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J Hist Med Allied Sci. 2017 Apr 1;72(2):166-192. doi: 10.1093/jhmas/jrx001.

The Medical Battery in The United States (1870-1920): Electrotherapy at Home and in the Clinic.


This paper focuses on the history of a portable shock-producing electrotherapeutic device known as the medical battery (1870-1920), which provided both direct and alternating current and was thought to cure a wide variety of ailments. The product occupied a unique space at the nexus of medicine, consumerism and quackery: it was simultaneously considered a legitimate device by medical professionals who practiced electrotherapeutics, yet identical versions were sold directly to consumers, often via newspaper advertisements and with cure-all marketing language. Indeed, as I show in this paper, the line between what was considered a medical device and a consumer product was often blurred. Even though medical textbooks and journals never mentioned (much less promoted) the home use of electricity, every reputable electrotherapy instrument manufacturer sold a "family battery" for patients to use on themselves at home. While a handful of physicians spoke out against the use of electricity by the laity-as they felt it undermined the image of electrotherapy as a skilled medical procedure-existing evidence suggests that many physicians were likely recommending the home use of medical electricity to their patients. Taken together, this paper shows how the professional ideals of electrotherapeutics were not always aligned with physicians' actual practices.


electrical medicine; electrotherapy; faradic Batteries; medical battery; quackery

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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