August 6 - 1890 - William Kemmler is the First Person Executed in the Electric Chair
The crime William Kemmler was executed for was not particularly notable, as he killed his common law wife with a hatchet while drunk. The way he was executed was pretty notable, as Kemmler was the very first person to be executed in an electric chair. The electric chair was introduced as a concept in the 1880s after work by a Buffalo dentist named Alfred Southwick. Believing a sharp electric shock from a high voltage line was a quick method of execution, Southwick tested this idea in euthanizing animals. In 1886, Southwick was put on a commission seeking a replacement for hanging in New York State. At that point, capital punishment became intertwined with a rivalry over the nature of electricity. Thomas Edison urged the use of alternating current, the main electrical system of his rival, George Westinghouse. So William Kemmler was slated to be executed by electric chair after being convicted in 1889. He then got a lawyer hired by Thomas Edison for his appeals process, but to little avail. The courts said electrocution was constitutional, and so William Kemmler faced the electric chair. Two different attempts were needed to fully kill Kemmler in a disturbing scene. This was still a victory for Edison against alternating current.