On This Day in Criminal History: William Kemmler & the Electric Chair

06 Aug

On this day in 1890, convicted murderer William Kemmler became the first person executed by the use of electricity. It didn’t go well. Kemmler required two shocks, the initial was 1000 V, which did not kill him, and the second was 2000 V, which might have set him on fire, according to some witnesses.


It seems that Kemmler was a hard drinker and filled with jealous rage. When he became angry with his wife, arguing that she was planning to leave him for another man, he went to the barn, grabbed an ax, and hacked her to death. He freely admitted what he had done and at his trial was easily convicted and sentenced to death. Arguments followed that electrocution was cruel and inhumane, but in the end the courts decided that the newly devised electric chair could be used.

Kemmler and the Electric Chair

Excerpt from “Far Worse Than Hanging”


Posted by on August 6, 2009 in Interesting Cases, On This Day


2 responses to “On This Day in Criminal History: William Kemmler & the Electric Chair

  1. Lise

    August 6, 2009 at 11:33 am

    An interesting bit of American history….I’ve read some other gruesome stories of the mishaps with the various “Old Sparkys” around the country. Including, as I recall, Ethel Rosenberg.

    What I have always found fascinating is that the electric chair arose out of the feud between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse and they used it as a means to supremacy in the electricity wars.

    Wouldn’t you know? American ingenuity and business know-how and the free market = a new way to kill people.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: