Harold P. Brown And The Electric Chair

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorHigh School, 12th grade February 2008

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Harold P. Brown had finally done it. He created the invention everyone was dying to try out. With the help of many others, Brown constructed the apparatus, the electric chair, for the first electrocution at Auburn Prison in New York on August 6, 1890. The actual idea of the invention came from a growing rivalry between the two giants of the young electrical utility insustry. The two leaders of the industry at the time were Thomas Edison and Geoege Westinghouse.

In 1886, the New York State Government established a legislative commission to study humane forms of capitol punishment. The number one method of carrying ou the death penalty at the time was hanging, but it was considered too slow and painful a method of execution. At the same period of time the electrical industry rivalry was flaring. Edison, the first person to establish himself in the industry, used DC, direct current, electricity.

Westinghouse developed the newer AC, alternating current, technology.

Edison's DC elestricity depended on thick copper cables and at the time copper prices were beginning to rise. DC also had other disadvantages. It couldn't provide services beyond a few miles of each generator.

Edison reacted to his competition by starting a smear campaign against Westinghouse, claiming AC electricity was unsafe to use. In 1887 1 he held a public demonstration in West Orange, New Jersey, supporting his accusations. He executed a dozen innocent animals by setting up a 1,000 volt Westinghouse AC generator attached to a metal plate. The press desribed the event with a new term "electro-cution" , meaning execution by electricity.

The New York Legislature passed a law establishing electrocution the state's method of execution on June 4, 1888. It was left to a committeee to decide which potential design (AC or DC) of electric cahirs to...