6 Aug: The Shocking Debut of the Electric Chair

Axe murderer William Kemler became the first person to be put to death by electric chair at Auburn Prison, New York on 6th August, 1890. It did not go smoothly.

The first charge failed, and the second was abandoned only after two minutes, as smoke could be seen coming from his head. Despite the gruesome spectacle, Ohio soon became the second state to authorise death by electrocution.

In this episode, Rebecca, Olly and Arion reveal the origins of the word ‘electrocution’, examine the underhand business practices of Thomas Edison; and review the most popular ‘final meal’ choices on Death Row…

Content Warning: description of prolonged execution; botched hangings; suicidal thoughts; animal electrocution.

Further Reading:

• ‘Death and Money: The History of the Electric Chair’ (thoughtco, 2019):


• ‘On This Day: The first execution by electric chair’ (HISTORY, 2010): https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-execution-by-electric-chair

• ‘How Does The Electric Chair Work?’ (The Infographics Show, 2018):