As long as there has been illness there have been medical hucksters, trying to make a buck peddling "cures" for every conceivable ailmentreal or imagined. Whether suffering from paralysis, "nervous troubles," or "tired blood," there have been unscrupulous pitchmen selling elixirs, instruments and other home remedies to treat what ails you. As you'll see below, these "cures" were often harmless, but in some cases they could leave you with far worse problems than what you had in the first place (and their use often meant that problems were left untreated by more effective means). In the 20th century, laws were passed and government agencies created to curb the sale of fraudulent medical treatments, but dubious health products continue to be sold to the gullible and desperate today.
1) Vibration Machines
Vibrating machines of all shapes and sizesfrom handheld personal vibrators marketed to women for the treatment of "hysteria," to vibrating head massagers designed to stimulate hair follicles, to infamous quack John Harvey Kellogg's vibrating chairhave enjoyed popularity at various times since 1900. From the 1950s to the 1970s they were sold as weight loss equipment.
Vibrating machines have made a comeback recently, this time with some more credible claims. One manufacturer of a vibrating workout platform, Powerplate, is endorsed by celebrities and professional athletes like the Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria and the Minnesota Twins' Justin Morneau. According to a recent New York Times report, research generally suggests that working out on these machines has some short-term effect on performance, although researchers admit they're not sure why they work.
2) Electric Suspensory Belts
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the fascination with electricity and its "magical" properties lent credibility to various health-related apparati touting curative powers. Several belts were marketed during this time, promising to cure "weakness, pain, and nervo-vital derangements" along with just about everything else. Dr. Pierce's Galvanic Chain Belt, from the late 1880s came with a free "electric suspensory" loop designed to treat "weakness of the sexual organs." Luckily for consumers, the batteries in the belt didn't create enough power to do any harm. Of course, it didn't do any good, either.
3) Heroin Cough Suppressants
Around the turn of the century, while you were in town picking up a belt to electrify your junk, you might have purchased a bottle of Bayer brand cough suppressant. The active ingredient? Heroin. It might leave you with a debilitating addiction, but it had a couple of things going for it: it was as easy to score as a bottle of milk and unlike most so-called health products in those days, it actually delivered on its claims.
4) Dr. Scott's Electric Flesh Brush
Another attempt to cash in on the fascination with all things electric, in the 1880s, Dr. Scott marketed this brush, emblazoned with the motto "The Germ of All Life Is Electricity." The "active" ingredient was a magnet, which purportedly cured "rheumatism, sciatica, gout, nervous debility, lumbago, neuralgia, toothache, malarial lameness, all pains and aches resulting from colds, impure blood" and "those 'back aches' peculiar to ladies." Hey, if you're going to sell a fake cure, there's no sense in discriminating. As ridiculous as Dr. Scott's invention sounds, magnet quackery is alive and well today, with its adherents making equally ridiculous claims.
5) Eyeball Massagers
If exercising your arms makes them stronger, shouldn't the same cause and effect apply to your eyes? The early 1900s saw a variety of eyeball massagers and vibrators designed to strengthen weak eyeballs. And while technology has advanced in the intervening century, gullibility apparently hasn't changed. Today, you can still avail yourself to 3 Stooges-inspired therapy at home, in the office, in the caranywhere you have access to a USB port.