Quackery is described generally as “the promotion of fraudulent or ignorant medical practices” source.
I’ve long found myself attracted to quack medical practices; not that I believe them.
These practices are fun to explore, as some of them are just plain strange.
Phrenology was a pseudo-science developed in the 19th century. The basic belief was that one’s personality, talents and mental ability could be determined by measuring different portions of the brain. However, no incisions in the skull or brain were performed in this strange procedure, but rather the skull was measured using all types of odd cranial measurement devices. Now regarded as obsolete, phrenology was influential in 19th-century psychiatry. The assumption that character, thoughts, and emotions are located in specific parts of the brain is an important advance toward Neuropsychology.
There were also electrical devices created to assist in the “procedure” of measuring the portions of the brain.
I can hardly imagine myself willingly having electrical charges sent into my head via the world’s worst hat to measure my brain, but people totally believed in this at one time.
Radionics was a process created in the early 1900’s by an American doctor named Albert Abrams. This process was supposedly able to allow a physician to diagnose a patient without ever actually meeting them, provided they were given a sample of hair, blood, or -remarkably enough- a handwriting sample, or even a photo. To diagnose, the sample provided by a patient was attached to a machine, and then the machine was connected to the head of a healthy volunteer. There were odd rules for this volunteer, like they must be facing west, as must the patient when he donates the sample. A doctor could then tap on the volunteer’s stomach, locating areas of “dullness” that correspond to the sample provider’s illness. There were various strange rules for the process, including the restriction of orange or red-colored material from the room in which either the patient or volunteer was, and it was said that skeptical minds could confuse the diagnosis. A radionics machine would interpret the “electronic reactions of Abrams,” or ERA, of a sample to determine what the health issue was. Once this process was completed, treatment of the patient was performed by emitting healthy frequencies which balanced out the unhealthy ones.
*Now this is a type of medical treatment that is actually viable. It is used today to fight and kill cancer cells, as well as to prevent tumors from growing. Yes, it’s a real practice, but it comes with a long list of complications. Today I’m looking at vintage quack radiation therapy, just to be clear, so let’s not confuse the two.*
Between the1910’s through the 1950’s, many scientific discoveries were under way, along with the discovery of atoms and their structures. This sparked curiosity, and led to outlandish claims with “scientific proof”.
As with anything, just saying “I guarantee it works” doesn’t mean it actually does. Even so, people flocked to buy items claiming to cure all types of ailments, from healing scar tissue to improving blood flow.
Water jars with names like Revigator, Radium Spa, and Zimmer Emanator created low levels of radium and infused it into drinking water. These products either had a radioactive insert or radioactive material built into the walls of the jar.
The 19th Century was the first to witness the marvels of electricity, and with this privilege came a natural curiosity. Some questioned if the technology had any curative powers, while others took advantage of the hype and invented devices that they claimed could cure a variety of illnesses using this new technology.
The list of ailments that some devices claimed to be able to cure was nearly endless, stating the products could cure impotency, rheumatism, back pain, insomnia, depression, liver, kidney and heart disease, indigestion, and “female weakness” -just to name a few.
Some of the devices used batteries, and others used magnets. Some devices used no electricity at all, and only claimed to create it. People were fascinated by these devices for some time, as you could actually feel the device working by being shocked. Some common devices were electric belts, brushes, handheld healing devices, electric baths -sounds safe-, and even electric corsets.
Out of this category of pseudo-science devices I find one of my favorites, the Elektroller. Czechoslovakian in origin, this device was made up of a metal handle and two rubber wheels. It would be rolled over a patient’s skin to deliver a significant electric current directly into the body. It was basically an early version of the stun gun, and caused more harm than anything; shocking.
And last, to place a funny plug into the end of this article, let’s take a look at -though you may be squeamish of- Rectal Devices.
For whatever reason, some people have turned to their butt for answers to curing disease.
There have been several rectal based movements -no pun intended- that have used plugging or stimulating the rectum as a medical procedure.
Some of the ailments that it was claimed could be cured were:
Rectal and anal conditions (Like diarrhea? Just plug it?)
Joint pain (Are you kidding me?)
Back pain (sounds more like a pain in the back if you ask me.)
Headaches (I’ll take a Tylenol)
Stomach aches (Highly doubt it!)
And more (because, why not?)