Executioner's Current by Richard Moran
Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and the Invention of the Electric Chair

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In this amazing story of high stakes competition between two titans, Richard Moran shows how the electric chair developed not out of the desire to be more humane but through an effort by one nineteenth-century electric company to discredit the other.

In 1882, Thomas Edison ushered in the “age of electricity” when he illuminated Manhattan’s Pearl Street with his direct current (DC) system. Six years later, George Westinghouse lit up Buffalo with his less expensive alternating current (AC). The two men quickly became locked in a fierce rivalry, made all the more complicated by a novel new application for their product: the electric chair. When Edison set out to persuade the state of New York to use Westinghouse’s current to execute condemned criminals, Westinghouse fought back in court, attempting to stop the first electrocution and keep AC from becoming the “executioner’s current.” In this meticulously researched account of the ensuing legal battle and the horribly botched first execution, Moran raises disturbing questions not only about electrocution, but about about our society’s tendency to rely on new technologies to answer moral questions.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

About Richard Moran

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Richard Moran is professor of sociology at Mount Holyoke College and the author of Knowing Right from Wrong: The Insanity Defense of Daniel McNaughtan and numerous articles and reviews. He has also served as a commentator for National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” and written op-eds for the Boston Globe, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, and Newsweek.
Published December 18, 2007 by Vintage. 304 pages
Genres: History, Computers & Technology, Science & Math, Political & Social Sciences, Crime, Professional & Technical, Education & Reference. Non-fiction

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Moran spares readers no details of the gruesomely botched first electrocution at Auburn Prison in August 1890, during which convicted murderer William Kemmler was seen by some witnesses to “suffer horribly,” as current from the Westinghouse dynamo (purchased under false pretenses) was shut off tw...

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Edison joined the debate over electrocution in an effort to discredit his rival, George Westinghouse, whose system of alternating current, or AC, was rapidly outpacing Edison's direct current, or DC, in the race to electrify America.

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