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Electric chair

The electric chair was a device commonly used for the execution of human beings during the 20th century in the United States of America.

The first practical electric chair was invented by Harold P. Brown[?]. Brown was an employee of Thomas Edison's hired for the purpose of researching electrocution and for the development of the electric chair. Since Brown worked for Edison, and Edison promoted Brown's work, the development of the electric chair is often erroneously credited to Edison himself. Brown's design was based on Alternating current (AC), which was then just emerging as the rival to Edison's less efficient direct current (DC), which was further along in commercial development.

Apparently, Edison's primary motivation for the development of the electric chair was an attempt to make people associate AC current with death, and thus increase the market for his own DC technology. The design was adopted in 1888 for use in New York's State Prison system.[1] (http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa102497.htm)

The first execution via the electric chair was carried out on William Kemmler[?] in New York's Auburn Prison on August 6, 1890. The first woman to be executed in the electric chair was Martha M. Place[?], killed at Sing Sing[?] on March 20, 1899. Before long, it had become the prevalent method of execution in the USA, and remained so until the mid-1980s despite the increased popularity of the gas chamber beginning in the 1950s.

The condemned prisoner was typically strapped into the chair, with one electrode attached to the head and a second attached to the leg. At least two applications of a current of 2,000 volts or more would be applied for up to 20 seconds. The body of the condemned would heat up to 138 degrees Fahrenheit and the electric current would cause severe damage to internal organs.

In theory, unconsciousness occurs in less than 1/284 of a second. However, there have been reports of setting culprits' heads on fire, of burning transformers and of letting the crying culprit wait in pain on the floor of the execution room while the chair was fixed. Further, regardless of how well the execution was performed, some skin is always burned and it is unpleasant for the guard charged with separating the burned, oozing skin from the seat belts. The culprit loses control of his muscles after the initial jolt of electricity, and may start to defecate and urinate on the floor beneath the chair. This led to a refinement in modern electric chairs: they were padded, and came with automatic car-style seatbelts.

After Texas adopted lethal injection as a method of execution in 1982, the use of the electric chair disappeared rapidly. Today, the only places in the world still using the electric chair are the states of Alabama and Nebraska, and it is being phased out of Alabama. It remains on the books in several other states, but only if the prisoner chooses to be executed in this manner.

See also: Electric shock

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