6 August 1890 – William Kemmler

William Kemmler

William Kemmler

The first person to go to the electric chair in America was William Kemmler. He was found guilty of murder after he butchered his partner. But he didn’t go quietly.

Burying the hatchet

Kemmler had killed his common-law wife Tilly Zeigler after he took a hatchet to her. And he was found guilty of murder in New York in 1890 and sentenced to go to the electric chair.

Electrocution was highly controversial, but despite lobbies to get the penalty changed to a more humane method, his execution took place.

Kemmler took his penalty very stoically. But the irony of his final words ‘Take it easy and do it properly, I’m in no hurry’ hit hard.

Horse trials

Understandably the electrocutors were in dire need of practice, this being their first time. Despite successfully electrocuting a horse as a trial run, they misjudged the current necessary to kill a man.

According to the ‘New York Times’, R C Barnes, who had tuned the electric chair being used, went on record with the statement ‘no electrician who understands the subject and knows what the apparatus is can doubt that it will kill Kemmler’. But he had based his supposition on the fact that they’d use around 15,000 volts.

Shallow fried

In actual fact, a mere 1,000 volts coursed through Kemmler’s body for 17 seconds, on the presumption that that’d kill him. Despite the smell of frying flesh, Kemmler was still breathing at the end of his electrifying session.

A second stint, this time of 2,000 volts ran through Kemmler’s body. The electricity caused his blood vessels to rupture and blood to ooze before his body eventually caught fire. The whole thing took an agonising eight minutes causing one spectator to comment: ‘They would have done better using an axe.’

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3 Responses to “6 August 1890 – William Kemmler”

  1. [...] proven method of execution in the United States for decades. Its first use was on convicted murder William Kemmler, at New York state’s Auburn Prison (below) on August 6, 1890. The first woman to be executed [...]

  2. april Says:

    omg can yall find out his family i am a reporter and would like to do a fantasting intervier thank you you can contact me at 904 444 9637 ask for ms conway

  3. carol coppell Says:

    Why does your country waste so much of tax payers money keeping the condemmed alive for years. at least when the judge in england my country you would be hung within days of receiving your sentence

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