Quack Quack

aaHave you ever had a
constant ringing in your ears ?

And I don’t mean the kind
that you get for a short time
after a migraine, or a
Justin Beiber concert.

I mean a high pitched sound
that won’t go away–
— and plugging your ears
just makes it worse.

It’s called tinnitus,
and I can’t even
imagine what kinda crazy
it would drive me to,
but some people have
to suffer with it,
day in and day out.

So imagine how relieved
those poor folks would be
if somebody told em that
they had invented a cure.

A company in Brooklyn, New York
did just that around 1900.

tinnitusLet your wondering eyes

( not to mention your sore ears and aching head )

behold the wonder of the age —

The Violin Vibrophone.

Oh, don’t get me wrong now….

It didn’t work .

But they did sell about 120,000
of ’em at about 600 bucks in today’s money.

Let me tell you how it worked.

Oh sorry….
how it didn’t work.

This mechanical violin thingee
had all kinds of cool little dials on it,
that you could adjust, so that it
would play a constant note
at the exact same frequency
as your ear ringing sound.

How would that help, you ask?

Hahaha, well there-in lies the rub, my friend.

The only difference was in that
when you finally lost your
ever-lovin’ mind completely,
you wouldn’t know whether
to blame the disease or the cure.

Welcome to the world of
vintage medical quackery devices,
and another of our posts about it.

So strap in, my little friends………
( evil laugh trails off in the distance )

Now, I know what you’re thinking…

He’s always putting crummy
disclaimers on his posts,
that don’t have anything
to do with the subject at hand..
it’s just a cheap device going for a cheaper laugh. “

Well, you couldn’t be further
from the truth..
although now that I think about it,
I’m not sure why I decided to
add a disclaimer to this here thing,
exceptin it be to remind you that
this stuff is supposed to be
somewhat funny, even though
it is the real skinny…..

and to warn you that if you
find anything offensive
about the skeletal system
of a healthy female type
person around 35,
might want to skip this post
and go read something else.

Cause it’s comin’.



I’m no technological reactionary.

I got no problem with it………

I’m not one of those guys
who bucks every new gizmo that comes along.

Like these scanners at the airport.

I can see how these things
can actually be put to very good use.


But it’s not like every technological
marvel that has come along
has been proven to be a boon to mankind.

Some stuff…..,
……. well, I just don’t see
how they got away with selling it.

Like this gizzie for instance.


It was called the “Robot Phrenologist” ……..

And as if phrenology as a science
wasn’t goofy enough already …

( it was the practice of determining
one’s personality by reading the bumps on your head)

…. this gizmo used vacuum tubes
to interpret them automatically.

All you had to do was strap
the headgear on, and have plenty of gullible.

Way back when….
almost last week, really,
any product could be marketed
as Doctor Somebody’s Remedy
for such and such…..4

No Doctor required.

So, you had a lot of crap masquerading as cure.


This here fine product is an example….

It’s called Doctor William’s Pink Pills for Pale People.

It’s miracle ingredients were all of 3 minerals–

Iron, Manganese, and Copper.

Any lessening of paleness in people
taking this stuff was most likely due to rust.

The device below is called the Heidelberg Electric Belt…..

…… you notice that little electric loop down at the bottom of it?


Well, guess what you do with that.

It would send little electric shocks down
through the belt and into that loopy thing.


Do I smell meat burning?

While we’re on the subject of male anatomy…..


This device was recently patented….

it’s supposedly for the relief of problems with obtaining erections.

It’s — yes — you guessed it –
—- a penis exerciser.

Apparently, you stick your member in one end,
and then, by adjusting the spring tension,
and moving that paddley thing up and down,
…… you’d be doing the same basic thing as penis pull ups.

Really, I’m not that good
at reading technical drawings, but…..


Nobody’s putting Little Elvis in a penis pullup machine.


He gets his exercise the old fashioned way.




Bad Medicine

bad medicine

You hear a lot these days about the potential dangers of prescription and over-the-counter drugs…

All medicines sold for the relief or cure of illness today in the United States are, at least, tested for safety and efficacy before sold.

Often, this testing proves to fall short, but there was a time, not that long ago, when drugs and medicines underwent NO independent testing at all .

I guess you can just imagine the kinds of things that were passed off as medicine.

Many people know that Coca-Cola originally contained small amounts of cocaine.

The name was derived its original two “medicinal” ingredients, Kola Nut and Coca Leaves,

…….. and this was even considered to be healthful.

coca cola

Around the turn of the century, grandiose claims could be made for the benefits of products, regardless of whether true or not.

The government’s attitude at the time was ” Caveat Emptor ” — ” Let the Buyer Beware ” .

It was thought that government had neither the time, resources, or even the legitimate authority to ensure the safety and efficacy of products.

This gradually changed, for various reasons, and today medicinal products can not make claims unless they are tested and approved for use.

Of course, there are ways around this, for certain kinds of products, but generally the system works…..

—- especially in view of the products available in the “bad old days” of medicines.

( Horsford's Acid Phosphate-- 1885 ) "This Acid Phosphate…imparts new energy to the system, giving the feeling and sense of increased intellectual and physical power"

( Horsford’s Acid Phosphate– 1885 ) “This Acid Phosphate…imparts new energy to the system, giving the feeling and sense of increased intellectual and physical power”

Products available around the turn of the century could include ingredients of almost anything—

Opium, laudinum, radioactive materials, turpentine, kerosene, rattlesnake venom, cresyl phosphate ( a nerve toxin) , acetanilide… dangerous plant derivatives like tansy, pennyroyal, and thujone, just to name a few.

