Thingamajig: Correction

It seems there was a bit of a misunderstanding regarding Friday’s magneto posting.  Brenda had already written an excellent posting on the magneto and had it waiting in the Institutional Collections folder, and somehow, I missed the memo.  Doh!

She invited us to pick and choose, but I’m going to provide her work in its complete form so as to leave nothing out.

Ian McKellen had nothing on these magnetos.

Magneto sparks interest in mental health treatment.

by Brenda Gunter

Gunter processed the Menninger Clinic collection as part of her practicum at the McGovern Historical Collections and Research Center.

Is life not providing enough of a charge lately? Feeling listless between the 1850s and the early 1900s might have led to being treated with an early form of electroshock therapy. In the days when medical care often meant self-care, it was common to be able to purchase medicines and therapeutic devices in general stores. For a time, the magneto was all the rage.

This device, patented in 1854, usually involved a gear-driven motor powered by a hand crank and a single or double battery. The victim, um, patient, held two metal cylinders as the practitioner operated the device, which was housed in a hardwood box.

Houston Academy of Medicine-Texas Medical Center Library has four magnetos in its Menninger Clinic collection (IC 78). The clinic, which has called Houston home since 2003, donated its extensive collection of historical medical realia to HAM-TMC. If you have an interest in medical or mental health history, or if your obsession runs more toward the namesake X-Men villain, you’re welcome to visit the library’s McGovern Historical Collections and Research Center to see what the fuss was about.

One of the magnetos includes a “Complete Guide for Domestic Treatment” by ELECTRICITY G. P. Pilling & Son, Philadelphia, 1905). The slim, well-preserved volume offers a clue that magnetos were invented first and foremost to make use of Pilling batteries. It instructs the beginning user in using electricity to cure ailments ranging from deafness to flatulence and every imaginable condition in between.

Depending on which sockets the user chose to plug in the cords leading to two wooden handles covered by metal shells, one could vary the electrical current from mild to very strong.

Recommendations for treating two sample ailments:

Felons: Place the foot plate in a basin of warm water, connect the positive pole, insert the affected member in the water, and turn on the primary current, holding the negative electrode in the other hand or comb.

Falling out of the hair: A hair brush electrode is almost a necessity in this treatment, as it is so much more effective than any other method of application, and is a natural method of treating the scalp. Attach the brush or comb to the positive pole in the hand, use a weak secondary current, and use thoroughly every day for about five minutes.

The guide also includes helpful diagrams of the human muscular system and instructions on recharging and replacing dry-cell batteries. In the back, several models of single- and double-cell magnetos are listed, ranging in price from $5 for a basic single-cell model to the deluxe Domestic Double Battery No. 2 for $10. Accessories such as trumpet-style hearing aids, an electric hair brush, and an electric tongue depressor also are offered.

In addition to manufacturing magnetos, George P. Pilling & Son marketed instruments for cattle (including a teat bistoury, a knife for treating the mammary organs of milk cows) and poultry (its French killing knife Is said to “last a lifetime” and be the “proper way to kill”).

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Posted in Thingamajig

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