Fact File about the Invention of the Electric Chair: Invention: Electric Chair *** Date of Invention: 1881 *** Name of Inventor: Alfred P. Southwick *** Lifespan of Inventor: 1826 - 1898 *** Nationality of Inventor: American *** Historical Period: Second US Industrial Revolution / Victorian (1850 - 1914) *** Category: Miscellaneous *** Country of Origin: America *** Facts about the Inventor, Alfred P. Southwick, and the invention of the Electric Chair ***
Fact 1: Who invented the Electric Chair? The Electric Chair was invented
by Alfred P. Southwick in 1881 during the Second US Industrial Revolution era of
inventions (1850 - 1914).
Fact 2: Who invented the Electric Chair? In 1879 Thomas Edison (1847 -
1931) had built electric powered generating stations to power
Electricity direct current (DC). The lives of
people had changed significantly due to the ability to harness electricity and
this new source of power was viewed an amazing advancement in technology.
Fact 3: Who invented the Electric Chair? The use of electricity was so
new that safety regulations were not in place to prevent accidents. And a fatal
accident due to electrocution led to the invention of the electric chair.
Fact 4: Who invented the Electric Chair? The fatal accident involved a
drunken elderly man named George Smith who staggered towards a live generator in
Buffalo, New York and touched an exposed terminal which resulted in instant
death. The fatal accident was witnessed by a dentist and former steamboat
engineer named Alfred P. Southwick who believed that the use of electricity
would be a civilised alternative to execution by hanging.
Fact 5: Who invented the Electric Chair? Prior to the invention of the Electric Chair in 1881,
most American executions were by hanging. The administration of the death
penalty was usually undertaken by county sheriffs and in their inexperienced
hands many prisoners died a slow death by strangulation.
Fact 6: Who invented the Electric Chair? Some prisoners even died by
decapitation if the drop was too long. The drop was calculated by the hangman
after considering the prisoner’s weight, age, and physical condition.
Fact 7: Who invented the Electric Chair? Alfred P. Southwick discussed
the idea with Dr. George Fell and they made some preliminary tests of
electrocution on stray cats and dogs. Dr. Fell passed the results of a quick and
painless death by electrocution to his friend Senator Daniel H. McMillan
(1838 - 1902) of Buffalo, New York.
Fact 8: Who invented the Electric Chair? The State Governor of New York
David B Hill (1843 - 1910), horrified by reports of gruesome deaths by hanging
due to miscalculations, had been prompted to look for a less barbaric and more
acceptable form of execution. Senator McMillan passed Alfred P. Southwick's
proposal to Governor David B Hill who took immediate action.
Fact 9: Who invented the Electric Chair? In 1886 David B Hill established
a legislative committee in 1886 to investigate the use of electricity and
electrocution as an alternative means of providing a form of humane capital
punishment. He appointed a three man committee consisting of a Elbridge T.
Gerry, a human rights advocate, Matthew Hale, a lawyer and politician and Alfred
P. Southwick the dentist.
Fact 10: Who invented the Electric Chair? The legislature enacted Chapter
352 of the Laws of 1886, entitled "An act to authorize the appointment of a
commission to investigate and report to the legislature the most humane and
approved method of carrying into effect the sentence of death in capital cases".
Fact 11: Who invented the Electric Chair? Not surprisingly, the
legislative committee recommended in their 1888 report that electrocution and
the Electric Chair should be adopted as a substitute to replace hanging in New
Fact 12: Who invented the Electric Chair? The 1888 report dismissed every
method of execution then in practice in favor of electrocution in the Electric
Chair and stated that "All that would be essential would be a chair, with a head
and a foot-rest, in which the condemned could be seated in a semi-reclining
position; one electrode would be connected with the head-rest, and the other
with the foot-rest".
Fact 13: Who invented the Electric Chair? The recommendations of the
committee were signed into law on June 5, 1888 and the new form of execution
would take effect from January 1, 1889.
Fact 14: Who invented the Electric Chair? The Dentist Alfred P.
Southwick modified the design of the dental chair as a way to restrain the
condemned, which he referred to as the 'electric chair'.
Fact 15: Who invented the Electric Chair? An electrician named Harold
Brown was commissioned to build three electric chairs, one for each of the
prisons, Auburn, Sing Sing and Clinton, in New York state where executions were
to take place.
Fact 16: Who invented the Electric Chair? The inventor of the Electric Chair, Alfred P. Southwick, was born on May 18, 1826 in Ashtabula, Ohio, United States and died on 11 June 1898.
Fact 17: Who invented the Electric Chair? The early years of Alfred P.
Southwick were spent in Ashtabula, Ohio, United States where he was raised by
his family. He received a good education and trained to become a dentist.
Fact 18: Who invented the Electric Chair? Alfred P. Southwick went on to
become a professor at the University of Buffalo school of dental medicine in New
Fact 19: Who invented the Electric Chair? Alfred P. Southwick conceived
his idea for the invention of the Electric Chair in 1881 when he witnessed the
accidental death of George Smith by electrocution.
Fact 20: Who invented the Electric Chair? William Kemmler became the
first person ever executed by electrocution in the Electric Chair, witnessed by
eminent doctors and members of the press and Alfred P. Southwick in New York's
Auburn Prison on August 6, 1890.
Fact 21: Who invented the Electric Chair? Edwin F. Davis (May 28, 1846 –
May 26, 1923), of Steuben County, New York was appointed the first "state
electrician" (executioner) for the State of New York.
Fact 22: Who invented the Electric Chair? The execution of William
Kemmler in the Electric Chair began as planned as he was strapped to the
seat and given 1000 volts and the attending doctor announced him dead. However,
one of the witnesses noticed that Kemmler was still breathing and the orders
were given to give him another burst of electricity. The second jolt caused his
blood vessels to burst and bleed and the smell of burning flesh surrounded the
victim in the Electric Chair.
Fact 23: Who invented the Electric Chair? Despite the botched execution
in the Electric Chair Alfred P. Southwick is reported to have said "There is
the culmination of ten years work and study! We live in a higher civilization
from this day".
Fact 24: Who invented the Electric Chair? Alfred P. Southwick returned to
his work as a dentist and died on 11 June 1898 and was interred at the Forest
Lawn Cemetery, in Buffalo, New York.
Fact 25: Who invented the Electric Chair? Edwin F. Davis the state
executioner finalized many features of the first electric chair in 1890 and
received U.S. Patent No. 587,649, for his "Electrocution-Chair", on August 3,
1897. Edwin F. Davis performed 240 executions between 1890 and 1914. He died on
May 26, 1923 and was buried in Barnard Cemetery in Corning, New York.
Fact 26: Who invented the Electric Chair? The use of the electric chair
has declined as execution by Lethal injection became the most widely used method
of execution in the United States. The last use of the electric chair was on
January 16, 2013, in Virginia, when Robert Gleason, Jr. decided to go to the
electric chair rather than having a lethal injection.