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Medical Quackery

     (Copyright 2008)

   In 1796, the first U.S. patent for a medical device of dubious distinction was issued to Dr. Elisha Perkins for his Metallic Tractors, a set of metal prods attached to a Galvanic cell (battery). It was (and in some circles still is) commonly believed that good health is an equilibrium of magnetic and electrical charges.
   Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, magnets and electrical devices have been applied to the ailing body in an effort to "restore" this balance. Even before that time, useless pills, salves, and liquid nostrums were widely hawked by pitchmen who extolled their mythical virtues.
   During the unprincipled years of the late 19th century, colorful compounds--bitters, elixirs, vermifuges, pectorals, alteratives, balms, ambrocations--and imaginative devices were advertised everywhere--magazines, newspapers, mail order catalogs, store fronts, fence posts and barn roofs. The Sears Roebuck catalog was a cornucopia of concoctions and contraptions.
   Hundreds of traveling medicine shows extolled the virtues of worthless preparations and products: There were Dr. Kilmer's Swamp Root, Dr. Pierce's Golden Medical Discovery, Dr. Pierce's Nasal Douche, Kickapoo Indian Sagwa, Sarsaparilla, Dr. Hercules Sanche's Oxydonor, Balm of Gilead, Rattlesnake Oil, Pulvermacher's Electro-Galvanic Chain, Kidney Pads, Anodyne Cordials, magnetic plasters, Pink Pills for Pale People, King of Pain, Lithontriptic, Thayer's Slippery Elm Lozenges, Men's Secret, Swamp Oil, Galvanic Love Powder, The Invalid's Friend and Hope, Princess Lotus Blossom's Vital Sparks "from the Quali Quah pouch of the Kup Ki See Chinese Turtle," Kurakoff, Wilsonia Magnetic Garments, Dr. Fahnstock's Celebrated Vermifuge, and countless more.
   The golden age of quackery took advantage of a receptive, unsophisticated public, awed by a barrage of legitimate discoveries by scientific luminaries like Edison, Bell, Marconi, Curie, Becquerel and Tesla.
   During the first two decades of the twentieth century, a number of radium cures were unleashed on a credulous public, unaware that Madame Curie's fingers had fallen off from radioactive exposure before her death. This particularly-potent patent medicine period ended about 1930 when steel magnate Eben MacBurney Byers, who boasted he had drunk 1400 bottles of radium water in two years, died after his jaw fell off. 
   The vast majority of patent medicines were alcohol-based, many containing opium or morphine as well. Virtually none contained the ingredients they claimed to have, and none could heal. Vital Sparks, promising to revitalize masculine virility, was made by rolling rock candy in powdered aloe. Tiger Fat, a cure-all balm touted to be rendered from Royal Bengal tigers’ backbones, was concocted of Vaseline, camphor, menthol, eucalyptus oil, turpentine, wintergreen oil, and paraffin. Liver pads, promoted as a cure for liver diseases, were nothing more than small fabric swatches with a spot of red pepper and glue; when the body heat melted the glue, the sting of the red pepper was perceived as a healing sensation.
   During this period of medical chicanery, anyone with charisma and a horse could travel from town to town hawking his or her nostrums. The pitchmen had a caste system: While the “high pitch” salesmen (elevated on a stage or wagon) were in town , the “low pitch” salesmen who worked the streets from a "med case" or "keister" set on a portable tripod or table, were expected to fold up.
   The nostrum peddlers commonly represented themselves as Quakers, Orientals or Indians, appearing in hundreds of traveling pageants assembled after the Civil War. The largest medicine shows were assembled by John E. "Doc" Healy and Charles H. "Texas Charlie" Bigelow in 1881; their 20 road shows stopped at towns across rural America to offer hours of entertainment--singing, dancing, trained animals, minstrel shows, movies, chalk talks, skits ("afterpieces")--all for a dime. Smaller road shows were free.
   The Healy and Bigelow program was interrupted four to six times by the pitchman who would extol the virtues of nostrums from the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company; a shill in the audience would buy a dollar bottle, sample it and proclaim himself cured, demanding another bottle. Floor salesmen (usually performers doing double duty) would carry only one or two bottles so that they could frequently holler, "All sold out, Doctor!" to feign frenzied buying, then rush to the stage for more provisions.
   If this successful entertainment-interrupted-by-a-commercial format sounds familiar, it should; it was adopted by radio and television!
   These colorful characters had a slang of their own, using a “ballyhoo” (gimmick) to sell "slum" (liquid medicine), "grease" (salve), "chopped grass" (herbs), and "flea powder" (powdered herbs). They often associated with "pennyweighters" (diamond thieves), "moll buzzers" (purse snatchers) and "clock men" (watch thieves), and employed "shills" (confederates) to "steer" (hustle) and "squeeze" (defraud) their "yokels" (suckers)!
   High noon for the nostrum peddlers came on January 1st, 1907, with the passage into law of the 1906 Federal Pure Food and Drug Act, largely forced by the efforts of one tireless journalist, a reporter named Samuel Hopkins Adams, whose scathing Collier’s Weekly series, "The Great American Fraud," (Oct. 7, 1905-Sept. 22, 1906) exposed 264 fraudulent firms and hucksters.
   After this expose
, the federal government required these purveyors of potions to list the ingredients on their labels. It was not quackdom's finest hour--it was their final hour. The illegitimate empire began to crumble.
   But patent medicines were far from extinct. Even after the passage of the 1906 Act, the FDA gave food adulteration a higher enforcement priority than quack medicine. No jail sentences were imposed and the small fines, typically $10-$50, were a minor business expense. Nostrum peddlers merely changed labels for appearances, then claimed that their concoctions were endorsed by the FDA!
   During the next few decades, however, automobiles, better roads, movie houses, radio and finally television, all provided alternative sources of entertainment to the old-time medicine shows. By the 1950s fewer than 10 road shows were left, and they were gone by the ‘60s when the last bottle of Hadacol was sold.
   Hadacol was first concocted in the 1930s by Louisiana Senator Dudley J. “Coozin Dud” LeBlanc, a charismatic Cajun whose first batch of 140-proof vodka and Ever Clear alcohol with a dash of bitters and hydrochloric acid was mixed in a vat in his barn. By 1945 LeBlanc’s Hadacol Caravan rolled into towns, featuring entertainment by top entertainers, while saturation advertising blanketed several states.
   When the FDA put a stop to the Hadacol heyday, they asked LeBlanc, “What is Hadacol good for?” His reply was succinct: “It’s good for about $5 million a year to me!”
   Few perpetrators really believed in their products; the overwhelming majority were then, as they are now, unconscionable charlatans.
   But let’s not overlook the quack contraptions. Legitimate physicians derided this "gas pipe and wire" therapy, referring to Dr. Hercules Sanche’s “Oxydonor” (1906-1911) made literally from gas pipe and wired to the body.
   Government regulation of medical gadgetry began in earnest in 1938 with the passage of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.  Further restrictions were levied by the Medical Device Amendments of 1976 and the Safe Medical Devices Act of 1990.
   But medical hucksterism continues to this day, with many individuals testifying to the miraculous healing they receive from devices, persons, icons, chemicals, and foods. Actor Steve McQueen believed coffee enemas would cure his cancer; Peter Sellers engaged "psychic surgeons" in the Philippines; both subsequently died of their maladies.
   Americans are being bilked at least $25 billion a year by health scams. Gadgeteers often capitalize on high-tech fears like electromagnetic fields from power lines and cell phones.

