Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a married couple convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage in 1951, are put to death in the electric chair. The execution marked the dramatic finale of the most controversial espionage case of the Cold War.
Julius was arrested in July 1950, and Ethel in August of that same year, on the charge of conspiracy to commit espionage. Specifically, they were accused of heading a spy ring that passed top-secret information concerning the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. The Rosenbergs vigorously protested their innocence, but after a brief trial in March 1951 they were convicted. On April 5, 1951, a judge sentenced them to death. The pair was taken to Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York, to await execution. During the next two years, the couple became the subject of both national and international debate. Many people believed that the Rosenbergs were the victims of a surge of hysterical anticommunist feeling in the United States, and protested that the death sentence handed down was cruel and unusual punishment. Most Americans, however, believed that the Rosenbergs had been dealt with justly. President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke for many Americans when he issued a statement declining to invoke executive clemency for the pair. He stated, “I can only say that, by immeasurably increasing the chances of atomic war, the Rosenbergs may have condemned to death tens of millions of innocent people all over the world. The execution of two human beings is a grave matter. But even graver is the thought of the millions of dead whose deaths may be directly attributable to what these spies have done.”
Julius Rosenberg was the first to be executed, at about 8 p.m. on June 19, 1953. Just a few minutes after his body was removed from the chamber containing the electric chair, Ethel Rosenberg was led in and strapped to the chair. She was pronounced dead at 8:16 p.m. Both refused to admit any wrongdoing and proclaimed their innocence right up to the time of their deaths. Two sons, Michael and Robert, survived them.