The Electric Chair

An Unnatural American History

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About the Book

This book provides a history of the electric chair and analyzes its features, its development, and the manner of its use. Chapters cover the early conceptual stages as a humane alternative to hanging, and the rivalry between Edison and Westinghouse that was one of the main forces in the chair’s adoption as a mode of execution. Also presented are an account of the terrible first execution and a number of the subsequent gruesome employments of the chair. The text explores the changing attitudes toward the chair as state after state replaced it with lethal injection.

About the Author(s)

The late Craig Brandon was a professor at Keene State College in New Hampshire where he taught writing. He was also the author of numerous articles, a book of popular history, a newspaper journalist for two decades and served as an on-air expert for PBS, NBC, and History Channel television programs.

Bibliographic Details

Craig Brandon
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 285
Bibliographic Info: 29 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2009 [1999]
pISBN: 978-0-7864-4493-9
eISBN: 978-0-7864-5101-2
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface      1

1 The Genie of the Gilded Age      7
2 The Hangman’s Terrible Legacy      25
3 The Death Commission      47
4 The Battle of the Currents      67
5 The People v. William Kemmler      89
6 Westinghouse’s Counterattack      106
7 Cruel and Unusual Punishment      134
8 The Human Experiment      160
9 The Reaction: “A Thrill of Indignation”      181
10 The First Era: 1892–1974      205
11 The Electric Chair Reborn: 1976–1998      244

Notes      259
Bibliography      267
Index      273

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “A history of the first decade of the electric chair. Brandon tells an absorbing story…an excellent, readable work”—Choice
  • “One must admire Brandon’s extensive research…essential”—Library Journal
  • “Highly readable, meticulously documented and absolutely fascinating history…an important contribution to the ongoing debate over capital punishment in this state and this country…recommended”—Bookmarks
  • “[The] most thorough study of the first man to be executed by current in America. Any serious student of law, New York history or politics owes himself the opportunity to read this great book”—New York Law Journal.