Consider these ads from a recent holistic magazine:
A small amulet claims to balance, support, and protect you from “invisible energy drains,” while a diode purports to hold you in electrical balance; naturally, both claim to be used by doctors.
   For $19 plus shipping you can zap yourself for instant pain relief (you can buy the same device -- a barbecue-grill spark igniter -- for under $10 at Wal-Mart)
   For a mere $8 you can purchase a shower-curtain clip that assimilates your thought-sensitive energy field and stimulates your mind, soul, and spirit.
   Send your photograph and $45 for a remote healing treatment--three treatments recommended!  …And on and on.
   As W.C. Fields observed in one of his movies, amending P.T. Barnum's famous quote: “There may be a sucker born every minute, but every ten minutes there's somebody born who'll take advantage of those suckers!”

   So when is the treatment quackery? According to the FDA, if it’s worthless or dangerous. For example, Davis and Kidder's "Magneto Electric Machine" was promoted as a treatment for nervous disorders, but it’s a good bet that the patient (victim?) was a lot more nervous after getting zapped! In any case, these devices didn't live up to their claims.

  • No singular treatment (panacea or nostrum) is effective against a wide range of afflictions.
  • No massager, external suction device, sauna, sweat device, cream, electrical or other gadget can take off weight or fat without  dieting or exercise.
  • Vibrators cannot cure arthritis, rheumatism, nervous disorders, heart conditions, or other serious diseases.
  • Breast enlargers don't work, and can even cause the spreading of cancer cells if present.
  • Home air purifiers, vacuum cleaners, and negative ion generators cannot prevent or treat allergies, colds or other diseases. 
  • "Secret" treatments are fakes.
  • Product endorsements and testimonials are meaningless.
  • Pseudo-medical jargon like "detoxify," "purify," and "energize" are meaningless without measurements.
  • Be wary of promotional hype like "100% guaranteed...amazing breakthrough...miraculous cure...natural and non-toxic."
  • A potent cure will have some side effects; beware of claims that a product has none.
  • Be suspicious of a treatment or product that is available from only one doctor, foundation, clinic, or another country. If it really were a cure for a serious disease, it would be widely reported by the media and used by legitimate health care providers.
  • Claims that a product is backed by scientific studies, but with no references, are suspect. Even if a real list is provided, studies may be fictitious, often out of date, irrelevant, or poorly conducted.
  • Accusations that a treatment or product is being suppressed by the medical profession, drug companies, or the government are groundless. Why would physicians conspire to prevent useful treatments for their families, friends and clients? 

   If you have a question about a medical device, treatment or compound, contact your nearest FDA office. If you wish to report a suspect device or remedy, send complete information to the Office of Compliance, Food and Drug Administration, 2098 Gaither Rd., Rockville, MD 20850.


    Most vintage contrivances fall into one of several categories:

  • Passive devices (bracelets, anklets, collars, belts, rollers, plasters, amulets)
  • Batteries (Galvanic electrodes)
  • Faradic batteries (vibrating-contact spark coils)
  • Induction coils (“horse collars”)
  • Magnetos (hand-cranked electromagnetic generators)
  • Electrostatic generators (Wimshurst machine with leads)
  • Violet ray generators
  • Vacuum-tube radio-frequency devices
  • Magnets
  • Radioactive substances
  • Diagnostic devices
  • ... and miscellaneous other contrivances of questionable therapeutic value that glow, blink, buzz, click, or shock in an attempt to impress the patient. Most commonly surfacing today are the wood-encased Faradic batteries from roughly 1880-1910, and the violet ray devices of the 1920s and 30s (and which are still being manufactured and sold through alternative health care catalogs).
      Quack medical collections are few and far between. There is no organized collecting society, and cooperative informational exchange is limited. To make identification even more difficult, many copycat devices were (and are) on the market and, just as with patent medicines, one manufacturer might private-label devices for a variety of companies, or they may simply be copied.
       The most productive sources of quack medical devices, in descending order, are: eBay, antique radio and amateur radio swap meets, antique shops, flea markets, yard sales, estate sales, and auctions. Publications from antique radio societies often carry classified ads from collectors.

