THE HIST1880 - Most state laws provide for capital punishment, usually by hanging. Unfortunately, hangmen's ignorance produced horrific scenes of slow strangling deaths and gruesome decapitations.
1881 - Dr. Albert Southwick, a dentist and former steamboat engineer, sees elderly drunkard touch terminals of electrical generator in Buffalo, New York. He is amazed at how quickly and apparently painlessly the man is killed and describes episode to friend State Senator David McMillan.
1881 - McMillan speaks to Governor David B. Hill. Hill asks state legislature to consider how modern day electricity might replace hanging.
1882 - Thomas Edison was the first person to establish himself in electrical utility industry with DC service.
1886 - AC technology, developed by Westinghouse, was much more flexible and economic seriously threatens Edison's hold on electrical utility market .
1886 - Legislature enacts Chapter 352 of the Laws of 1886 entitled "An act to authorize the appointment of a commission to investigate and report to the legislature the most humane and approved method of carrying into effect the sentence of death in capital cases."
1887 - Copper prices skyrocket when French syndicate corners market. DC requires very thick copper cables. AC has a strong economic advantage. Edison realizes this and starts planning his attack on other that economic reasons.
1887 - Edison conducts demonstration in West Orange, New Jersey, in which he kills large numbers of cats and dogs by luring the animals onto a metal plate wired to a 1,000 volt AC generator. The press describes these proceedings in detail.
1887 - Edison publishes pamphlet A Warning, comparing AC and DC, including of AC victims.
1888- Elbridge T. Gerry (grandson of signer of Declaration of Independence), Dr. Southwick, and Matthew Hale, a judge from Albany,are appointed to commission created by 1886 law.. The Gerry report is a detailed analysis of execution methods.
June 4, 1888 - New York Legislature passes Chapter 489 of Laws of New York of 1888 establishing electrocution as the state's method of execution. Medico-Legal Society of New York is designated to recommend how to implement new law.
June 5, 1888 - Inventor Harold P. Brown writes a very compelling editorial letter to the New York Post, describing the death of a boy who touched a straggling telegraph wire running on AC current. Brown recommends limiting AC transmissions to 300 volts, which negates economic advantage.
July, 1888 - Brown goes to Edison's West Orange, New Jersey lab to do research.
July 30, 1888 - Brown and his assistant Dr. Fred Peterson of Columbia show experimental results at the School of Mines at Columbia University by administering a series of DC shocks to a large Newfoundland mix dog. By 1,000 volts DC, the dog is agonized but not killed. Finally, Brown finishes the off with a charge of 330 volts AC. On a follow-up demonstration, SPCA steps in and second dog becomes first creature ever publicly reprieved from execution by electrocution (although it was later killed at another demonstration).
Fall, 1888 - Medico-Legal appoints Brown's assistant Dr. Peterson to carry out further research. Over the next few months, they electrocute two dozen dogs.
December 5, 1888 - Brown and Peterson electrocute two calves and a 1,230-pound horse. The New York Times account ends with the observation that "alternating current will undoubtedly drive the hangmen out of business in this state." This PR is probably engineered by Brown or Edison.
December 12, 1888 - Peterson committee submits report to New York Meidco-Legal Society, recommending use of chair rather than tank of water or rubberized table.
December 13, 1888 - Westinghouse writes letter in NY Times accusing Brown of acting "in the interest in and pay of the Edison Electric Light Company."
January 1, 1889 - World's first Electrical Execution Law goes into effect.
March, 1889 - Brown meets with Austin Lathrop, superintendent of New York prisons, to arrange for purchase of Westinghouse AC generators to power the electric chair. Because Westinghouse will not sell directly to the prisons, Brown and Edison resort to subterfuge to acquire three generators for $7,000 to $8,000.
March 29, 1889 - William Kemler kills his lover Matilda ("Tille") Ziegler with an axe in Buffalo, New York, which was then known as :the "Electric City of the Future."
Spring, 1889 - Joseph Chappleau, convicted for poisoning neighbor's cows, is first person sentenced to death under Electrical Execution Law. His sentence is commuted to life imprisonment.
May, 1989 - William Kemmler is sentenced to death.
1889 - 1890 - Westinghouse funds appeals for Kemmler on the grounds that electrocution is cruel and unusual punishment. Edison and Brown are witnesses for the state. The appeal is denied, as are two subsequent appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
1890 - Edwin R. Davis, Auburn Prison electrician, designs an electric chair model which closely resembles our modern device, as well as elaborate testing procedures involving large slabs of meat.
August 6, 1890 - Kemmler is executed in the electric chair at Auburn Prison, the first person ever to be executed by electrocution. The first application of current is botched and Kemmler does not die until the current is fired up a second time.
"The man never suffered a bit of pain!" George Fell, executioner's assistance to first electrocution
"We live in a higher civilization from this day on." Alfred P. Southwick
"Strong men fainted and fell like logs on the floor." New York Herald
"They would have done better with an axe." George Westinghouse
In 1896, Ohio introduced electrocution and in 1898, Massachusetts follwed suit. New Jersey was 1906, Virginia in 1908, and North Carolina in 1910. Soon thereafter, at least twenty states were using electric chairs, making it by far the most popular means of execution.
Both Edison and Westinghouse continued to prosper, with Edison's company merging with Thomson-Houston to become General Electric. Edison eventually admitted that he had been shortsighted with regard to AC. In 1912, Westinghouse was awarded the Edison Medal by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers for his "meritorious achievements in the development of the alternating current system.ORY OF THE ELECTRIC CHAIR