Electricity could be produced in a number of ways, and entrepreneurs were eager to capitalize on a growing and unregulated industry. Faradic, galvanic, wet and dry cell batteries, and static electricity produced direct current for home devices before indirect current was available to power larger machines in doctors’ offices.
Essai Theoretique et Experimental sur Galvanism (1804) by Jean Aldini (check)
In London, Giovanni Aldini's experiments involved the application of electrical currents given to a recently executed criminal. Aldini stated: “On the first application of the arcs the jaw began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and the left eye actually opened.” Mary Shelly wrote her classic horror story of reanimation by electricity just a few years later in 1818, and the introduction of her second edition of “Frankenstein” included the comment that reanimation of the dead is “not of impossible occurrence.” The idea for her novel may have come in part from the work of Aldini.
early twentieth century twenty four- plate electrostatic generator (by Wagner?) with glass legged table and hand electrodes
Large electrostatic generators, sometimes referred to as friction machines, could produce a high voltage current when spinning glass plates or cylinders were in contact with pads of various materials. The resulting charge was then stored in Leyden jars, which acted as capacitors, and the current was used therapeutically in any number of ways the imagination could conceive. Despite the fact that these devices were without any proven merit, many were found in physicians’ offices in the early twentieth century.
Magneto-Electric machines (ca. 1880)
Consumers were offered many ways in which to utilize the new marvel of electricity at home. In 1854, Davis and Kidder patented a magneto-electric machine which became one of the earliest and most popular home electric devices of the nineteenth century. It generated an electric current from spinning magnets which sent a small shock to surprised and delighted patients suffering from any number of nervous disorders. (left): unmarked; (right): by Joseph Gray and Son, Sheffield
Electreat device with external and internal attachments (ca. 1925), Electreat Mfg. Company, Peoria, Illinois
The Electreat was a hand-held battery powered apparatus for home use that was to be drawn across the body to relieve pain and strengthen the heart. This instrument was first manufactured in Peoria, Illinois in 1919, and has the distinction of being the first device seized by the government under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938.
advertising for Pulvermacher's electric belts
Another option was the electric belt, which contained a copper disc in the front with two to four chrome plated nickel discs at the rear. The “copper-nickel interaction” supposedly created a healing electromagnetic field that would treat almost any disease by magnetizing iron in the blood, thus improving oxygenation to all tissues. A belt was available for each sex, the male type containing a suspensory attachment for improved potency.
electric helmet by Energo of Turin, Italy; Faradic Battery by S. Maw Son and Thompson, London (ca. 1930)
There was always a demand for devices that would treat mental disease. Electric helmets of all sorts were manufactured in the early part of the twentieth century to provde relief for these patients, mostly in Italy and in France.