     Electrode: The electrical attachment to the patient: a glass tube, metal prod, cylinder, plate, or soaked cotton.

     Faradic battery/medical battery: An electrotherapy (shock) device utilizing a battery-powered induction coil.

     Faradic current: The pulsating direct current produced by an induction coil.

     Galvanic current: The direct current produced by a cell or battery.

     Induction coil: A high-voltage-output transformer utilizing a spark-contact interrupter in its primary winding to produce    pulsating (Faradic) current from a battery.

    As with other antiques, value is what the traffic will bear, and market prices vary enormously with condition, completeness, rarity, demand, and the seller's knowledge (The flea market axiom: If you don't know what it is, it's $25; if it’s big, it’s $100!).
    The emergence of eBay and other on-line selling services as well as televised antique and auction programs have had a profound impact on the resale market. Violet ray devices which were formerly $25 are now bringing $100 or more, while more readily available Faradic batteries sell in the $50 range.
       Faradic batteries were in wide distribution from the 1880s to 1920s; they consisted of one or two carbon/zinc “A” size dry cells which powered a spark coil. The low-voltage direct current from the cells was transformed into pulsating DC by a spark-gap interrupter ("buzzer") at the end of the large, adjustable coil.
       Virtually all of these devices were in oak boxes with hinged lids; two wires going to tubular metal electrodes were applied to the patient (victim?) who would feel anywhere from a mild shock to a whopper depending upon how the interrupter (spark gap) was set, how the coil was adjusted by the practitioner, and how sweaty the patient was by the time he got the treatment!
       Dimensions listed below are width, height, and depth in inches. Years of manufacture are approximate.


    Accupath 1000 (1970s, Dr. Rheinhold Voll)

    Actina (1894, William C. Wilson)  3" cylindrical metal inhaler/applicator, flared end for eye, swaged end for nose.

    Addison's Galvanic Electric Belt (1915, $2.50, Electric Appliance Company) For rheumatism, liver, kidneys, paralysis, poor  circulation, stomach, lame back and all nervous diseases.

    Adrenoray (1930; William J.A. Bailey) Belt with five discs allegedly containing radium for adrenal therapy.

    Advance Electric shock machine.

    Advanced Bio-Photon Integrator (1990s, $1550) Automated radionics instrument tunes in on the subject’s energetic mineral base by  analyzing his aura every 40 seconds and creates homeopathic/isopathic remedies.    

    Aerobic Eye exerciser.

    Aloe Lightning Electro-Therapeutic Outfit  Black leatherette briefcase, white marble top panel, 0-1000 milliampere meter,  adjustable spark gap, two rotary switches (4 and 20 position) with exposed stud contacts, approximately a dozen glass and  metal electrodes and applicators mounted in hinged lid.

    Amalgameter  (1991) Detected by electrical current the most offensive silver fillings for removal.

    Anapathic automatic scan-treat  (T. Galen Hieronymus, Advanced Sciences Research And Development Corp.)  Diagnoses and  treats symptoms through a vial of water.


    Apollo Medical apparatus.      

    Arden Copper bracelet.

    Artificial Ear Drum  Tiny, insertable ear trumpet.    

    Atomotrone Cancer cure device (Dr. William M. Estep); wooden cabinet containing old radio set with colored tubes.

    Auto Sweep Resonator III Combination Hieronymus, radionics, TENS device which automatically kills insect infestations in a field  which has its photograph placed into it; also relaxes muscles and transmits subconscious messages to others. 

    Babylon's Zone Therapy Roller (1950s)

    Baldness Cap (French, 1940s) Pulsating vacuum stimulates the scalp to encourage hair growth.

    Battle Creek Vibratory Chair (Dr, Kellogg, 1900) Violent vibration stimulates intestinal peristalsis, cures headaches and back pain,  and increases “healthy” oxygen supply to the body.

    Bioray (1930; William J.A. Bailey) Small container ostensibly radiating therapeutic gamma rays.

    Beautypower device; white plastic case, gold grill, knob.               

    Bleeding cups (glass, 1830-1850)

    Body Battery                            

    Boyd’s Galvanic Battery  (1878)  A round amulet worn to produce a constant, gentle flow of invigorating electricity into the body.     

    Breast exerciser/enlarger (1976)  Foot pump connected by hoses to two suction cups (Ouch!).

    Bunnel medical battery (wood case)     

    Calbro Magnowave Radionic machine  Black panel, two meters, 52 rheostats, 34 toggle switches, gold legends, oak roll-top  secretary desk, 56x24x52.    

    Cambridge Electrocardiograph machine (1930)

    Cardiolectameter Model H  Wood console diagnostic and therapeutic device with switches, rheostat, meters and a speaker which  emitted sound representing circulatory pressure.   

    Cartilage contraption (1905-1915, Charles S. Clark, Thomas Adkin) Cast iron bar, pulleys, ropes, straps, stirrups to increase height.

    Challenge Ray (1927, $7.95, Sears, Roebuck) Violet ray device in black leatherette carrying case, 3 glass electrodes.

    Chiropra Therapeutic Comb (1950s; Dr. Theodore Schwartz, Mannheim Germany)

    Coetherator  (1926)  Rheostat and sliding light bulb passed behind lettered apertures which could cure all diseases, regrow amputated  fingers, remove iron from a well, provide financial treatments, and kill all insects in a farmer’s field up to 70 miles away.

