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Who Invented The Electric Chair? Top Full Information 2022

The electric chair is a symbol of the brutality of capital punishment. It was created by an engineer named Harold P Brown, who built it for Thomas Edison’s lab in order to demonstrate how alternating currents could be used as an execution method. He designed the device to execute animals but never intended for humans to use it.

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When the first person was executed with this invention, some witnesses said they saw smoke coming from his head and spine due to electrical arcing inside his body. Furthermore, some scientists believe that people who are electrocuted feel like they’re being burnt alive because electricity passes heat through their bodies faster than fire can do so on its own.

In this post, Focal Upright will provide full information about things relating to the Electic chair.

Invented The Electric Chair

Who Invented The Electric Chair?


Execution by electrocution, performed using an electric chair, is a method of execution originating in the United States. This is where the condemned person is tied to a wooden chair and electrocuted using electrodes attached to the head and legs. This execution method was first developed in 1881 by a Buffalo dentist, Alfred P. Southwick. It is a humane alternative to hanging. This execution method is used throughout the United States, including in the Philippines. Although death was initially thought to be caused by damage to the brain’s structure, it was later shown to be primarily due to ventricular fibrillation.

After the person was attached to the chair (usually with their head and legs shaved), various cycles of alternating electricity would pass through the body to cause severe damage to the internal organs. The first, more powerful jolt of electric current is intended to cause immediate unconsciousness, ventricular fibrillation, and eventually cardiac arrest. The second, less powerful jolt is intended to cause fatal damage to the vital organs.

The electric chair was a symbol of the death penalty in America. However, it is now less popular due to the popularity of lethal injection. This is widely considered to be a more humane form of method. Although electrocution remains legal in some states, it is no longer used as an execution method. Kentucky has retired the electric chair, except for those sentenced for death for offenses committed before March 31, 1998. Those who chose electrocution, as well as inmates convicted for murders committed after that date, are executed using lethal injection. In Kentucky, electrocution is allowed in the event that lethal injection is deemed unconstitutional.

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the execution by electric chair was a ” cruel punishment” according to the state’s constitution. This ended executions by electrocution in Nebraska.


The rise of arc lighting in the late 1870s and early 1880s was followed by stories in newspapers about the dangers of high voltage outdoor lighting. George Lemuel Smith was a drunken dock worker who was looking for the thrill of an electric sensation. He managed to get back into the Brush Electric Company’s arc lighting powerhouse at night and grab the ground and brush of an electric dynamo. He died instantly. It was brought up by the local Buffalo scientific society that year by the coroner. Another attendee, Alfred P. Southwick, a dentist with a technical background, thought that some application could be found.

Southwick was joined by George E. Fell, a Buffalo ASPCA head, in a series involving hundreds of stray dogs being electrocuted. They conducted trials in water and without water to find a method that would work. Based on his dog experiments, he devised calculations to create a scaled-up method for humans. To restrain the condemned, he used a modified version of the dental chair to begin his designs. This device would become the electronic chair.

The rise of arc lighting in the late 1870s and early 1880s was followed by stories in newspapers about the dangers of high voltage outdoor lighting

The Gerry Commission

There was growing criticism of the United States’ capital punishment and death penalty after a series of failed hangings. After a series of failed hangings in the United States, David B. Hill, the newly elected governor of New York State, established a three-member death sentence commission. It was headed by Elbridge Thomas Gerry, a humane means advocate, and reformer.

Questionnaires were sent to government officials, lawyers, and medical experts to ask for their opinion. The questions were swayed towards electrocution and did not include abolishing the death penalty. Thomas Edison recommended AC be connected to the head and spine. Dogs and other animals such as horses were used as test subjects. It was also recommended that states deal with electric chair execution instead of individual counties.

The Medico-Legal Commission

The bill did not specify the type of electricity to be used. This was left up to the New York Medico-Legal Society. It is an informal society of lawyers and doctors. A committee was established in September 1888 and recommended 3000 Volts. However, the type of electricity, direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC), was not known. Some members weren’t sure that AC was fatally lethal since it had been tested on animals smaller than humans (dogs).

The state’s efforts in designing the electric chair were intertwined with the war on the currents. This was a competition between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse alternating current-based systems. After competing commercially since 1886, a series of events turned it into an all-out media war in 1888. Frederick Peterson was the committee head. He enlisted Harold P. Brown to assist him.

