The Electric Chair

Topics: Alternating current, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla Pages: 11 (3114 words) Published: February 21, 2011
The Electric Chair


Kevin M. Hunsberger

HUMN532-Technology, Society, and Culture

DeVry University

Table of Contents

Timeline of the Electric Chair3 - 5
Electric Chair-Technology, Society, and Culture6 - 9
Definitions and Notable People11 -12


A picture of an electric chair strikes fear into the average American and being led into a room with only an electric chair sitting in the middle would make most pee their pants. The reason I use American in place of person is that the rest of the world may not even know what it is, as the electric chair is unique to the United States (except a brief period of use in the Philippines in 1924 with strong American influence). The electric chair is a piece of Americana, it so encapsulates America’s love affair with “being the best” that I am surprised that the Smithsonian Museum does not have an exhibit where Elvis drives up in a muscle car, sits in an electric chair, and is served a piece of apple pie by Mom. Most would say that the electric chair is symbol of the death penalty but I disagree. The death penalty could be symbolized by anything from a pile of rocks to a hypodermic needle depending on the time you lived and your geographical location. The electric chair is a symbol of an emerging nation attempting to use technology to show civility, it is a symbol of capitalistic greed, a symbol of media fear mongering, a symbol of inhumane animal testing, and a symbol of competition. Since its discovery by Alfred P. Southwick and building of the first electric chair by Edison Electric Light Company (later become General Electric) employee Harold P. Brown (commonly thought to be Thomas Edison but historically inaccurate), this invention has been steeped in controversy. When the primary purpose of an invention is to end human life, how could it not be? Timeline of the Electric Chair (Penrose 44)

|Aug 8, 1881 |Intoxicated man electrocuted at Buffalo generating plant. | |1882 |A.P. Southwick suggests electricity to replace hanging. | |Aug. 1884 |Newspaper editorials complain of brutality of hanging. | |Jan. 12, 1885 |NY Gov. David Hill, in state of state address, suggests electricity to replace hanging | |May 13, 1886 |New York commission appointed to study alternatives to hanging | |Jan. 16, 1888 |Commission recommends electrocution to replace hanging | |Apr. 17, 1888 |New York Assembly passes electrocution law | |April 25, 1888 |New York Senate passes electrocution law | |June 4, 1888 |Gov. David B. Hill signs the bill into law.  | |July 30, 1888 |Harold Brown begins tests using electricity to kill animals | |Nov. 15, 1888 |N.Y. Medico-Legal Society endorses use of electricity.  | |Dec. 18, 1888 |Medico-Legal Society completes six days of debate on AC vs. DC. | |Jan. 7, 1889 |Southwick announces plans for an electric "chair." | |Feb. 1889 |Electrical engineers at Chicago convention condemn the use of electricity for the death penalty. | |Mar. 1, 1889 |Hill signs law allocating $10,000 to buy...

References: Nikola Tesla. (2004, July 22). In Wikipedia, The free encyclopedia. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from
George Westinghouse
Alternating Current. (2004, July 22). In Wikipedia, The free encyclopedia. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from
Direct current Current
Electric Chair. (2004, July 22). In Wikipedia, The free encyclopedia. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from
Penrose, James E., "Inventing Electrocution," American Heritage of Invention and Technology,
Vol.9, No.4 (Spring),  1994, p.34-45 
Bleyen, J
LaCombe, Emily. (2007). “Thomas Edison Hates Cats”, Interview with the Director on 14 November 2007. By phone. Interviewed by author [Took notes]
Gabo, Mark, “Women in the Electric Chair” American Crime Library, May 2000
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