    Color-Therm (1940s) Wood cabinet or black patent leather carrying case containing intertwined neon tubes for feet to touch, and a  cord to a hand-held, U-shaped, neon wand to massage the body; retarded aging, cured any disease.

    Comp-Sol-Lite Ordinary incandescent light bulb which was said to emit enough UV radiation to cure a variety of afflictions.

    Coolpate (1902)  Metal band wrapped across the forehead to alleviate headaches.

    Copper ("electric") bracelet (1950s-90s) Primarily hawked as arthritis cure.

    Cosmos Bag (1928) Bag of crushed uranium ore; radiation would relieve arthritis, sinusitis, asthma and other maladies.

    Crosley Xervac (Crosley Radio Corp.) Hair growing machine consisting of a skull cap, suction hose and a white console with three  knobs and a gauge.

    Curay Lamp  (See Comp-Sol-Lite)

    D'Arsonval's Thermo-Faradic machine (1909) Oak paneled cabinet, brass ball electrodes on top, 30x23x41.

    De Ans Therapeutic Mittens Two soft cloth bags to warm the hands electrically.   

    Davis and Kidder Magneto Electric Machine (1854), imprinted “W.H. Burnap Street, New York.”                       

    DeAns Infra Red Therapeutic Mittens  Electrically-heated mittens powered by AC cord; “treatment for arthritis, rheumatism and  nervous  conditions.”

    Depolaray (1920s-1940s; Dr. Albert Abrams' Electronic Medical Foundation) Electromagnetic device.

    Dermatron (1970s, Dr. Rheinhold Voll)

    Diapulse (1970)  Diathermy device.

    Dr. Coutant's Nasal Douche (1910-12, George E. Coutant) Nickel-plated 3x1/2 tube, one ended swaged, other rounded; alternatively  a glass tube with side bowl, closed at one end, other end open and offset; for treatment of deafness.

    Dr. Dye's Voltaic Belt (1890s, Pulvermacher) "Electric" belt.

    Dr. Jerome Kidder's Celebrated Electro Magnetic machine  

    Dr. John Wilson Gibbs  Electricura Shoes to cure rheumatism; “a positive battery in the heel of one and a negative battery in the  other.”   

    Dr. Owens' Body Battery Electro-galvanic belt, $6 in+ 1887, to cure nervous disorders and many diseases.

    Dr. Scott's Electric Corset and Belt   $1-$3 in 1905.

    Dr. Scott's Electric Hair Brush (1905) Three sizes; internal magneto pumped by thumb pressure.

    Dr. Scott’s Electric Toothbrush  (1880s)  charged with electromagnetic current to promote healthy teeth and gums.

    Drown Radio Therapy, Drown Radio Vision, Homo-Vibra-Ray (1920s-40s; Dr. Ruth B. Drown, chiropractor); diagnostic  instruments; black-textured box with 9 knobs and  meter on top Bakelite panel, two internal dissimilar-metal blocks wired to  two external metal-plate electrodes; drop of blood on a blotter, tune in on distant patient’s radio frequency to broadcast  treatment.

    Dynamizer  Dr. Abrams’s short, cylindrical, diagnostic apparatus to test blood samples for “radioactivity.” See “Oscilloclast.”


    Elco (Lindstrom & Co.) Combination Health Generator No. 12 (1927) Violet ray generator, 6 glass electrodes, ozone mask,  vibrator massager, miscellaneous probes and accessories, black-leatherette case.

    Elco (Lindstrom & CO.) Electric Health Generator No. 9 (1926) Violet ray generator, 2 glass electrodes, vibrator massager,  miscellaneous probes and accessories, black leatherette case.         

    Elco (Lindstrom & Co.) Electric Health Generator No. 38 (1927) High frequency violet ray apparatus, 5 glass and 1 metal electrode,  ozone mask, black leatherette case, 11.5x8.75x5.5.   

    Elco (Lindstrom & Co.) violet ray induction coil only, black case, 10x6x3.    

    Electreat apparatus (1928-1938) Cylinder with roller on end, containing two D cells; accessories included sponge, scalp brush, and  palm-massage pad; intended for physical therapy, pain relief, lithesome busts, and hair growth. 

    Electric Battery Plasters  Apply to region of back and kidney pain.     

    Electric Body Battery/Mioxrl (1891-1915, Electric Appliance Company) Belt of red and yellow cotton strips containing copper and  zinc plates separated by blotting paper  (to be dipped in sulfuric acid or vinegar); for strengthening sexual organs (male and  female versions) as well as curing many diseases.

    Electric belt ("Big Foot Bill" Wallace) Covered in purple satin, zinc studs.

    Electric insoles (Sears)  For poor circulation and cold feet.

    Electric ring (Sears)  Polished grey metal ($.50) or gold-plated grey metal ($.95) for rheumatism.

    Electric slippers

    Electric truss

    Electricity is Life (1920s-30s) Penny-operated arcade shock machine; 0-500 gauge, two metal knobs for gripping.

    Electricura Shoes (see Dr. John Wilson Gibbs)

    Electrification machine (1875) Magneto, electrodes, wood box.

    Electro-Chemical Ring (1892-1915, W.G. Brownson) Iron finger ring, inner stamp “E-C”; cures diseases caused by acid in the blood.

    Electrodiagnostic devices (1950s, Dr. Rheinhold Voll) Galvanometer with one brass and one gauze-covered probe.

    Electro Ion-A-Meter, Model A Black panel with 3 jacks, large rheostat dial, earphones and electrodes, black leatherette case with  corner reinforcers, accessories in hinged lid, 11.5x7x8.25; diagnostic instrument listening for AC hum as body is rubbed  with probes.      

    Electro-Magnetic Chain (Dr. Raphael)

    Electro-Magnetic Hair Brush and Comb (1900, Actina Appliance Co.)

