Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Fluence and the Machine

A blog post by James Cole aka @jdc325
At the recent talk by Andy Lewis at Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub, I saw a demonstration of an odd machine.

Here's a picture of Andy's magneto-electric therapy machine:

While looking for more information on this odd machine, I found this electric belt, another example of the promotion of electricity as a cure-all. Some friends on the Think Humanism forum then provided me with some interesting links.

The Wellcome Collection includes an electrotherapeutic cage, and an advert for an electropathic belt. The Electropathic Belts were supposed to provide "new life and vigor ... for weak men, for delicate women"as well as curing a wide range of named conditions - everything from nervousness to a "torpid liver".

This page for a magneto-electric machine (which recently sold for £95) includes some interesting information. It seems that electricity was seen as a panacea - a cure all - and electric helmets, corsets, belts, socks and hairbrushes were available for sale.

The Spark Museum website has a marvellous page with pictures of several magneto-electric therapy machines, most of them being variations of the one that Andy Lewis brought to Birmingham to demonstrate at Skeptics in the Pub.

Last, but not least, here's something I dug up from the family archives:

I remember Aunt Rose as a very amiable person. Her particular foible was a belief in the electric fluence as a cure for all ills and she persuaded me to try this on one occasion. She had a most beautifully made hand-operated dynamo, with an ivory handle. When not in use this was kept under a glass cover, together with the leads and cylindrial hand grips. When the machine was in use the victim held one of these in each hand and Aunt Rose then turned the handle to generate the electric fluence, slowly at first, then faster and faster until the voltage produced was not quite high enough to electrocute one.

I can't work out when this was, but I'd guess it was sometime around the First World War. It's interesting to note the skepticism of the author - Aunt Rose's belief in the electric fluence machine is described as a foible, a minor weakness or eccentricity that is tolerated.

Thanks to Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub for allowing me to use their photograph of Andy's machine. Thanks are also due to Dave B, Emma Woolgatherer, lewist, and Alan H from Think Humanism for their interesting comments and useful links.


Inspired by the Bad Science blog and following the lead of other members of the Bad Science Forum, I started blogging in September 2007. Among the things that interest (and occasionally infuriate) me are anti-vaccine campaigners, the mainstream media, and alternative medicine.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice blog JDC. I am hoping to make the next meeting so I may see you there when I have decided if I am MONK, badsciencemonk, Mike or Numbers Mike