September 24, 2012 in Trivia
A: The first man to die by electric chair was convicted murderer William Kemmler at the Auburn Prison in New York, Aug. 6, 1890. The idea of using electricity as a means of capital punishment came from Harold P. Brown. Using equipment provided by Thomas A. Edison, Brown and Dr. A. E. Kennelly, Edison’s chief electrician, experimented on a large number of animals. The animals could not all be killed by electrocution, some being dispatched by a brick to the head.
According to the official report, it took Kemmler eight minutes to die, his flesh burning where the electrodes made contact.
The New York Times described Kemmler’s execution as “an awful spectacle, far worse than hanging.”
The Electrical Engineer reported “the death of the victim at Auburn was not instantaneous, that respiration was resumed some minutes after the application and cessation of the current, that the current was turned on again, this time despatching the convict…meanwhile evidences of the vital struggle [were] not less revolting than those usually seen upon the gallows.”
Today, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia still use electrocution as a means of capital punishment. The preferred method is lethal injection, however.