    Electro medical machine Oak box, Sears Roebuck catalog item.     

    Electro-Metabograph 3 black panels, loaded with dials, oak cabinet.

    Electronic Magnetic Model G  Suitcase unit containing a panel with switches, dials, pushbuttons, electrode terminals and lights;  internal RF oscillator and amplifier for detecting and emitting radio waves.          


    Electropoise (1893, Dr. Hercules Sanche) 5 ounce, hollow, sealed, metal cylinder, attached to stranded, uninsulated wire, connected to  small disc on wrist/ankle band, 3.5.

    Electropsychometer; "E-Meter" (1950s-1960s; L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics, Church of Scientology).

    Electro Sine Galvanic Model 200  (L.L. Roby Manufacturing Corp. Tiffin, OH) suitcase contains a switch, pilot lights, 0-25 DC mA  meter, and several knobs to adjust current type, intensity and frequency; outlets for plugging in foot switch, electrodes, cloth  pads and metal strips; used to produce surged, pulsating or continuous faradic pulses as well as galvanic current.

    Energex Violet Ray (1927, $12.75, Sears, Roebuck) Black leatherette case, 5 glass electrodes.

    Faradic Battery (various) Induction coil apparatus in oak wood box, hinged lid, cylindrical metal electrodes, nickel-plated grounding  plate mounted inside lid.  

    Fedelerizer Food-enhancing blood vitalizer consisting of a lidded glass jar containing two electrodes, hooked to an AC cord.

    Fisher Type FO machine Mahogany box, 26x26x51 porcelain front, glass lift top, attachments.

    Fitness Machine Model EE-400/ Ultratonic (1990s)   briefcase electric muscle stimulator (EMS) induces electric currents into the  body to produce involuntary contractions.                                        

    Fitzgerald violet ray generator (1925) Black leatherette case, 2 glass electrodes, 10-1/2x4-1/2x7-1/4.     

    Frank S. Betz faradic battery Black leatherette carrying case containing induction coil on green panel; two cylindrical metal  electrodes connected by red and green wires to pin jacks.   

    Galvanic device (no name) Cherry box with hinged lid houses battery and electrodes, rheostat on lid, Bakelite binding posts on  side, 7x3x1.75.          

    Galvanio Rejuvenating machine (1872) Cherry wood box.     

    Gem Battery (1906, Sears, Roebuck) Induction coil in walnut box; lower compartment holds nickel-plated dry-cell cylinder; upper  compartment holds 2 metal electrodes, 2 wood handles, 1 sponge electrode, 2 cords, 1 nickel-plated foot plate.

    G-H-R Electric Thermitis Dilator (1918) Foot-long, phallus-shaped, rectal probe connected by twisted-pair cord to light bulb  assembly and AC plug; inserted into the rectum to “excite the abdominal brain” by warming the prostate gland to restore  sexual energy and cure other diseases. 

    Glasseptic nebulizer      

    Hair growing helmet (1940s) Aluminum bowl containing Christmas tree bulb, electric cord.

    Halliwell-Shelton Violet Ray 3 glass electrodes, black leatherette case, 13x8.75x3.25. 

    Harmonizer (1966)  AM radio in a guitar case that moves a meter and sends audio to “treatment” connectors    

    Health-Aire Ion generator, white plastic, grilled front .

    Heidelberg Electric Belt  (Sears, 1880s) Leather, canvas and satin; multiple cells and electrodes within; for youthful vigor and  multiple cures.     

    Hemodimagnometer (1940s)  Diagnostic machine wired to a piece of metal pressed against the forehead of a healthy person; insert  drop of blood or an autograph of the patient and tap the healthy person’s abdomen to find a vibratory frequency for cure. 

    Hollywood Vita-Rol

    Homo-Vibra Ray (see: Drown)

    Ideal Sight Restorer (1880s) U-shaped device with cups on each end to press against eyes.

    Infra-Ray Mittens  (See De Ans)

    Interro (1980s, Dr. F. Fuller Royal) Generates whining noise, single probe, scale on computer screen. 

    I-ON-A-CO (Wilshire Ring, 1925 by Gaylord Wilshire) increases cellular oxidation by magnetizing the iron in the blood; 18"  diameter insulated-wire ring placed around the waist, with AC  plug; demonstrates power by inductively illuminating a  flashlight bulb connected to a small coil.

    Isotron Figuretone set

    J.B.L. (“Joy-Beauty-Life”) Cascade (1910-1917, Charles A. Tyrell) Rubber water bottle with side-mounted rectal enema syringe.

    Lancet (bleeding knives, 1830-1850).

    Life Awakener Awl for penetrating arthritic areas.

    Macaura Pulsator (1910-1915, “Pulsocon”, “Cirkulon”; Gerald Macaura) Hand-cranked, stomping vibrator for curing pain and  improving blood circulation.

    MacGregor Rejuvenator (1920s) Bed with cylindrical shroud paneled with dials and gauges; generated radio waves and ultraviolet  radiation to reverse the aging process.

    Magic Flesh Builder/Cupper (Sears, $.50)  Squeeze-bulb with suction cup; to remove wrinkles and smooth bust, neck, arms, cheeks.

    Magnetic-Ray Belt "Horse Collar."       

    Magnetic shield (Dr. C.J. Thacher)

    Magneto box (1900) Wooden box, hinged top lid, front crank, internal magneto with gear train connected by two wires to hand-held  electrodes.

    Magneto-conservative Insoles (1900, Wilson/Actina Appliance)  Magnets to keep the feet warm. 

    Magneto-Electric machine (1854) Burled walnut box, brass works.      

    Marvel No. A1 violet ray generator (1924) Violet ray device, basic; one general-purpose glass electrode.

