Sunday, September 26, 2004

Elecrtic Lamp, Electric Chair, and Camera


What is the relationship between Thomas Edison, electric lamp, electric chair, and camera?

In this early documentary film (MPEG), produced by Thomas Alva Edison in 1901, a cold and distant performance of a murder is carried out by a new scientific invention called 'the electric chair.' The performance is documented by another newly invented scientific device called Kinetoscope camera. The neutral eye of camera tries to prevent the emotions to get involved here. Nothing is supposed to be present but the absolute dominance of scientific precision.
That is how the civilization began its 20th century.

* Chronology
1879- Thomas Alva Edison invents a reliable, long-lasting Electric lamp.
1886-The New York State Government established a legislative commission  to study humane forms of capitol punishment.
1887 - Edison conducts demonstration in West Orange, New Jersey, to show how perfect the "Electric Chair" works. He kills large numbers of cats and dogs by luring the animals onto a metal plate wired to a 1,000 volt AC generator.
1988- Thomas Edison invents his Kinetoscope camera.
1888- Edison uses dogs, horses and cows to demonstrate how AC electricity kills 'swiftly.'
1890 - The first execution by electric chair.

The Photo:
Sing Sing prison, New York, circa 1900. An African American prisoner strapped into the electric chair is observed by white American witnesses and guards before the moment of electrocution.
Source: Hulton Archive, another picture here (from the collection of George Eastman House.)


  1. Science isn't about truth. It's about power. Anyone who says otherwise is naive.

  2. CK, your comment reminded of these words, I think it was Frank Herbert who said them: "Absolute power doesn't corrupt absolutely, it merely attracts the absolutely corrupt".


  3. Actually it was about money. thomasEdison used DC power.Westinghouse was popularizing AC as more efficient, and allowing remote generating facilities. High voltage long distance DC transmissions weree not possiblee until about 20 years ago. Edison tried to popularize electrocution to show how dangerous AC was compared to DC; he wanted electrocution to be called being Westinghoused.