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Electrocution is death or severe injury by electric shock, electric current passing through the body. The word is derived from "electro" and "execution", but it is also used for accidental death.
The term "electrocution" was coined in 1889 in the US just before the first use of the electric chair and originally referred only to electrical execution and not to accidental or suicidal electrical deaths. However, since no English word was available for non-judicial deaths due to electric shock, the word "electrocution" eventually took over as a description of all circumstances of electrical death from the new commercial electricity.
In the Netherlands in 1746 Pieter van Musschenbroek's lab assistant, Andreas Cuneus, received an extreme shock while working with a leyden jar, the first recorded injury from man-made electricity.By the mid-19th century high-voltage electrical systems came into use to power arc lighting for theatrical stage lighting and lighthouses leading to the first recorded accidental death in 1879 when a stage carpenter in Lyon, France touched a 250-volt wire.
The spread of arc light-based street lighting systems (which at the time ran at a voltage above 3,000 volts) after 1880 led to many people dying from coming in contact with these high-voltage lines, a strange new phenomenon which seemed to kill instantaneously without leaving a mark on the victim.This would lead to execution by electricity in the electric chair in the early 1890s as an official method of capital punishment in the U.S. state of New York, thought to be a more humane alternative to hanging. After an 1881 death in Buffalo, New York caused by a high-voltage arc lighting system, a local dentist named Alfred P. Southwick sought to develop this phenomenon into a way to execute condemned criminals with him basing his device on what he knew well, a dental chair.
The next nine years saw a promotion by Southwick, the New York state Gerry commission (which included Southwick) recommending execution by electricity, a June 4, 1888 law making it the state form of execution on January 2, 1889, and a further state committee of doctors and lawyers to finalize the details of the method used.
The adoption of the electric chair became mixed up in the "war of currents" between Thomas Edison's direct current system and industrialist George Westinghouse's alternating current system in 1889 when noted anti-AC activist Harold P. Brown became a consultant to the committee. Brown pushed, with the assistance and sometimes collusion of Edison Electric and Westinghouse's chief AC rival, the Thomson-Houston Electric Company, for the successful adoption of alternating current to power the chair, an attempt to portray AC as a public menace and the "executioners current".
In May 1889 the state of New York sentenced its first criminal, a street merchant named William Kemmler, to be executed in their new form of capital punishment. Tabloid newspapers, trying to describe this new form of electrical execution, started settling on "electrocution," a portmanteau word derived from "electro" and "execution".It was not the only choice of word people were considering. The New York Times editorial column noted words such as "Westinghoused" (after the Westinghouse Electric alternating current equipment that was to be used), "Gerrycide" (after Elbridge Thomas Gerry, who headed the New York death penalty commission that suggested adopting the electric chair), and "Browned" (after anti-AC activist Harold P. Brown). Thomas Edison preferred the words dynamort, ampermort and electromort. The New York Times hated the word electrocution, describing it as being pushed forward by "pretentious ignoramuses".
The United States National Library of Medicine states: "Contact with 20 mA of current can be fatal".
The health hazard of an electric current flowing through the body depends on the amount of current and the length of time for which it flows, not merely on the voltage. However, a high voltage is required to produce a high current through the body. This is due to the relatively high resistance of skin when dry, requiring a high voltage to pass through.The severity of a shock also depends on whether the path of the current includes a vital organ.
Death can occur from any shock that carries enough sustained current to stop the heart. Low currents (70–700 mA) usually trigger fibrillation in the heart, which is reversible via defibrillator but is nearly always fatal without help. Currents as low as 30 mA AC or 300-500 mA DC applied to the body surface can cause fibrillation. Large currents (> 1 A) cause permanent damage via burns and cellular damage.
The voltage necessary to create current of a given level through the body varies widely with the resistance of the skin; wet or sweaty skin or broken skin can allow a larger current to flow. Whether an electric current is fatal is also dependent on the path it takes through the body, which depends in turn on the points at which the current enters and leaves the body. The current path must usually include either the heart or the brain to be fatal.
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Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and futurist who is best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.
Thomas Alva Edison was an American inventor and businessman who has been described as America's greatest inventor. He developed many devices in fields such as electric power generation, mass communication, sound recording, and motion pictures. These inventions, which include the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the long-lasting, practical electric light bulb, have had a widespread impact on the modern industrialized world. He was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of organized science and teamwork to the process of invention, working with many researchers and employees. He established the first industrial research laboratory.
George Westinghouse Jr. was an American entrepreneur and engineer based in Pennsylvania who created the railway air brake and was a pioneer of the electrical industry, gaining his first patent at the age of 19. Westinghouse saw the potential in alternating current as an electricity distribution system in the early 1880s and put all his resources into developing and marketing it, a move that put his business in direct competition with the Edison direct current system. In 1911 Westinghouse received the AIEE's Edison Medal "For meritorious achievement in connection with the development of the alternating current system."
Execution by electrocution, performed using an electric chair, is a method of execution originating in the United States in which the condemned person is strapped to a specially built wooden chair and electrocuted through electrodes fastened on the head and leg. This execution method, conceived in 1881 by a Buffalo, New York dentist named Alfred P. Southwick, was developed throughout the 1880s as a "humane alternative" to hanging, and first used in 1890. This execution method has been used in the United States and for a period of several decades, in the Philippines. While death was originally theorized to result from damage to the brain, it was eventually shown in 1899 that it primarily results from ventricular fibrillation and eventual cardiac arrest.
