56 Crazy Medical Practices Doctors Thought Made Sense
An electric bath, 1910, used to treat rheumatism.
The human body is a mysterious machine. Most of the time, human babies develop according to plan, but sometimes, something goes weirdly wrong and the result is a curious medical anomaly. Almost as intriguing is methods employed to cared for and cure the human body. In our time of modern medicine, it is easy to look back at past medical practices with disgust and fascination. This collection of medical-related photographs from the past will show us how remarkable the human body is and how medicine has improved over time.
Sure, we’ve always been told that water and electricity don’t mix, but would you believe electrified baths were used to treat various ailments, including rheumatoid arthritis, in the early 1900s? Yep, medical technicians would immerse a person in a tub of water, or as this photo shows, just immerse their limbs, and run mild electrical charges through the water. Actually, electrotherapy remains a form of alternative medicine. In Japan, the practice is widespread and you can find Denkiburo, or electrified pools, across Japan. People use them to relieve arthritis pain or just as a way to promote health in general.
Coca-Cola was first sold in 1894 with actual cocaine content, originally intended as a patent medicine.
When John Pemberton first created Coca-Cola in 1886, it was the height of the patent medicine age and Pemberton, a pharmacist, was hoping to cash in by creating his own medicinal tonic. In fact, his original formula include cocaine which was, at that time, a medicinal drug more than a recreational one. Although Pemberton’s Coca-Cola didn’t cure any diseases, it was delicious, cool, and refreshing, therefore customers asked for more. Soon he added it to his pharmacy’s soda fountain, and the rest is history.
A patient buying cigarettes from his hospital bed in the 1950s, kind of like a dentist giving a kid some sugary candy.
This seems counter-productive, but long before the surgeon general warnings about the dangers of tobacco used began appearing on the labels of cigarettes, most people believed that cigarettes posed not dangerous side effects or health concerns. In fact, smoking was touted as a great way to relax and distress by many medical professionals. So many it isn’t so odd to see a hospital patient buying a pack of cigarettes from his hospital bed in the 1950s. And you know he will smoke that pack right there in his hospital bed.
Children in an iron lung before the advent of the polio vaccination. Many children lived for months in these machines, though not all survived. c. 1937
Before the polio vaccine put an end to the polio epidemic, many children we inflicted with the disease. In many cases, polio led to a paralysis of the chest muscles and made breathing difficult or impossible. Artificial, external breathing machines, known as iron lungs, saved the lives of many children by helping them to breathe until their lungs were strong enough to do the job on their own. For some children, this meant months in the iron lung. Can you imagine the boredom these kids must have experienced?
Star Manufacturing Co. produced this suntan vending machine back in the 1940s.
Often found near public pools, tennis courts, and beaches, Star Manufacturing’s suntan vending machine offered a quick and easy way for women to get a deep, dark tan without having to spend all their time sunbathing. For one dime, the machine gave the user 30 seconds worth of tan spray. It is unknown what type of substance was used to color the skin, whether it had harmful side effects, or whether it offered any protection from the sun, but we do know that the suntan vending machines debuted in 1949 and didn’t enjoy a very long life.
Victorian toddler drinking from a baby bottle, referred to as murder bottles.
These Victorian baby bottles became known as Murder Bottles. Breastfeeding fell out of fashion in the Victorian era because the fashionable corsets of the day were constricting and time-consuming to take on and off. Mothers of young children were thrilled when baby bottles were introduced to alleviate them of the task of nursing their young. What they didn’t know was that the difficult-to-clean bottles easily harbored bacteria that could…and did…make their children sick. Several children died from the bacterial infections and, once the cause was discovered, the baby bottles earned the reputation for being murder bottles.
Dentist's high speed drill; the first ones, developed in the 1800s (and before electricity), were powered by a foot pedal.
The most common reason for visiting the dentist was the same in the 1800s as it is today…to have a cavity filled, thus stopping a tooth ache. The process of filling a cavity is similar today to what it was a century or two ago. First the dentist must drill out the decay in the tooth, then he has to fill the hole with some sort of material that firmly adheres to the tooth. Prior to the invention of electricity, dentist used foot-powered drilled to remove the decayed part of the tooth, as shown in this photograph from the 1800s.