    Marvel, Super No. 3  violet ray generator (1926) 3 glass electrodes, black leatherette case, 13.25x9x3.5.

    Marvel Special No. 5/5B  Violet ray generator, 5 electrodes.

    Marvel Ozone No. 7  Violet ray generator, 5 electrodes, bottle of inhalant.    

    Master violet ray generator (leather-bound carrying case, 12x9).   

    Master Violet Ray No. 11 3 glass electrodes, wand and induction coil separate, black leatherette case, 13.5x9.25x2.75. 

    Mechanical Heart electro-treatment device (1928).                       

    Medicine Man homeopathic shock device (1880) Oak wood box.        

    Medical Battery (1927, $12.45, Sears, Roebuck) Induction coil in oak box, 2 dry cells, pole-reversing switch, nickel-plated hardware,  slide-adjustable vibrator with scale, hair brush, nickel-plated foot plate, 2 hand electrodes, 2 wooden handles, 2 sponge  electrodes, 2 cords, 1 metallic scourge.

    Medical Battery (1906, Sears, Roebuck) Induction coil in oak box, 3 dry cells, pole-reversing switch, nickel-plated hardware, 3-1/4"  carbon rheostat, hair brush, nickel-plated foot plate, 2 hand electrodes, 2 wood handles, 2 sponge electrodes, 2 cords, 1  metallic scourge.

    Medical Battery (1927, Sears, Roebuck) 3 models: triple, double and single dry cell; induction coil device in black leatherette case,

     two cords, two wooden handles, two metal handles, two sponge electrodes, one nickel-plated foot plate.

    Memory Band  (1912, $17.50 per dozen) Japanese copy of the 1902 Coolpate; rubber-banded, flexible head strap of alloy metal squares;  measures 6-3/8x2.3/4; cures fatigue, nasal bleeding, apoplexy, neuralgia, toothache, and other illnesses due to blood  stagnation.

    Micro-Dynameter diagnostic machine (1950s, F.C. Ellis) Desktop, textured, die-cast cabinet, six knobs and toggle switch operate  high-sensitivity galvanometer with electrodes. 

    Morley Invisible Ear-Phone (1911-1913) Artificial eardrum consisting of oiled silk disk, waxed silk thread and insertion tube

    Morse Electric Belt Claimed to cure all diseases..

    Nap-A-Night device Russian sleep machine in black leatherette case, hinged top, white panel with control and D cell holder, electric  cord to goggles and  neck piece.

    Natural Eye Normalizer (1930s, $30) to restore 20/20 vision; small, nickel-plated rectangular box with two protruding, rubber- cupped cylinders to apply twirling pressure to the eyeballs; side knob adjusts spacing.

    NatureTronics Model D Rife generator  (2006, $2000)  generates hundreds of discrete radio frequencies to destroy viruses, bacteria  and fungi causing nearly every disease; small portable instrument with LED readouts, numeric keypad, pulse and intensity  controls. 

    Nemectron (1950s) Body toner; chrome-plated pedestal with hemispherical base and spherical top; two ear rings for regenerating  brain cells.


    Orgone Energy Accumulator (1938-1950; Dr. Wilhelm Reich) Zinc-lined wood enclosure containing a chair and a funnel-shaped  breathing mask.

    Oscilloclast machine (1916-1920s, Dr. Albert Abrams, Electronic Medical Foundation; by 1923, 44 manufacturers were making  similar models) Desk console with drop-down front panel; approximately 100 (unconnected) switches and knobs for diagnosis  and treatment. Portable version consists of wood box with side handles, electric wires attached to a cold-water pipe, wood  rotary switchbox ("rheostatic dynamizer"), short cylindrical "Dynamizer" ("condenser") for receiving dried blood, urine,  saliva, or a signature; included a disc on a small handle ("brow electrode") to place against the forehead. 


    Otto Fleming faradic battery (1898) Oak box, hinged lid, nickel-plated hardware, induction coil, 2 metal electrodes.

    Overbeck's Rejuvenator

    Oxydonor (1895-1916, Dr. Hercules Sanche) Short metal cylinder containing carbon rod placed in water, attached to stranded,  uninsulated wire connected to a small disc. Attachments included the Animator, Novora, Binora, and Vocorbis.

    Oxybon (Competitive imitator of Oxydonor) (1910-1916, Dr. Filloon, Ben A. Hallgren) Metal tube containing sulfur, ash and carbon,  end caps connected to stranded, uninsulated  wires attach to disks on wrist/ankle garters.

    Oxygenator (Competitive imitator of Oxydonor; named changed later to Oxypathor).

    Oxygenor-King (Competitive imitator of Oxydonor) (1910-1915, $25, Woodford M. Davis) Nickel-plated copper tube filled with  mixture of sulfur, sand and charcoal, end caps connected to stranded, bare wires attached to disks on wrist/ankle garters.

    Oxypathor (1910-1915, $25-$35, Elvard L. Moses) (Competitive imitator of Oxydonor) Nickel-plated copper tube filled with a black  powder,  capped at both ends, connected by stranded,  bare wire to metal disks on two elastic wrist/ankle garters.

    Oxtytonor Competitive imitator of Oxydonor.

    Ozone Generator Set (1927, $18.75, Sears, Roebuck) Violet ray device in black leatherette case, several glass electrodes, inhaler,  inhalant.

    Pathoclast machine (18.75x14.5x8; 1920s; Dr Arles Pottle, Dayton, OH; distributed by Pathometric Laboratories, Chicago, IL)

     Desk console diagnostic and therapeutic device with a variety of meters, knobs, dials, switches, lights and specimen wells; to  measure the electrical vibrations from the body and reradiate similar radiations from the electrodes to the body.

