Publisher description for Executioner's current : Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and the invention of the electric chair / Richard Moran.


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Counter The amazing story of how the electric chair developed not out of the desire for a method of execution more humane than hanging but of an effort by one nineteenth century electric company to discredit the other.

In 1882, Thomas Edison launched “the age of electricity” by lighting up a portion of Manhattan with his direct current (DC) system. Six years later George Westinghouse lit up Buffalo with his less expensive alternating current (AC). They quickly became locked in a battle for market share. Richard Moran shows that Edison, in order to maintain commercial dominance, set out to blacken the image of Westinghouse’s AC by persuading the State of New York to electrocute condemned criminals with AC current. Westinghouse, determined to keep AC from becoming known as the “executioner’s current,” fought to stop the first electrocution, claiming that use of the electric chair constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The legal battle that ensued ended when the Supreme Court refused to rule. The electrocution of William Kemler went forward in New York’s Auburn Pen-
itentiary in August 1890—and was horribly botched.

Moran makes clear how this industry tug-of-war raised many profound and disturbing questions, not only about electrocution but about the technological nature of the search for a humane method of execution. And the fundamental question, he says, remains with us today: Can execution ever be considered humane?

A superbly told tale of industrial and political skullduggery that brings to light a little-known chapter of modern American history.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Electrocution United States History, Edison, Thomas A, (Thomas Alva), 1847-1931, Westinghouse, George, 1846-1914