Yes, this is a real vintage ad for Heater Halls Cocaine Candy. Cocaine was a popular product in the 19th and 20th centuries before it was outlawed.
Cocaine was a commonly-used medicinal drug long before it was banned and subsequently turned into a recreational drug. As this old advertisement showed, cocaine lollipops, in a variety of flavors, were used to curb sweet tooths, quiet coughs, relieve headaches, and increase vigor and stamina. The problem was, cocaine is highly addictive and the body experiences terrible withdrawal symptoms when it doesn’t have enough of the substance. That addictive quality is what led to its banning.
Liverpool children, 1942.
Memories of World War I gas attacks were still fresh in the minds of the English when World War II broke out and residents of Liverpool were not taking any chances. When the British government determined that it was in the best interest of every person in England, no matter how young, to have their own gas mask. Making enough of these masks was a huge task that fell to a factory in Lancashire. It was estimated that the factory produced more than 38 million gas masks, including the ones worn by these tiny tots in Liverpool.
Civil War veteran Jacob Miller was shot in the head and survived. He lived with the open bullet wound for decades.
Defying medical logic, Civil War veteran Jacob C. Miller, was wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga on September 19, 1863. Fortunately for Miller, bullet manufacturing during the Civil War was an inexact science and the buck shot that hit Miller in the head was an example of a low lethality projectile. Still, the bullet lodged in his skull without killing him. He lived for years with an open bullet wound between his eyes. From time to time, a piece of the bullet would fall out of the wound. Still other times, the bullet would cause Miller to fall into a stupor for several hours or several days. Despite the wound, Miller lived well into his seventies.
Paul Anderson back-lifting 6,270 lbs, the most weight ever lifted by a human. (1957)
He may not be a household name, but, for the weight-lifting community, Paul Anderson is a legend! In 1957, he pushed the limits of human strength and lifted the most weight by any human…a back-breaking 6,270 pounds. Growing up, Anderson played sports, including football, but strength training was his true love. He didn’t have access to a gym with professional equipment so he made his own using items he found around his family home. He filled 55-gallon drums with concrete and fashioned weights from those. He even developed his own training routine that emphasized squats.
Nurse showing newspaper headline about Polio Vaccine, to a man on chest respirator due to polio, 1955.
After a long epidemic that claimed many lives and left countless others paralyzed, a vaccine for polio was finally developed in 1955. The development of the polio vaccine is credited to Jonas Salk and his team of researchers. After the success of trial runs with the polio vaccine, the March of Dimes launched an aggressive campaign to encourage families to vaccinate their children. Since 1955, when there was more than 37,000 cases of polio in the United States, polio has been on the decline. By the start of the 1960s, only 150 cases were reported. By 1979, the CDC announced that polio had been eradicated from the U.S.
A late 1800s pharmacy in New Zealand.
This pharmacy in New Zealand is fully stocked with everything you would need to help you recover from an illness or injury. During this time, there was not distinction made between prescription medication and over-the-counter pills…you could find it all at the corner drug store. This pharmacy even offered additional services, such as teeth extractions, as the sign indicated. Dental work was commonly done by a pharmacist or barber in the days before modern dentistry.
The Victorian Era Gentleman's Guide to Amputation.
This horrific document is the Gentleman’s Guide to Amputation and offered tips for quickly and easily removing limbs that were injured beyond repair or were diseased. Prior to antiseptic and anesthesia, amputation was brutal and dangerous procedure. This guide sought to eliminate some of the risks to the patient. A clean cut helped to reduce infection and speed healing. Note the final step in the process...the patient and the doctor enjoy a glass of brandy together to toast their success.
Dr. Kilmer’s Female Remedy...
The 1870s quack medicine, Dr. Kilmer’s Female Remedy, couldn’t be marketed as relieve from menstrual cramps and pain because decent people didn’t discuss the natural working of a female body. So instead, the tonic was said to be ‘specially adapted to female constitutions’. The label further added that is worked as a ‘blood purifier and system regulator’. Likely, it did none of those things. Kilmer’s company was investigated and shut down following the National Food and Drug Act of 1906.