    Pathosine  Wood and metal console therapeutic device with dials, switches, lights and plug outlets for electrodes and pads; intended to  measure and perform therapy to eyes and muscles.                   

    Perkins' Tractors (1795, Dr. Elisha Perkins) Two three-inch, pointed, brass and iron rods used to massage.

    Phrenology Machine (1905)  Metal head gear with adjustable prods to measure bumps on the head.

    Pol-izer (1957) Glass tube containing mercury to "pol-ize" oxygen water for purification and to sweeten bad wine.

    Portable Double Cell Faradic Battery Induction coil in oak wood box with hinged lid containing accessory compartment,  8.75x6.25x8.25. 

    Portable Faradic Battery Induction coil apparatus in oak wood box, hinged lid, nickel-plated hardware, 8.75x6.25x8. 

    Portable Faradic Battery (C.P. Pilling and Son) Induction coil apparatus in cherry wood box, angled front hinged lid, nickel-plated  hardware, mirror-finish grounding electrode mounted inside front lid, 5.5x5.5x9.75.   

    Princess Mahogany carrying case with hinged lid and double side doors, various accessories, battery operated.

    Princess Bust Developer  (Sears, $1.50) )  Nickel and aluminum syringe pump with either 3-1/2” or 5” cup.

    Professor Wilson’s Magneto-Conservative Insoles  (See Magneto-Conservative Insoles).

    Prostate Gland Warmer  (See G-H-R)

    Psycograph (1931-1935, Henry Lavery) Metal phrenology helmet for measuring character traits; 32 adjustable feelers  connected by cable to recording box/printer;  includes nickel-plated stand and padded seat.

    Pulvermacher's Electro-Galvanic Chain (1890s)

    Radioendocrinator (1930; American Endocrine Laboratories, William J.A. Bailey, Ward Leathers) Decorative box contains 2x3x0.4  metal-box and radioactive substance to achieve metabolic balance of the endocrine gland. 


    Radionics machine (1921, L. Ron Hubbard) Box containing tiny colored lights for diagnosis.

    Radioscope (1920s-1930s; Dr. Albert Abrams "Radionics"); oak cabinet with dials and glowing lights to diagnose disease by scanning  drops of blood with radio waves. 

    Radithor  (1920s)  Half-ounce bottles of radioactive liquid to energize depleted organs.

    Rator-Lac  (1920s)  Home kit to make radioactive tonic; fill bottle with water and set it on the radioactive disc.

    RDK short wave apparatus (1929) Bakelite panel, wood box with hinged lid, glass probe, two triode vacuum tubes .  

    Rectal dilator  Probe for inserting into rectum to relieve hemorrhoids.

    Relax-A-Cisor Shock machine to stimulate muscles (1968-70) 4 dials, vinyl carrying case containing pads and wires. 

    RenuLife Generator model 2-120 (1919) Violet ray apparatus, 2 glass electrodes, ivory-wood panel, black leatherette case, 11.5x9x4. 

    RenuLife Violet Ray Generator, Model K  5 glass electrodes, cherry control panel, black leatherette carrying case.     

    RenuLife Violet Ray Generator, Model R (1922) 11 glass electrodes, ozone generator, cherry control panel, black leatherette case with nickel-plated hardware, lock latch and corner protectors, 15x10.5x5.5.      

    Res-Q-Air (1960s) Plastic bellows emergency respirator with mouthpiece.   

    Richardson’s Magneto-Galvanic Battery (1880s)  Round disk with magnets worn as an amulet to cure wide variety of diseases.

    Rogers Consolidated Medical Apparatus Induction coil in cherry wood box, hinged lid contains accessories; 8.5x5x5.25.   

    Sanden electric belt (1905-1914, A.T. Sanden).

    Sauna suits (1970s-80s) Rubber-like body wraps promoted to reduce weight.

    Seymour shock machine Oak wood box with nickel-plated hardware.    

    Shelton White Cross and White Cross violet ray generator. 

    Shoe-fitting fluoroscope (1940s-60s) Wood-cabinet Xray console with upper viewing ports for customer and salesman to see foot  bones in new shoes.

    Short Wave Oscillotron

    Slendro Ring Roller  (MacLevy, 1957, $895) Motor-driven massager in six-foot framework weighing 650 pounds; guarantees to roll  off 1-3 inches in ten applications.

    Sonus Film-O-Sonic Machine Plays "silent" recorded music for therapeutic effect.

    Spectro-Chrome (1930s-40s; Dr. Dinshah P. Ghadiali) Cast aluminum, 1000W bulb, water tank, colored glass filters; cure-all.

    Stimulator (1995)  Modified pushbutton gas grill ignitor; press plunger to get shock to stimulate pain-blocking response.  

    Super-Marvel (Marvel, Super)   

    Thermalaid (Electro Thermal Co.)  Rectally-inserted plastic probe cures prostate disorders and hemorrhoids. 

    Thermapax Magnetic Wave Helmet Domed metal helmet.

    Thermo Ozone Battery (1920s) Hinged-lid box containing glass vials, metal tube, disc electrodes, and strap-on contact pads.

    Theronoid (1928)  Similar to the Wilshire I-on-a-co; wire coil plugged into an AC receptacle; demonstrated radiant energy by  inductively lighting a flashlight bulb connected to a small loop of wire; cured variety of diseases and senility.

    Thoronator (1930; William J.A. Bailey) Small glass vial containing cylinder emitting "thoron."

    Timely Warning Ring (1905) Hinged aluminum ring containing inward-pointing teeth to be closed around penis to discourage  nocturnal erection (Ouch!)

