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A guillotine is made of a heavy blade attached to a rack, which moves up and down on a vertical frame. When the executioner releases the rack, it will fall down and the blade will cut the convict's head off.
History[change | change source]
Such machines were not used in France, until the French Revolution of 1789. Instead, aristocrats were executed by beheading and ordinary criminals by hanging. The guillotine became the only legal way to execute someone in France. The guillotine was used because it caused a quick death. Everyone, rich or poor, died the same way, no matter what social class.
The guillotine was commonly used in France (including France's colonies), Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, Germany, and Austria. It was also used in Sweden. Today, all of these countries have abolished (legally stopped) the death penalty. The guillotine is no longer used.
The invention of the guillotine[change | change source]
Joseph Guillotin[change | change source]
The guillotine is named after a French medical doctor, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin. Guillotin was against the death penalty. Realising he could not stop the death penalty, Guillotin instead tried to think of a quicker, less painful way of executing people. On October 10, 1789, he suggested using a machine to do all the executions.
The actual guillotine was designed by another doctor, Antoine Louis. Guillotin did not help much with the design, but his name went down in history. Against Guillotin's wishes, the new machine quickly became known as the Guillotine. Guillotin regretted this until death in 1814.
Design[change | change source]
The design for a quick, painless, decapitation machine was given to Tobias Schmidt, a German engineer. Schmidt built the first guillotine and tested it, on animals at first, but later on dead humans. It was made of two fourteen-foot uprights joined by a crossbar, whose inside edges were grooved and greased with tallow; the weighted blade was either straight, or curved like an axe. The system was started by a rope and pulley, while the whole construction was set up on a platform. The first execution was in 1792.
Later use[change | change source]
The guillotine was still the only legal way to execute a person in France until 1979, when France stopped using the death penalty. In Nazi Germany, the guillotine was used to kill prisoners sentenced for serious crimes like murder, treason, or conspiracy against the government.