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Quackery, The Electrical Snake Oil

Image of an empty Quackery Console

It's actually just an empty box

What is Quackery

Quackery exists in various forms and typically involves a medical scheme or remedy that is known to be false or unproven and sold for a profit. It may involve drugs, devices or lifestyle changes. Quack medicines, particularly in the USA were refered to as 'Snake Oil'.

Many of the 'Quack' machines were empty and the patient was hoodwinked into believing they were being cured, (the placebo effect). Others did work, for example administering a mild electric shock, but the effectiveness of the cure was far from certain.

Most vintage contrivances fall into one of several categories:

The Museum of Technology have several items on display which can be described as Quackery, most of our items use batteries to enable them to work.


The Electropoise

The Electropoise, 1890's

When electricity was new, people had high hopes that it had curative powers. Unlike other "magical" cures, electricity could be felt.

Electropathy, very popular from 1850-1900, promised to cure most diseases and conditions including mental illness. The patient held a metal cylinder, a hand electrode, while the healer applied a second electrode to the ailing body part. The electrodes connected to an electrical source such as a magneto, chemical battery or battery box. The current produced was low voltage and using the machine produced involuntary muscle contractions.

Doctors who used electricity for any health problems were threatened with being called a 'Quack' and loosing their medical licence. One, a Doctor H Sanche was pursued across America for over 30 years. He was still on the loose in 1952. The Electropoise, shown here, was designed 'by Dr H Sanche in the 1890's.

Violet Ray Generators

Ajax Violet Ray Generator

Ajax Violet Ray Generator, 1920's

Sometimes called an "ultra violet device". Tens of thousands of these devices were sold for home use between about 1915 and 1950 under brand names such as Masters, Elco and Renulife. Literature accompanying the devices claimed to cure just about everything including heart disease, paralysis, wry neck and writers cramp! The equipment produced heat by diathermy, ozone and ultraviolet light.

Electric Hairbrushes

Ozone Generators

Quackery at the Museum of Technology

The Electropoise, 1890's
Magneto Medical Machine, 1900's
Ajax Vilet Ray Generator, 1920's
Mystery Object
Ever Ready Medical Coil, 1954

With many thanks to

Dr.Bob's Medical Quackery
The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices

©2007 The Museum of Technology, The Great War and WWII
Company registered in England No. 7452160, Registered Charity No. 1140352, Accredited Museum No. 2221