Edison and the Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death

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9781551991153: Edison and the Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death
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Thomas Edison stunned America in 1879 by unveiling a world-changing invention-the lightbulb. A decade later, despite having been an avowed opponent of the death penalty, Edison threw his laboratory resources and reputation behind the creation of a very different sort of device-the electric chair. Deftly exploring this startling chapter in American history, Edison & the Electric Chair delivers both a vivid portrait of a nation on the cusp of modernity and a provocative new examination of Edison himself. Edison championed the electric chair for reasons that remain controversial to this day. In the 1880s, as he feverishly wired Manhattan and other cities with his revolutionary direct-current lines, his bitter rival, George Westinghouse, was undercutting his business with a less expensive alternating-current system. As the battle for electrical dominance raged, a number of accidental electrocutions caused by alternating current caught the public's attention-none more graphic than the 1889 death of Western Union lineman John Feeks, whose corpse dangled for hours in a tangle of wires in lower Manhattan, to the horror of thousands of onlookers. The debate over the safety of alternating current peaked just as New York's legislators were seeking a more humane alternative to the gallows. Called on for his expertise, Edison helped persuade state officials to reject the guillotine and lethal injection in favor of electricity. He conducted dramatic tests on animals to determine the deadliest formula and asserted that "it will be so lightning quick that the criminal can't suffer much." But there was a catch: Edison insisted that his own direct current was perfectly safe-only Westinghouse's alternating current could cause certain death in the electric chair.

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About the Author:

Mark Essig has a doctorate in American History from Cornell University, where he specialised in the history of science, cultural history and American literature. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780750936439: Edison and the Electric Chair

Featured Edition

ISBN 10:  0750936436 ISBN 13:  9780750936439
Publisher: Sutton Pub Ltd, 2003
Hardcover

9780771030789: Edison & the Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death

Walker..., 2004
Hardcover

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ISBN 10: 1551991152 ISBN 13: 9781551991153
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