Currently the electric chair is facing a decline in usage, to the celebrations of human rights activists worldwide. The process uses an electrode system to put convicted criminals to death, usually for statutory penalties that carry capital punishment. Today it is seen as an inhumane form of execution however during the late nineteenth century, it was devised as a better option for convict.
Thomas Edison, generally considered to be the father of electricity developed a chair with electrode attachments that would run electricity through the body. An interesting point is at this stage Edison was wary of using his DC current to electrify criminals, the belief was that people would not want the same electricity in their homes as the electricity used in the chair. Subsequently Edison and inventor of the chair Harold P. Brown used AC current as a form of execution.
They promoted the use of AC current as a form execution by electrocuting many animals at Edison's laboratory in West Orange using various electrode systems that would eventually be used in the electric chair. This proved to the public that AC current was inherently dangerous and as a result meant that the public were more inclined to install DC current into their homes. It was in 1889 that the board of control for prisons opted for Brown's electrode design chair.
The first execution using the electrode based electric chair was in 1899; the criminal it executed was William Kemmlar at the New York Auburn Prison. The human rights activist of today could well call into point the fact that this first execution went anything but smoothly. After Kemmlar was attached to the electrode circuit he was given a seventeen second burst of AC current, this did not have the desired effect however and purely rendered him unconscious. An eyewitness recorded that it took a full eight minutes to kill the criminal stating "they would have been better using an axe", a reporter on the scene also said "it was an awful spectacle, far worse than a hanging"
The concerns with this form of execution have continued until this day and in the modern era, many consider it inhumane. After 1966 the USA stopped using the electrode system chair as a means of execution although the practice was continued in the Philippines. This did not last however, with some courts deeming the punishment fit for a number of crimes. Today it is only a handful of states that allow the convict to choose the electric chair as a method of execution instead of lethal injection. The last person to opt for this form of execution was Daryl Holton on September twelfth, 2007.
The method includes shaving the convict and strapping them to the chair. An electrode plate is placed on the head, with a saline soaked sponge to aid conductivity. Another electrode is attached the leg to create a circuit through the entire body. The method is in no way foolproof however, there are number of cases where the procedure has misfired and the convict has been left in pain after enduring high voltage exposure. Hence the large numbers of protests against this form of prosecution. One case saw a convict left while the electrode machine had to be fixed, a truly shocking situation.
The chair in recent times has been in decline as increasing pressure from civil liberties campaign groups have voiced their concerns. Some states have even deemed the chair as a method of cruel and unusual punishment and hence illegal by US law. In many cases, the electrode system fails to kill instantly and is subsequently an ill efficient form of execution. Today, while arguments are ongoing about the viability of capital punishment the chair faces almost complete redundancy, now lethal injection is the primary form of execution in the United States.
Cultural expert Thomas Pretty looks into the history and arguments that surround the electric chair and the electrode system it uses.