In the Victorian era, inventors and con-men alike promised that electricity could ease ailments, improve vigor, and…warm your prostate? Here are seven inventions that employed electricity in alarming ways.
The Belt of Life
The Belt of Life was flexible voltaic battery that you wore around your waist or other body part, and which generated a low electrical charge. As with many Victorian era “cures,” it claimed to treat a wide variety of ailments, from lumbago to deafness. The belts were wildly popular in the United States, with at least a dozen companies vying for the public’s business.
The Temple of Health and Hymen Celestial Bed
The Celestial Bed was created in 18th century London by sexologist James Graham. Graham lived in Philadelphia in his 20s and became familiar with Ben Franklin’s electricity experiments, which piqued his interest in using electricity to cure patients. The bed was meant for couples who were trying to conceive, and featured a tilting frame, flowers, “oriental fragrances,” organ music, and even turtle doves. On top of all this, the couple experienced electromagnetic stimulation.
These baths, often used to alleviate joint pain, allowed a patient to be treated without disrobing completely (a significant advantage in the Victorian era). Separate currents could be run through each tub. These electric baths are still used today in alternative medicine.
For $1 to $3, your corset would cure you of “Nervous Debility, Spinal Complaints, Rheumatism, Paralysis, Numbness, Dyspepsia, Liver and Kidney Troubles, Impaired Circulation, Constipation, and all other diseases peculiar to women.”
If you could electrify it, Dr. Scott made it. In addition to his electric corset, the Dr. Scott line offered electric hair brushes, tooth brushes, and flesh brushes. His devices all contained magnetized iron rods, not actual electricity. But he knew that appealing to Americans’ keen new interest in all things electric would sell, and he was right.
The violet ray device, invented by none other than Nicola Tesla, was purported to not only remove brain fog, but also treat an array of ailments from constipation to carbuncles. One would apply low-voltage electricity to parts of the body using a wand with interchangeable glass attachments. The devices were popular before the Depression, but fell out of favor when the materials were repurposed to make components for World War II.
Scribonius Largus, the court physician for Roman emperor Claudius (AD 41-54), used the properties of the electric torpedo fish to help with gout, migraines, and even prolapsed anuses. The cure was one of 271 prescriptions that appeared in The Compositiones Medicamentorum of Scribonius Largus. He advised, ““to immediately remove and permanently cure a headache, however long-lasting and intolerable, a live black torpedo is put on the place which is in pain, until the pain ceases and the part grows numb.” It’s believed to be the earliest known use of electromodulation to treat ailments.
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