On August 6, 1890, the first execution in an electric chair took place in New York’s Auburn Prison.
Before taking a seat, convicted murderer William Kemmler gave witnesses a ceremonious bow. “I think it is much better to die by electricity than it is by hanging,” he reportedly said.
“It will not give me any pain.”
Turning to Warden Charles Durston and prison electrician Edwin Davis, he added, “Now take your time, and do it right.”
At the signal, Davis pulled the switch, giving the condemned a 17-second shock.
However, when the voltage stopped, witnesses saw Kemmler’s chest expand as he struggled to breathe.
Davis gave a second zap, reportedly lasting several minutes.
Witnesses smelled charred flesh.
A news reporter fainted.
But when the voltage finally stopped, Kemmler was dead, and the execution was pronounced a success.