Robert Wadlow is the tallest person in history. Wadlow reached 8 feet 11.1 inches in height. He died in 1940 aged 22.
It was hyperplasia of the pituitary gland that caused Robert Wadlow to continuously grow. His body was being flooded with an abnormally large amount of human growth hormone which accounted for his tremendous height. Wadlow was just shy of 9 feet tall, measuring 8 feet, 11.1 inches, just prior to his death at age 22. If death hadn’t stopped him, Wadlow would have continued to grow throughout his life, but the cost was becoming quite height. He lost much of the feeling in his legs and had to wear leg braces. It was one of these braces that led to his death. The poor fitting brace caused a blister to form which led to blood poisoning and infection. He died in 1940.
Tanning babies at the Chicago Orphan Asylum, 1925, to offset winter rickets.
Starting at the end of the 19th century, light therapy was a common medical practice to help children strengthen their growing bones and to thwart the onset of rickets, a disease caused by a deficiency in vitamin D. Rickets causes a slowing of the calcification process and results in soft bones, bowed legs, and other bone deformities. Doctors believed that bathing children in high dosed of ultraviolet light would help their bodies kick start the calcification process. Today we do know that vitamin D from sunlight does help the body absorb more calcium.
A man trying out a stretching device which claimed to increase height by 2 to 6 inches in 1931.
Being taller has its advantages. Of course, you can reach things on higher shelves, but studies have also shown that taller people are more respected and authoritative and confident than shorter people. No wonder this gentleman is willing to go to great lengths to become taller. This 1930s spine stretcher was said to help a person add two to six full inches to their height by elongating the spine. While proper posture does give the appearance of being taller, this contraption looks downright evil.
A miniature lamp cemented to the lens during an experiment to investigate the reflex movements of the eyes and their association with visual illusions.
This odd-looking machine is an optokenetic drum that was used to test how susceptible a person is to motion sickness. The person sits in the center of the drum and faces the inside wall of it. The inside wall contains markings like stripes or dots. When the drum is rotated, the eyes see a moving field of vision even as the person stays stationary and the technicians are able to gauge the person’s optokinetic Nystagus, or response to rotating objects. In this image, Dr. G. H. Byford is in the optokinetic drum wearing a contact lens affixed to the lens as part of an experiment conducted by the Royal Air Force’s Institute of Aviation Medicine.
In 1893, Dr Young’s Ideal Rectal Dilators were available as solutions for health problems.
Would you believe that self-retaining rectal dilators were sold as a cure for insanity and chronic constipation from the end of the 1800s through the 1940s? Although the label says Dr. Young’s Ideal Rectal Dilators should only be administered by a medical professional, there was an outcry from concerned people, both in and out of the medical field, that the hard rubber ½ inch to 1 inch round dilators could be misused as a deviant sex toy. In 1940, the U.S. Attorney’s office seized a shipment of the rectal dilators and accused the company of misleading labeling because the label claims the product cured acne, anemia, bad breathe, hemorrhoids, flatulence, nervousness, headaches, and insomnia.
Masks worn by doctors during the Plague. The beaks held scented substances.
Super creepy, these long-beaked plague masks were worn in the 17th through 19th centuries by doctors who attended to plaque patients. The bubonic plague outbreaks decimated the population and communities often hired a plague doctor to serve the people of the town. Many of these so-called plague doctors were not medically trained or had no experience. They did not attempt to cure anyone, but simply recorded the deaths. Still, it was dangerous work. The masks were worn to protect themselves from the deadly outbreak. The long beaks were filled with organic material like flowers and herbs that masked the stale air of the sick because it was thought that the foul smells spread the disease.
Baby incubator, circa 1900.
Premature births were one of the leading factors for the high infant mortality rate of the 19th century. One doctor, Dr. Martin A. Couney, a pioneer in the field of neonatology, felt that if infants could be allowed to continue to grow and mature in an environment that replicated the womb, their chances of survival would be much stronger. He invented a baby incubator, a heated box. Couney traveled around the country giving demonstrations of his infant incubators and explaining the benefits to hospitals. Soon, many hospitals had incubators on site and more attention and advancements were made in the field of premature infants.
