Electric chair

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The electric chair is a method of execution in which the condemned is subjected to lethal currents of electricity, stopping the heart. Its use was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.[1]

Most states no longer use the electric chair, in favor of lethal injection, which is determined by some to be more humane. Nebraska is currently the only state that uses it as its sole means of execution, but it is not a state that frequently executes criminals. As of September 2007, Daryl Holton is the last person to have been executed via electrocution in the United States, having died in Tennessee's electric chair on September 12, 2007. Holton had elected this method of execution over lethal injection, a choice that is offered to inmates there on death row for crimes committed prior to 1999.[2]

The introduction of the electric chair led to support by Thomas Edison as a way to discredit his rival, George Westinghouse:[3]

"A bill authorizing the electric chair was stalled in the NY legislature during 1888 due to a dispute between George Westinghouse and Edison over which electrical system was best for city lights, AC or DC. In order to discredit the Westinghouse AC system, Edison in late 1887 set up a 1000 volt generator in his lab to show how AC was so dangerous that it could kill cats and dogs, and even an 830-pound horse in 1888 in a test by Edison agent Harold P. Brown. The NY bill was signed June 4, 1888, and went into effect June 1, 1889, for anyone convicted of murder in 1889. William Kemmler killed his wife with an axe March 29, 1889, admitted his guilt and was found guilty at a quick trial in May. Westinghouse filed a lawsuit to prevent the use of the electric chair, and presented evidence that electricity did not cause a quick and painless death. But Kemmler was executed (painfully) on Aug. 6, 1890, at Auburn prison in New York, with 1600 volts from a Westinghouse AC generator supervised by Harold P. Brown."

Edison also wanted the chair to be called the "Westinghouse chair".[4] This name obviously did not catch on.

Notable people who have been executed via this method include Leon Czolgosz, the assassin of William McKinley, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who spied for the Soviet Union.


  1. In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. 436 (1889).
  2. https://www.cnn.com/2007/US/law/09/11/tenn.execution.ap/index.html
  3. http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/recording/edison.html
  4. https://www.ancestry.com/learn/library/article.aspx?article=11574