Medical Machines

     The effects of electricity on the body can be traced back to 1745 when Pieter van Musschenbroek, testing out the one of the first Leiden jars, stated that "I felt myself struck in my arms, shoulders, and breast. I lost my breath, and it was two days before I recovered from the effects of the blow and terror."

   Early treatment with electricity used shocks delivered by Leiden jars or condensers, but after the discovery of electromagnetic induction by Michael Faraday in 1831 it was possible to deliver shocks using specialized Magneto-Electric Machines. In both cases bobbins wound with many turns of fine wire revolved in the magnetic field of a U-magnet. In the machine from the Smithsonian this magnet appears to be missing, but the fanciful metal-work certainly has visual appeal.

   The patient grasped the electrodes, and took the shock to relieve all sorts of ills: paralysis, palsies, rheumatism, tumors, sprains, chilblains, inflammations, incontinence... Presumably the placebo effect caused a certain number of cures. For diseases of the lower extremities, an iron slipper was used as one electrode, and the second electrode applied to the knee.
                        Smithsonian Institution                                                          Washington and Lee University

   The machine at the right below I found in an antique shop in Lambertville, New Jersey with a price tag of $895 on it. It was manufactured by W. H. Burnap of New York, and his signature can be seen across the central block of print. On the right-hand side of the label is a testimonial by Charles Grafton Page from 1854, and on the left-hand side is a testimonial from Benjamin Silliman, Snr. of Yale University.

   At the left is a late 19th century machine which used an Induction Coil to produce the necessary high voltage. It was made by Otto Flemming Battery Company of Philadelphia, and the bright-work is nickel-plated. In a drawer at the side is a leather-covered pad which was probably coated with some conducting material and used for topical stimulation. This device is in the Greenslade collection.
   Medical machines continued to be made into the 20th century. The machine on the right probably dates from the 1930's and is based on the compact form of Tesla coil which has been used since that time to excite Geissler tubes and look for leaks in high-vacuum systems. 

   The probes are probably filled with low-pressure gases, and were designed to glow when excited by the Tesla coil. If so, the system would certainly have produced X rays. 

   This machine is in the Greenslade collection.

Other examples of medical machines are found with Daniel Davis' apparatus.

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