by Kate Wilson, Archivist
In processing the D. H. Rankin Medical Artifacts Collection I have found myself intrigued with the Electreat Mechanical Heart. I’m not really sure what draws me to this object- maybe the fact that we have six of them in the collection or maybe the incredibly illustrated promotional flyer that accompanies the device. Whatever it is, I find myself sucked into the vastness of the internet, jumping from hyperlink to webpage, learning more and more about this quack medical object.
The Electreat Mechanical Heart is a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device first patented in 1919 by Charles Willie Kent and manufactured in Peoria, Illinois. It has been estimated that as many as 250,000 of the Electreats were sold over a 25 years. The device operated on two “D” cell batteries and a mechanical inductorium. A roller was built in at the top to be applied to the skin and plug-in sponge pad electrodes were supplied.
The Electreat was one of the very first high-output battery operated TENS units manufactured. Following passage of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938, Kent was the first individual prosecuted by the U.S. government for making unsubstantiated medical claims. Kent was prosecuted multiple times for making unsubstantiated claims, first in 1940 and then again in 1950. You can read both of the original proceedings available on the National Library of Medicine’s website.
I have forever been plagued with dry and chapped skin on my feet. Maybe I can take one of the Electreat Mechanical Hearts home and experiment with its healing electric bath powers as suggested in the third row, second image!