After the death of several people in New York City by faulty installation of AC arc lighting lines, Harold Brown was on his own crusade against the alternating current. Peterson was an assistant to Brown’s July 1888 public electrocution with AC dogs at Columbia College. This was an attempt to prove AC is more dangerous than DC. Brown used alternating current to test animals larger than a person. These tests were criticized by George Westinghouse as being a biased self-serving demonstration that was designed to attack alternating current.

At the request of the death penalty commission chairman Gerry, Medico-Legal Society members; electrotherapy expert Alphonse David Rockwell, Carlos Frederick MacDonald, and Columbia College professor Louis H. Laudy, were given the task of working out the details of electrode placement. Technical assistance in these demonstrations was provided by Thomas Edison’s West Orange laboratory and there grew to be some form of collusion between Edison Electric and Brown. Brown requested equipment from Edison Electric Light.

Treasurer Francis S. Hastings was also asked to help. Austin E. Lathrop, Superintendent of Prisons, asked Brown to design the chair. However, Francis S. Hastings, who was portrayed as a peddler of death and supplying AC current to Westinghouse, declined to do so. With the help of Edison and Westinghouse’s chief AC rival, Thomson-Houston Electric Company (Thomson-Houston), he managed to stealthily acquire three Westinghouse AC generators. This move ensured that Westinghouse’s equipment would be associated with the first execution.

The First Execution By Electric Chair

The first person in line to die under New York’s new electrocution law was Joseph Chapleau, who was convicted for beating his neighbor to death with a sled stake, but he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The following person scheduled to be executed William Kemmler, convicted of murdering his wife with a hatchet. Kemmler appealed to the New York Court of Appeals, arguing that the use of electricity to execute his sentence was “cruel and unusual punishment” and therefore against the constitutions of the United States.

The Legislature of this state should proclaim any offense it may have. This could include burning at or breaking the wheel. The courts would then be required to condemn such an attempt. Now, the question is whether or not the legislation being challenged is subject to the same condemnation. It is clear that this is not the case.

William Kemmler was executed at New York’s Auburn Prison, August 6, 1890. The “state electrician” was Edwin F. Davis. Kemmler was unconscious for 17 seconds after a passage of 1,000 volts AC current through him. However, it did not stop his heartbeat and breathing.

To examine William Kemmler, Edward Charles Spitzka, and Carlos F. MacDonald were the attending physicians. Spitzka called out to confirm that Kemmler was still breathing. However, the electrical generator took some time to recharge. Kemmler was shocked with a 2,000-volt AC shock in the second attempt.

The electrodes were singed, and blood vessels under the skin burst and bled. The whole execution took eight minutes. The entire execution took about eight minutes. George Westinghouse later said that “they would have done better with an axe”.  A witness claimed that it was “an awful sight, far worse than hanging”.

The First Execution By Electric Chair

Key Events In The United States

Lizzie Halliday, a serial killer, was the first woman to be executed in an electric chair. However, Roswell P. Flowers commuted her sentence to life imprisonment in a mental institution. Martha M. Place was executed in the chair at Sing Sing Prison for her murder of Ida Place, her stepdaughter.

Ruth Snyder, a housewife, was executed by an electric chair on January 12, 1928. She was being executed for her March 1927 husband’s murder. The electric chair was used to photograph the victim in an electric chair for a story on New York Daily News on the morning of January 12, 1928. It was taken by Tom Howard, a news photographer who had managed to sneak a camera into the death chamber. He then photographed the subject as the current was turned off. It is still one of the most well-known examples of photojournalism.

Seven men were executed in succession in an electric chair at the Kentucky State Penitentiary, Eddyville, Kentucky, on July 13, 1928.

An African-American teenager, 14-year-old George Stinney was the youngest person electrocuted at the Central Correctional Institution. He was Columbia and South Carolina. In 2014, a circuit court judge overturned his conviction on grounds that Stinney had not been given a fair trial. After determining that Stinney had not been given a fair trial, the judge overturned his conviction.

John Spenkelink was the first person to be executed in the USA after the Gregg decision of the Supreme Court of the United States of 1976. This was the first execution in the United States since 1966.

Lynda Lynda Block was the last person to be killed by an electric chair, without any alternative. She did so on May 10, 2002, in Alabama.


This article has provided a lot of information on who invented the electric chair and why it was invented. It is essential to understand this history because we need to learn from our past mistakes in order not to repeat them. I hope that you found the content valuable and informative! If any other topics interest you, feel free to leave us comments below. We would be happy to help answer your questions or provide more information about anything related.

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