Jan 14, 2022 • 24M

Podcast: Thomas Edison and the Electric Chair

The SHOCKING corporate battle that led to one of America's worst botched executions

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Jon Mael
Time Trip is a podcast dedicated to telling exciting and odd stories from throughout American History. Historian Jon Mael delves into stories both well known and obscure.
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Wednesday, August 6, 1890 was a highly anticipated day in Gilded Age New York. During a time period where people lusted after entertainment and big news, history was to be made. Convicted murderer William Kemmler was scheduled to die that evening. Executions were fairly routine in that era around the United States, but not this one. Kemmler was about to become the first person in American history to be executed by electrocution, and the public was eager to hear more about the “chair of death” that would be used to do the job. The Evening World, one of New York’s prominent newspapers at the time, put out an extra that night which was sparse on details of the execution, but did have a few interesting nuggets of information, one being that, “Despite the secrecy in all of the preparations, a crowd of horror hunters had scented out something near the hour for the execution and gathered outside of the iron gate, gaping through the bars.”

Aug. 6, 1890: Buffalo man is first to be executed by electric chair |  History | buffalonews.com

It’s interesting that the “World” described these curious onlookers as “horror hunters” because they knew it or not, a scene of real horror was playing out inside of the specially appointed room where the electrocution was occurring. A quote from “The Times,” a newspaper out of Michigan, encapsulated the moment.

“Faces grew white, and forms fell back from their chairs.”

While this is all fascinating in and of itself, it becomes downright strange when you learn who invented the electric chair and why. The man was Thomas Edison, and he did as a marketing ploy.

Why did Thomas Edison electrocute an elephant? | HowStuffWorks