The Electric Chair Was Supposed To Be A Quick And Easy Way To Go
Between the exploding heads, the sizzling flesh, the blood spurting out of orifices, and the botched executions that periodically drag out over 15 minutes, the electric chair is the stuff of nightmares. Today, the chair is used in only a handful of U.S. states that are unusually fond of the stench of burning hair. Because criminals should die as horribly as possible, right?
Well, that's the exact opposite intention of the electric chair's inventor. Engineer Alfred Southwick was trying to make a near-instantaneous, painless way to shuffle off undesirables (as opposed to hanging, in which the condemned sometimes had to be revived and re-executed). Before the state of New York took Southwick's suggestion, a board of reformers came up with 34 rejected methods which could replace hanging, ranging from blowing the condemned up with cannons to throwing them off a cliff -- oh, also impalement, fire, boiling, crushing with a giant mortar and pestle. It was like a particularly dark brainstorming session in a Wile E. Coyote writer's room.
To be fair, electricity was kind of a new thing back in Southwick's day, and he didn't quite know what it would do to the human body. You may remember that famed inventor and Cracked Rogues Gallery Chief, Thomas Edison, suggested using alternating current in Southwick's chair... solely to undermine rival George Westinghouse's preferred tech (or just to ensure the confused ghost haunted someone else).
WikipediaTossing a Westinghouse toaster into a bathtub was too subtle a PR prank.
After trying the chair on stray animals ('good intentions' is a relative term all throughout this article), Southwick proved its feasibility on humans ... sort of. The first electric chair guinea pig, William Kemmler, took four minutes to die, prompting incredulous screams from witnesses. His corpse was hot to the touch for hours afterward. Annoyed at the negative press AC technology received, Westinghouse summed up the debacle best: "They could have done a better job with an ax." Good thing we ... kept using the chair anyway for over a century? Hahaha, we suck so much.
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