    Toftness Radiation Detector; (1970s, Irwing N. Toftness) Chiropractic plastic cylinder containing plastic lenses, rubbed up and down  the spine to detect “resistance.”

    Tricho/Hair-X hair remover (1925, Albert Geyser, M.D.) Wood cabinet with projecting, cylindrical metal drum containing X-ray  tube.

    Tucker's violet ray device

    Uranium Wonder Glove Gravel-filled mitten claiming to contain uranium or to emit healing radiation.    

    Urbeteit's Sinuothermic machine (1940s)

    Vibrating belts (1960s-70s) Motor-driven belts promoted to reduce weight.

    Violet ray generator (generic) Green leatherette case, 3 glass electrodes, 12x6.5x3.     

    Violetta, Baby, Type A Violet ray set (1924); leatherette case, 10x3x5-1/2; one general-purpose glass electrode.

    Violetta Multifrex Violet Ray Apparatus, Type B  Leatherette case, three-way function switch, one general purpose glass electrode.

    Violetta Outfit, No. 1 Violet ray set; leatherette case, one general-purpose glass electrode.

    Violetta Outfit, No. 3  Violet ray set, leatherette case; with comb rake, eye, throat, and metal electrodes.

    Violetta De Luxe Outfit, No. 10  Mahogany or white enamel box, white marble top panel; 6/5/4-1/2; one general purpose glass  electrode.

    Visible Color Spectrum Projector (See Spectro-Chrome) Patient sits nude in the dark, facing north, and staring at the light during  certain phases of the moon.  

    Vision-Dieter  Plastic eyeglasses with one blue and one brown lens curbs appetite.   

    Vitalizer Metal cylinder containing powdered iron oxide, immersed in ice water.

    Vital Power Vacuum Massager  Strapped to the body, this device was “the perfect organ developing appliance.”

    Voltaic belt (1890)

    Voltamp Battery No. 4 "Samaritan" Induction coil apparatus in cherry wood box, hinged lid, latched black panel lifts to expose  accessories, 8.25x5.25x5.     

    Voltamp Battery No. 6 "Majestic"       

    Vrilium Tube (1948; George Erickson and Robert Nelson) Two-inch brass tube, 1/2"D., contains glass tube of barium chloride  attached to clothing by safety pin.

    Wahl Powersage

    Way Artificial Ear Drum (1913, George P. Way) Two rubber, horn-shaped ear canal inserts.

    Westcott’s Electric Foot Adjuster Milk-white glass, electric cord.              

    White Cross (Lindstrom, Smith Co.) Electric Vibrator No. 27 Model B Vibrator massager with accessories, black leatherette case with  nickel-plated corner protectors, 14x10.5x4.5.    

    White Cross Electric Vibrator Chair

    Wilshire Belt  (see I-ON-A-CO)

    Wilson Ear-Drum (1913) Two rubber ear canal inserts; originally included forceps and inserters.

    Wisconsin Oxygenator

    Wish Machine II radionics/psychotronics tachyon thoughtform amplifier  (1998, $710)  Customer places a photograph between  the two copper plates and think about what he/she want—success, money, love, angel contact.    

    Wonder Brush Black wooden handle, steel bristles, thumb-operated magneto.       

    Wonder-Ease machine            

    Wonder Electric Generator                                                           

    Zerret Applicator (1948; William R. Ferguson) Dumbbell of blue and white plastic globes containing plastic tubes of water.







     FDA History Office, HFC-21, Room 1339, Rockville, MD 20857 (301) 443-6367; Health Fraud Staff, HFD-304, 5600    Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857 (301) 295-8070. Atlanta FDA (404) 347-4265.

     Bakken Museum of Electricity and Life, Minneapolis, MN (612) 927-6508

     Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of consumer Protection, 6th and Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20580; 202-   362-2222

     U.S. Postal Service, Chief Postal Inspector, 475 L'Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC 20260 (202) 268-2000

      American Medical Association (Chicago) Fraud Squad

     National Council Against Health Fraud (Quackbusters); PO Box 1276, Loma Linda, CA 92354; (714) 824-4690

     American Cancer Society

     Arthritis Foundation

     Better Business Bureau

     Health Department

     Consumer Affairs office



     The Golden Age of Quackery by Stewart H. Holbrook, a compendium of pitchmen and their pitches.

     Medical Messiahs: A Social History of Health Quackery in Twentieth-Century America, by James Harvey Young; Rev. 1992,   Princeton University Press. An excellent chronology of nostrums and gadgets, and their court histories.

     The Health Robbers, edited by Stephen Barrett and William T. Jarvis, Published 1993 by Prometheus Books, 59 John Glenn    Drive, Buffalo, NY 14228-2197; ph. 716-837-2475.

     Four White Horses and a Brass Band by Violet "Lotus Blossom" McNeal, the colorful and tawdry autobiography of one of    America’s greatest pitch women.

     Pink Pills for Pale People by F.W. Saul

     Step Right Up by Brooks McNamara, a history of the American medicine shows.

     Nostrums and Quackery by Arthur J. Cramp, MD. Three successive volumes in early 20th century: Volume 1, 1911; volume    2, 1921; volume 3, 1936. A comprehensive look at medical quackery in its finest hour, with biting commentary and    court histories.

     Sears-Roebuck catalog reprints before 1936.

     The Great American Fraud by Samuel Hopkins Adams, Colliers The American Weekly, Oct. 7, 1905-Sept. 1906 (reprinted    later by the AMA as a book). This singular, most devastating assault against medical quackery led to the Pure Food    and Drug Act.

     Vi-Ton-Ka Medicine Show; Glenn Hinson, NY American Place Theater, 1984 (pamphlet).

     Notices of Judgement published by the FDA, U.S. Dept of Agriculture (Department of Chemistry pre-WW II).


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