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Mesmerism and other Quackery

Online exhibition looking at how electricity in a medical capacity has developed from the Antiquities through to the early twentieth century. Quack treatments are examined alongside studies of anatomy and x-rays.

Mechanisms for the hydroelectric bath from Elektro medicinishe Apparate by Hirschmann 1890

At this time there appeared a number of interesting, albeit ridiculous, treatments which brought the practice of electrotherapy into disrepute. Franz Anton Mesmer's animal magnetism was premised on the theory that the stars and the planets acted upon our health by way of an invisible fluid. 

Based on the assumption that this fluid had some relationship with electricity and magnetism he claimed to be able to cure people by channeling magnetic influence. However, suspicion arose when he abandoned the use of magnets and began curing by his touch alone.

As muscles twitched when touched with a metal rod, Elisha Perkins claimed that his tractors (metal rod) could draw out the effects of headaches, rheumatism, paralysis and deformities. Doubt, however, was thrown over all his claims including the ability to cure yellow fever, when he died of the disease in 1799.

Interestingly, it is now accepted that both their successes were probably attributable to the power of suggestion. Indeed, it is Mesmer whom we refer to when talking of being mesmerised.

Diagram oof a Galvanic Belt from Medical Electricity by Julius Althus 1870

Following Galvani's discovery of animal electricity a number of quack treatments based on galvanism became popular. The first galvanic belt made by London jeweller Richard Teed consisted of 15 squares of zinc joined together with copper links and covered in leather. 

Playing on the idea of the mystical powers of metals, similarly designed amulets, bracelets, headbands, rings and belts hit the market in the mid 1800s. Although, sweat was supposed to activate their therapeutic effects they were largely inert.

Next page → 1781 Galvani's Animal Electricity

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