Electrical injury is a physiological reaction caused by electric current passing through the body. The injury depends on the density of the current, tissue resistance and duration of contact. Very small currents may be imperceptible or produce a light tingling sensation. A shock caused by low and otherwise harmless current could startle an individual and cause injury due to jerking away or falling. Stronger currents may cause some degree of discomfort or pain, while more intense currents may induce involuntary muscle contractions, preventing the person from breaking free of the source of electricity. Still larger currents result in tissue damage and may trigger ventricular fibrillation or cardiac arrest. If death results from an electric shock the cause of death is generally referred to as electrocution.
Harold Pitney Brown was an American electrical engineer and inventor known for his activism in the late 1880s against the use of alternating current for electric lighting in New York City and around the country.
William Francis Kemmler of Buffalo, New York, a peddler and known alcoholic, was convicted of murdering Matilda "Tillie" Ziegler, his common-law wife. He would become the first person in the world to be legally executed using an electric chair. In spite of a successful prior test with a horse, killing him did not go smoothly.
Topsy was a female Asian elephant who was killed by electrocution at Coney Island, New York, in January 1903. Born in Southeast Asia around 1875, Topsy was secretly brought into the United States soon thereafter and added to the herd of performing elephants at the Forepaugh Circus, who fraudulently advertised her as the first elephant born in America. During her 25 years at Forepaugh, Topsy gained a reputation as a "bad" elephant and, after killing a spectator in 1902, was sold to Coney Island's Sea Lion Park. When Sea Lion was leased out at the end of the 1902 season and replaced by Luna Park, Topsy was involved in several well-publicized incidents, attributed to the actions of either her drunken handler or the park's new publicity-hungry owners, Frederic Thompson and Elmer "Skip" Dundy.
The war of the currents, sometimes called battle of the currents, was a series of events surrounding the introduction of competing electric power transmission systems in the late 1880s and early 1890s. It grew out of two lighting systems developed in the late 1870s and early 1880s; arc lamp street lighting running on high-voltage alternating current (AC), and large-scale low-voltage direct current (DC) indoor incandescent lighting being marketed by Thomas Edison's company. In 1886, the Edison system was faced with new competition: an alternating current system developed by George Westinghouse's company that used transformers to step down from a high voltage so AC could be used for indoor lighting. Using high voltage allowed an AC system to transmit power over longer distances from more efficient large central generating stations. As the use of AC spread rapidly, the Edison Electric Light Company claimed in early 1888 that high voltages used in an alternating current system were hazardous, and that the design was inferior to, and infringed on the patents behind, their direct current system.
Arthur Edwin Kennelly, was an Irish-American electrical engineer.
Old Sparky is the nickname of the electric chairs in Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Old Smokey was the nickname of the electric chairs used in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. "Old Sparky" is sometimes used to refer to electric chairs in general, and not one of a specific state.
Power engineering, also called power systems engineering, is a subfield of electrical engineering that deals with the generation, transmission, distribution and utilization of electric power, and the electrical apparatus connected to such systems. Although much of the field is concerned with the problems of three-phase AC power – the standard for large-scale power transmission and distribution across the modern world – a significant fraction of the field is concerned with the conversion between AC and DC power and the development of specialized power systems such as those used in aircraft or for electric railway networks. Power engineering draws the majority of its theoretical base from electrical engineering.
Robert Greene Elliott was the New York State Electrician (i.e., executioner) – and for those neighboring states that used the electric chair, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Massachusetts – during the period 1926–1939.
Alfred P. Southwick (1826–1898), was a steam-boat engineer, dentist and inventor from Buffalo, New York. He is credited with inventing the electric chair as a method of legal execution. He was also a professor at the University of Buffalo school of dental medicine, now known as the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Frederick Peterson was an American neurologist and poet. Peterson was at the forefront of psychoanalysis in the United States, publishing one of the first articles of Freud and Jung's theories of Free Association in 1909.
Electric power transmission, the tools and means of moving electricity far from where it is generated, date back to the late 19th century. They include the movement of electricity in bulk and the delivery of electricity to individual customers ("distribution"). In the beginning, the two terms were used interchangeably.
Macroshock (mak´ro-shok″) is a medical term for the effects of body exposed to electrical current, which can lead to severe injury or death by electrocution. It is used most often in the medical field, but is also commonly used in the fields of electrophysiology and bioengineering. Definitions of the term are inconsistent; there are three most commonly accepted definitions. Depending upon the medical text used, a macroshock is either:
An electrical burn is a burn that results from electricity passing through the body causing rapid injury. Approximately 1,000 deaths per year due to electrical injuries are reported in the United States, with a mortality rate of 3-5%. Electrical burns differ from thermal or chemical burns in that they cause much more subdermal damage. They can exclusively cause surface damage, but more often tissues deeper underneath the skin have been severely damaged. As a result, electrical burns are difficult to accurately diagnose, and many people underestimate the severity of their burn. In extreme cases, electricity can cause shock to the brain, strain to the heart, and injury to other organs.
George Edward Fell was an American surgeon and inventor. He was an early developer of artificial ventilation and also investigated the physiology of electrocution, a line of research that led to Fell creating the final design for the first electric chair.
The Current War is a 2017 American historical drama film inspired by the 19th-century competition between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse over which electric power delivery system would be used in the United States. Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and written by Michael Mitnick, the film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Edison, Michael Shannon as Westinghouse, Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla, and Tom Holland as Samuel Insull, alongside Katherine Waterston, Tuppence Middleton, Matthew Macfadyen and Damien Molony. Martin Scorsese and Steven Zaillian also serve as executive producers.