Origin of the Chair

An employee of Thomas Edision, Harold Brown patented the electric chair in 1887, and the chair was made a legal method of execution by New York State the following year. On August 6 1890, axe murderer William Kemmler is executed by two shocks, the first jolt failing to deliver lethality.

The electric chair operates by sending 2,000 volts through the customer. Sometimes mutiple shocks, as many as three or four -- called "death by installments" -- are required to kill. Most states have supplemented the chair by offering a choice between the chair and lethal injection; Utah offers a firing squad option as well.