Thought to have been more humane than hanging, death by electric chair was first adopted by New York State in 1899 as a means for death penalty prisoners “to die as pleasantly as possible.” More and more states would follow suit several years later, even as botched electrocutions took place. Perceived as a technological marvel and an advance of civilization, it would be the choice method of capital punishment in the United States for nearly a century. Read more about it!
The information and sample article links below provide access to a sampling of articles from historic newspapers that can be found in the Chronicling America: American Historic Newspapers digital collection (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/). Use the Suggested Search Terms and Dates to explore this topic further in Chronicling America.
Jump to: Sample Articles
- Early 1880s. Dentist Alfred P. Southwick develops the idea of using electricity to carry out the death penalty as early as 1881.
- January 1, 1889. New York is the first to adopt the newest method in capital punishment, death by electric chair.
- August 6, 1890. Murderer William Kemmler is the first to be electrocuted. A second shock was needed after he returned to consciousness following the initial shock.
- 1894. Serial killer Lizzie Halliday is the first woman sentenced to death by electricity. Her sentence was later changed to life in prison after being declared insane.
- March 20, 1899. Martha M. Place is the first woman to be electrocuted after murdering her step-daughter.
- October 29, 1901. Leon Czolgosz, convicted of assassinating President McKinley, is put to death at Auburn Prison.
- October 1, 1903. Three members of the Van Wormer family are electrocuted.
- August 11, 1912. Nine chair victims in one day are scheduled, the most in Sing Sing Prison history.
- July 30, 1915. First police officer to be electrocuted, Charles Becker meets the chair for killing casino owner Herman Rosenthal.
- March 5, 1916. The account of a man who was electrocuted and brought back to life is published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
- August 3, 1919. Published in the New York Sun, Sing Sing guards give their accounts of famous murderers’ last days.
Suggested Search Strategies:
- [Try the following terms in combination, proximity, or as
phrases using Search
Pages in Chronicling America.] electric chair, electrocution, murder, capital punishment, Sing Sing, death chair
- It is important to use a specific date range, add the state the electrocution took place, or the persons electrocuted if looking for articles for a particular event in order to narrow your results.
Sample Articles from Chronicling America:
- "Death in the Dynamo,"
Wichita Eagle (Wichita, KS),
April 17, 1887, Image 10, Page 10, col. 2.
- "A Plan Proposed ,"
The Great Falls Leader (Great Falls, MT),
December 13, 1888, Image 2, Page 2, col. 1.
- "How Kemmler Died,"
Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, CA),
August 7, 1890, Image 1, Page 1, col. 1.
- "Mrs. Halliday Tries Again,"
The Washington Bee (Washington, DC),
September 7, 1895, Image 4, Page 4, col. 4.
- "The Death in the Chair,"
The Princeton Union (Princeton, MN),
June 1, 1899, Image 3, Page 3, col. 4.
- "No Word of Repentance,"
Akron Daily Democrat (Akron, OH),
October 29, 1901, Image 1, Page 1, col. 1.
- "Three Van Wormers Die in Chair in Fifteen Minutes,"
The Evening World (New York, NY),
October 1, 1903, Image 1, Page 1, col. 1.
- "Nine Victims for Death Chair in One Day,"
Bisbee Daily Review (Bisbee, AZ),
August 11, 1912, Image 12, Page 6, col. 3.
- "Electric Chair Gets Men Who Murdered Rosenthal,"
Ottumwa Tri-Weekly Courier (Ottumwa, IA),
July 31, 1915, Image 8, Page 8, col. 4.
- "How It Feels to Die in the Electric Chair,"
Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, VA),
March 5, 1916, Image 48, Part 6, Magazine Section, col. 1.
- "Deans of Death Watch Tell of Sing Sing's Most Tragic Hour,"
The Sun (New York, NY),
August 3, 1919, Image 27, Page 3, col. 1.