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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

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Teacher Punishes Students with an Electric Chair

25-year-old H.T. Upsahl, a science teacher in Barnesville, Minnesota, had his own ideas of how deal with classroom discipline. As a result, he was arrested on October 21, 1924 and charged with assault. You’re probably thinking that he hit a student, but that isn’t it at all. He was accused of using an electric chair to punish his students.

The complaint was filed by the father of 14-year-old Earl Tenneson, claiming that his son suffered severe burns on his body “through high voltage applied to the chair” back on October 16th.

Upsahl Electric Chair
This is a photograph of the actual "electric chair" used by Mr. Upsahl to punish his students. An artist has added the sketches of the teacher and students. From the November 12, 1924 publication of the Albany Democrat on page 6.

In his defense, 25-year-old Upsahl said that several students had volunteered to try out the chair, all without harm. “We’ve rigged up a common office chair to test a coil of very high frequency for experimental purposes.” He continued, “It is impossible to hurt anyone with high frequency.”

Upsahl warned the boys that if they misbehaved, they would get the chair. Three did, including the younger Tenneson, and all willingly accepted the punishment.

The charges against Upsahl were dropped after the state’s attorney, G.W. Hammett, determined that the boy had not been seriously burned. Barnesworth administrators took no action to dismiss Upsahl.

 

Unfit to Teach

In the past, teachers could be fired some of the craziest reasons such as wearing turtleneck sweaters, pantsuits, not going to church, or smoking a cigarette at home. Check out this story to learn about one of the more unusual ways a teacher could be denied a teaching license.

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