The collision of old and new technology is striking in the story of Sacco and Vanzetti—at least when it comes to cars, coal, and capital punishment.

In 1920 not all law enforcement officials had cars, or even knew how to drive. A criminal with access to an automobile, a so-called bandit on wheels, could  often escape unpursued.

A coal bin could facilitate covert ops. In 1921, when defense committee members wanted to make a secret recording of a bribery attempt in their office, they concealed a secretary with an early-model Dictaphone in a coal bin.

The scariest technological innovation appearing in this story has to be the electric chair.

The electric chair at Sing Sing prison in New York where, in 1905, Robert Elliott executed a prisoner for the first time in his career.

It’s difficult to believe now, but in the late nineteenth century the chair was seen as a humane method of capital punishment, more humane at least than the gallows it replaced.

As a teenager in upstate New York in 1888, Robert Elliott became fascinated with the then-emerging technology of consumer electronics, so fascinated that he decided to become an electrician. He could not have foreseen that he would go on to become a part-time executioner, and would electrocute Sacco, Vanzetti, and three hundred eight-five other people over the course of his electrician’s career.



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