Some products would have a illicit practical use not mentioned on the package, for instance:

Lydia Pinkham’s Tonic was advertised to reduce ” female complaints” , but was rumored to be an excellent abortifacient at a time when abortions were difficult or impossible to obtain. And, even if it didn’t cure an early pregnancy, it’s 20% alcohol would certainly ease the pain a bit.

It would also cure “… all ovarian troubles, inflammation and ulceration, falling and displacements, and the consequent spinal weakness and is particularly adapted to the change of life”.

( a reformulated version of Lydia Pinkham’s is still marketed today by a pharmaceutical company )


Bonnore’s Electro Magnetic Bathing Fluid was an interesting product….

It claimed to cure all sorts of things from ” cholera, neuralgia, epilepsy, scarlet fever, necrosis, to mercurial eruptions, paralysis, hip diseases, chronic abscesses” , and, of course, “female complaints.” due to it’s “unique magnetic qualities”.

Those “unique magnetic qualities” were obtained by passing a magnet over the liquid before bottling.

Actually, there were over 100 ‘magnetic’ nostrums marketed between 1850 and 1920, including ointments, powders, pills, syrups, balms, plasters , etc… with names like Saint Nicodemus’s Magnetic Oil (1914) , Dr. JC Batdorf’s Magnetic Kidney Cure (1905), Indian Magnetic Ointment (1857), Dr. Foot’s Anti-Billious Pills (1884), and Professor Low’s Magnetic Worm Syrup (1875).

There were also ‘magnetic’, ‘electromagnetic’, electrical, and radioactive rings, belts, trusses, and devices that boggle the imagination.

See my post on ” Weirdly Radioactive “ for some examples — like this:

radium belt

Products often had exotic and healthful sounding names:

New Blood and True Dutch Cough and Cold Cure
Kennedy’s Concentrated Aqueous Extract of Pinus Canadensis
Laird’s Bloom of Youth
Mexican Mustang Liniment
Shilo’s Consumption Cure
Oil of Gladness

Dr. Perkins’ Our Native Herbs ” supposedly contained 21 different heathful herbs including: ” sassafras, liverwort, balmony, magnolia, rhubarb, prickly ash, poplar, spearmint, elecampane, sarsaparilla, mandrake, juniper, burdock, Canada balsam, boneset, wormwood, and yellow dock”.

It cured everything from: “Rheumatism, Dyspepsia, Sick and Nervous Headache, Nervousness, Constipation, Piles, Irregularity of the Bowels, Diarrhea, Catarrh, Fevers, General Debility, Sickness of the Stomach, Pain in the Side, Numbness of the Limbs, Cold Feet and Hands, Bad Taste in Mouth, Yellow Skin, Loss of Appetite, Worms, Stagnation of the Blood, Failure to Perspire Freely, Bad Circulation, Scrofula, Tetter, Erysipelas, Old Sores, Dropsy, Liver and Kidney Troubles, Heart Disease, Fits, all Female Complaints, Dark Circles Under the Eyes, Bearing Down Sensation, Pimples, Rough Skin, and Poison in the Blood”.


There is no doubt that certain herbs have efficacious properties, but the wisdom of jamming a mish-mosh of different herbs together as a general panacea is questionable at best, and potentially hazardous to a user’s health.
But there were many more dangerous ingredients than herbs in use ………
Radam’s Microbe Killer claimed to ” Cure All Diseases ” — contained sulphuric acid with red wine for coloring….. plus water and a bit of pot ash.
Here’s an ad for Radam’s from The Daily Gazette of Xenia, Ohio, dated 1889, describing the product:


“Nearly all well-read people are familiar with the scientific investigations of Profs Koch and Pasteur, respectively of Germany and France, as well as a number of other scientists of almost equal renown, whose experiments have proven conclusively that all diseases are causes by microbes in the blood. They are called microbes, because they are a living matter, and only discovered by the aid of powerful microscopes. But until William Radam discovered his Microbe Killer Medicine there was absolutely nothing known in the annals of Medicine that would destroy these Microbes or Germs of Diseases existing in the blood. The Microbe Killer does Kill the Microbes in the blood without fail, as the thousands of testimonials we have in our possession demonstrate. Microbes being the cause of all diseases, Microbe Killer will therefore cure them. WE EXCEPT NO DISEASES WHATEVER. Ladies and gentlemen desiring light upon the Microbe Theory, as well as upon any dis- ease they may be afflicted with, are cordially invited to call and get pamphlets for full particulars. We will forfeit $1000 if any single one of our testimonials can be proven as not genuine. RADAM’S MICROBE KILLER CO. For sale by E.C. FLEMING, Druggist, No. South Detroit Street. ”


Narcotics and high percentages of alcohol were both common ingredients in the patent nostrums of the time.

It seems hard to believe now… but between 1890 and 1914, Bayer marketed Heroin for use on children suffering from bronchitis, coughs, colds and irritation — promoting its use as “non-addictive” .

heroin bayer

( Yes, that ad is for Bayer Heroin for Children…  “ for bronchitis“.  )

The costs , in terms of human suffering, of all this unrestricted, unsupervised, for-profit-poisoning of the public is impossible to estimate.

It serves as just one more warning against allowing companies to ‘self-govern’ themselves…

Governments serve a vital role in protecting the public from dangerous or worthless medical products and services–

…. and to ensure both the efficacy and the safety of medicines before allowing their sale and use.

Thanks for reading.

See my post — “Vintage Medical Quackery” — for more on this subject.