Monday , January 22 2018
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Medical Batteries – The History of Electrotherapy


If you’ve been following along very closely you may recall that podcast episode #6 guest Anna Wexler mentioned in passing that she had been researching Ye Olde practice of therapeutically applying current to various parts of the body. Well, an early version of a new paper of hers landed the other day: Recurrent themes in the history of the home use of electrical stimulation: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and the medical battery (1870–1920). It’s behind a paywall but here are some highlights.

  • Although the home use of tDCS is often referred to as a novel phenomenon, in reality the late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw a proliferation of electrical stimulation devices for home use.
  • In particular, the use of a portable electrotherapy device known as the “medical battery” bears a number of striking similarities to the modern-day use of tDCS.
  • Many features related to the home use tDCS—a do-it-yourself movement, anti-medical establishment themes, conflicts between lay and professional usage—are a repetition of themes that occurred a century ago with regard to the medical battery.
  • A number of features seem to be unique to the present, such as the dominant discourse about risk and safety, the division between cranial and non-cranial stimulation, and utilization for cognitive enhancement purposes.
  • Viewed in historical context, the contemporary use of electrical stimulation at home is not unusual, but rather the latest wave in a series of ongoing attempts by lay individuals to utilize electricity for therapeutic purposes.

Lots of ‘medical battery’ patents here.
And a ton of wonderful images to be found in books in Google’s digitized library.
Most of these came from a single book!

Guide For Using Medical Batteries by Alfred Garratt
Magneto-Electro Machine
Hall's Improved Magneto Electric Instrument
Palmer Hall - Boston
Hall's Pocket Battery
Dr. Jerome Kidder's Electro-Medical Apparatus
Dr. Duchenne's Famous Apparatus
Ruhmkorff Medico-Electical Apparatus
Hall's Constant Electromagnetic Instrument
D. Davis Jr. - Boston
ElectroMagnetic Double Helix
G. F. Webb Medical Battery Hat
G. F. Webb Medical Battery Hat 2
Medical Battery Electrodes 1
Medical Battery Electrodes 2


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