Alfred P. Southwick

Why am I not surprised that a dentist invented the electric chair.

In 1881, Dr. Alfred Southwick witnessed an intoxicated man touch a live electric generator. After the man died quickly, Dr. Southwick concluded that electricity could be used as an alternative to hanging for executions. As Southwick was a dentist who was accustomed to performing procedures on subjects in chairs, his device for electrical execution appeared in the form of an “electric chair.”

Dr. Southwick worked with David B. Hill, the governor of New York State to help pass laws making execution by electricity legal. Southwick also served on the state’s Electrical Death Commission which between 1888 and 1889 recommended that electrocution be made a valid form of Capital Punishment. The first law allowing the use of electrocution went into effect January 1st, 1889.

And an account of the first electrocution using the electric chair from the Crime Library:

Only a few details remained—Kemmler was brought back to Buffalo to be resentenced, as all his previous execution warrants were expired. His execution would now take place between August 3 and August 6, 1890. When the call went out for the official witnesses to report to the prison, crowds began to gather outside. Witnesses were to report on August 5, and among them were Alfred Southwick and George Fell, there to see their idea finally realized. Kemmler was informed that he would be executed at 6:00 a.m., August 6. Though he paced and seemed nervous, he did not lose control. Upon waking on the 6th he dressed hurriedly in a suit which had been chosen for him. He walked resolutely to the death chamber. Asked if he had anything to say, he stated, “Well, gentlemen, I wish everyone good luck in this world. And I think I am going to a good place and the papers have been saying a lot of stuff that isn’t so.” The warden’s hands shook as he fastened the straps that would secure Kemmler to the chair. Kemmler chided him: “My God, warden, can’t you keep cool? Take your time. Don’t be in a hurry.” An electrode, in the form of a metal cap containing a sponge, was attached to his head. Another electrode was attached to his spine, so as to provide a clear path through the body for the current. The electrodes were moistened with a saline solution.