The Electreat Mechanical Heart

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.

Electreat Mechanical Heart Electreat Mechanical Heart Verso

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!

Posted in Artifacts, Medical Archives
6 comments on “The Electreat Mechanical Heart
  1. Bill Schenk says:

    I have one of these devices in the original box with the original flyers!

  2. davidd says:

    Have you ever put batteries in one of the Elec-treats and tried it out? Believe me, it can almost knock you over! I have one that I sometimes use to teach elementary school students about electric current. We have managed to send a significant tingle through a circle of twenty kids holding hands with a two D-cell Elec-treat!

    • mcgovernhrc says:

      No, but we once tested one of our older, hand-cranked, “home electrotherapy” devices and just about knocked ourselves out! Sometimes curiosity wins out over the reluctance to be zapped.

    • Dan D says:

      Tell your students this device can kill parasites almost instantly!!
      I just used mine to rid myself of a bad case of athletes foot that antibiotics failed to cure
      May just be the greatest medical device of all time as far as im concerned.

  3. daryl adams says:

    We have had a lot of fun with ours it came from my wifes grandpa in Colo. how does two D batteries send out that much jolt?

  4. Joss says:

    Really cool image – where exactly did you find this? A google search for the D. H. Rankin Medical Artifacts Collection returns nothing! Thanks!

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