Abstract: The Electric Chair as Promotional Tool: An Episode in "The Battle of the Currents"

Tim Ziaukus


By the late 1880s, the struggle to reach a national standard by which to deliver electricity to a power-hungry populace came down to the clash between those who supported direct current (DC) and those who advocated alternating current (AC), a struggle often referred to as "the battle of the currents." Specifically, this decade-long clash (circa 1886-1895) became an increasingly personal conflict between two of the era's great inventors and industrial figures, George Westinghouse and Thomas A. Edison. When Edison's forces began to lose to the more efficient Westinghouse method, the great inventor and his surrogates persuaded the New York legislature to use Westinghouse's AC to execute criminals, a macabre propaganda tool, it could be argued, used to ensure a market through the manipulation of government officials. This presentation, thus, examines the electric chair as a promotional tool in "the battle of the currents."