On This Date in History: In the late 19th century a technological competition was buzzing. Thomas Edison favored the direct current (DC) as a method of transmitting electricity while rival George Westinghouse was in favor of the alternating current (AC). AC was cheaper to transmit but the direct current was thought at the time to be safer. In 1888, a self-taught consultant to all things electrical jumped into the arena of the battle of the titans, aka “the war of currents,” and things really got electrified.
Harold P. Brown was in favor of Edison’s DC method because of its safety. To prove this, he took the Michael Vick approach. He tortured dogs and other animals. On this date in 1888, Brown went to Columbia University to make a demonstration. He exposed a caged dog to 300 volts of DC, which was about the same AC voltage that the animal could withstand. To better make his point, he increased the voltage; first to 400, then 500 and ultimately to 1000 volts. The unfortunate chosen specimen was a large Newfoundland mix. The beast howled in agony but survived the 1000 volt jolt. That was not enough though. Brown followed up by hooking up the poor dog to a 330 volt dose of AC and he fried. The SPCA jumped in and called for a halt before another demonstration could be made. Thus, this date in history was also the first time a dog was saved from public execution. Needless to say, observers not only were not amused, they were downright angry.
Now, Brown didn’t know it but he was actually making a sales pitch because it just so happened that the state of New York had just formed a commission to find an alternative to hanging as a form of capital punishment. The commission had considered electrocution and Brown’s demonstration got them so intrigued that they asked Edison for his opinion. Since Edison was trying to promote electricity, particularly his “safe” DC current, he was against the use of electricity in bringing about a lethal sentence. But, he opined that if they must do it, use Westinghouse’s version of the AC current. A pretty slick way to promote his argument that AC was so dangerous that they used it in execution.
Just a few months later on January 1, 1889 New York became the first state to make electrocution the favored way to bring about death to the condemned. And who do you suppose they hired as their expert consultant. Why, Harold P. Brown, of course! And what did he do to earn his pay? Why, he invented the electric chair. Now, the law did not specify what type of current was to be used. But, Brown used AC with the hope that it would bring so much bad publicity to Westinghouse and his “executioners current.” The first man to be executed by the electric chair was said to have been “Westinghoused.” In spite of Brown using a Westinghouse AC dynamo for his chair, his scheme failed. Because of the lower distribution costs, Westinghouse’s AC current eventually won the electric war. Just in case over the last few months you forgot how capitalism works….the person who can deliver a service or product at a lower cost usually gets the job. Besides, as long as the AC current is insulated and installed properly, it can be transmitted safely as it generally has been from the late 19th century to the present day. There is at least one anti-Thomas Edison faction out there who claims that the only original invention of Thomas Alva Edison was the electric chair. But, that charge is patently false. That claim belongs to Harold P. Brown.
Now, the war of the currents wasn’t over. See, a convicted murderer, William Kemler, was first to make it all the way to the electric chair. None other than George Westinghouse tried to come to his rescue, testifying that electricution through the use of one of his AC dynamos hooked up to a chair was cruel and unsual punishment. Who testified for the opposition? Harold P. Brown and Thomas Alva Edison. They convinced the court everything was just fine and dandy and on August 6, 1890 Kemler became the first person to die in the electric chair. While Kemler probably wasn’t feeling too cheerful, Westinghouse may have had the last laugh.
You see…they messed up the execution and Kemler did not die with the first jolt of electricity. Just like the Newfoundland, Kemler suffered in agony from an initial jolt. His breathing had stopped but not his heart. So, they gave him another jolt. The autopsy showed the Kemler’s organs had carbonized. In other words he burned to death…or was fried, if you like. Again the public was not amused but Brown went back to the drawing board and “improved” his invention. 25 states followed up with adopting the electric chair as the primary form of execution. By the late 20th century, just about all states (if not every one) had gotten rid of the electric chair because several courts had indeed ruled it was cruel and unusual punishment, as Westinghouse had said at the end of the 19th century. Other states just did so because lethal injection was so much easier to sell to the public since it was like putting the old dog “to sleep.” A humane death, unless you are the one who gets the same result you would get whether you’re hanged, shot, fried or injected with drugs. You’re still dead. Edison still didn’t give up. In 1901, he made a film that re-enacted the execution of the assassin of President McKinley. He electrocuted an elephant on Jan 3 1904 and even filmed it (actual footage of elephant execution). Didn’t change a thing except kill the elephant.
Weather Bottom Line: Guess when the main wave came through on Wednesday. By the time it got out of here it had dropped about 2 inches of rain from around 1 am to 9 am. Then there was scattered activity later in the day. I should think from the late night Wednesday data we have a similar situation ahead but reversed. It would appear we have some relatively minor disturbances coming through the flow on Thursday and that should kick off scattered stuff, particularly in the afternoon. I’ve some reports that say Thursday night we get another strong wave that will bring a lot of rain. But, the way the data looks at this time, it looks more to me like we had on Wednesday which is a period of rain and t’storms after midnight on Thursday through sunrise Friday. Either way, it still doesn’t look like any large scale severe events on the way, just more rain and continued mercury levels way below seasonal norms.