a executioner adds to the overall price, but a new employment position is created.

The electric chair has had a controversial and colorful historical presence in our culture. People offer valid reasoning for the prohibition of capitol punishment and others offer logic for the promotion of the death sentence. Nonetheless, the presence of the execution penalty is still among us.