From the 1830s to the 1930s, elites across the United States increasingly privatized executions and standardized execution protocols. These changes reflected and reinforced a more bureaucratic image of the state as an abstract entity run by professionals operating in rule-bound roles rather than particular actors governing in an unsystematic way. After this period of change, the aesthetics of the execution ceremony had so thoroughly changed that the death penalty had the potential to inspire critiques of the modern state as cold, detached, and callous. It rarely did, however. Changes to state killing threatened to diminish the recognition of human dignity in the nation's execution chambers were countered by melodramatic popular renderings of executions that preserved their sacred, traditional character. Toward the end of this period of change, from 1915 to 1940, playwrights, screenwriters, and journalists maintained executions as events in which the humanity of the state that killed and the condemned who died was constantly foregrounded, even as execution modes and protocols became rationalized and machine-like. Reflecting this ethos, images of condemned men in the nation's collective imagination became disproportionately white.