Chapter

Envisioning the Lethal Chamber

Scott Christianson

in The Last Gasp

Published by University of California Press

Published in print December 2010 | ISBN: 9780520255623
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520945616 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520255623.003.0002
Envisioning the Lethal Chamber

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The history of the gas chamber is a story of the twentieth century. But an earlier event that would subsequently figure into its evolution occurred one day in 1846, when a French physiologist, Claude Bernard, was in his laboratory studying the properties of carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas suspected of somehow being responsible for many accidental deaths. Bernard and the Swedish chemist and pharmacist Carl Wilhelm Scheele had focused their attention on the effect of gases on the blood—work that later would become central to understanding the lethal power of the gas chamber. As Bernard was conducting his initial experiments with carbon monoxide, others were discovering the properties of carbon dioxide. One significant development in the discussion that would turn into the eugenics movement was set in motion in July 1874, when Richard Louis Dugdale conducted a study of the Jukes clan. Eugenics dovetailed readily with other already established American notions such as manifest destiny, racial segregation, and a reliance on capital punishment.

Keywords: Claude Bernard; gas chamber; eugenics movement; carbon monoxide; Richard Louis Dugdale; Jukes clan; manifest destiny; racial segregation; capital punishment

Chapter.  4521 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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