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Timeline Victims

A shocking invention

Invented by a dentist and developed with the support of Thomas Edison as an alternative to hanging in the 1880s, the electric chair has killed more than 4,300 people in its 110-year history.

The chair was selected in 1888 by a three-man committee appointed by the New York State Legislature to find the best alternative to hanging. They looked at all kinds of gruesome methods of execution and picked the electric chair. They ruled out lethal injection, heeding the objections of the medical community that deliberately killing the condemned with needles would discourage people from accepting injections for disease prevention.

In 1890 New York State officially outlawed the gallows and endorsed electrocution. At the same time they set up execution chambers in three state prisons, changing the practice by which each county had its own hanging apparatus. Other states followed New York's example, even though the process never worked very well and resulted in many botched executions.

Once used in half the states, it has been replaced with lethal injection in all but a few. This page, and the book from which it was adapted, tells the strange history of this gruesome death device. 

Based on information contained in The Electric Chair: An Unnatural American History by Craig Brandon. This book was used as the basis for the "Death Devices" segment of the Modern Marvels program on the History Channel.