Frieda Pushnik was born on February 10, 1923 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Although healthy, Frieda was born without arms or legs.
Sadly, the best career option for people with severe deformities a hundred years ago was to become a side-show attraction in a circus. Although we consider these to be dehumanizing and exploitative now, circuses provided a way for people like Frieda Pushnik to earn a living. Frieda was born without arms and legs in 1923 and it was assumed that her deformity was the result of her mother having an emergency appendectomy when she was pregnant with Frieda. Frieda lived and traveled with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus from 1933 until 1956.
In 1947, Mount Sinai performed the first kidney dialysis in the United States.
Considered the father of dialysis, Dr. Willem Kolff developed several artificial kidney machines beginning in 1943 and spent a decade perfecting it. Its design, as a drum dialyzer, is still the most widely-used design. Kolff donated five of his artificial kidney machines to hospitals around the world, including Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. He even worked to train doctors on how the equipment worked. His labors paid off when, in 1947, Mount Sinai performed the first successful kidney dialysis in the country.
A woman wearing a flu mask during the flu epidemic after the First World War, 1919 .
On the heels of World War I was the 1918 flu epidemic, known as the Spanish Flu Outbreak. This outbreak was the first of two pandemics blamed on the H1N1 flu virus, but it was one of the deadliest flu pandemics in modern times. Approximately 50 to 100 million people died as a result of the influenza virus…that was between 3 and 5 percent of the total world population. Another 500 million people were infected. The flu virus spread quickly around the planet, thanks in part to the new, faster modes of transportation. The woman shown in this photograph is doing her best to avoid the flu virus by wearing a protective mask.
In the USA between 1939 and 1951, 18,000 lobotomies were performed on veterans, prisoners, rebels-political opponents, and even misbehaving children.
For more than two decades, lobotomies were a common practice for treatment of mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, manic depression, and schizophrenia. The procedure severed the connections between the prefrontal lobe of the brain, altering behavior. The risk and permanence of the procedure led it to be quite controversial. Add to that the subjective nature of diagnosing mental illness…people who were outspoken or rule-breakers were labeled as mentally ill and given forced lobotomies. Cases of botched lobotomies were common. A procedure gone wrong could leave the patient in a vegetative state, or suffering from chronic seizures, or with uncontrolled anger and impulsiveness.
“Walter Reed physiotherapy store” 1920s.
The 1920s saw outbreaks of polio which led to paralysis and respiratory failure. One solution to respiratory failure was the iron lung, a machine used for external negative pressure ventilation. First designed in the 1800s, the iron lung was in wide-spread use in the 1920s and helped to save the lives of numerous polio patients. The patient would sit in the box which was sealed around their necks and mechanical bellows changed the air pressure in the chamber, pulling air into and out of the lungs, aiding in respiratory.
A woman using an electric inhaling apparatus which produces a medicated fog used in the treatment of colds and influenza, circa 1929.
What we see here is a forerunner to today’s inhalers that are so common among asthmatics and people suffering from respiratory illnesses. For conditions of the lungs, the most effective way to get medication into the system is to breathe it in. Prior to portable, hand-held inhalers, people used an electric inhaling device that heated the medicine enough to convert it into a vapor that could then be breathed in. In this photograph, the woman is using the electric inhaling apparatus to help treat respiratory distress caused by influenza.
A young patient getting fit with a respirator in 1955.
Like a portable iron lung, the respirators of 1955, mechanical ventilators were designed to move air in and out of a person’s lungs. The 1955 introduction of the Bird Respirator, developed by inventor Forrest Bird and officially dubbed the Bird Universal Medical Respirator, revolutionized the way ventilator patients received treatment. The Bird Respirator was unique in that it was a pneumatic machine that required no electricity to operate. We don’t know this young boy’s medical history or what necessitates the need for a respirator, but the photo was taken during the time that polio was running rampant so we can speculate that he is a polio patient.
Cringe-worthy photos were shot with family members and the deceased, in lifelike poses, before burial.
A particularly odd Victorian trend was death photos, also called memento mori, which translates to ‘remembering that you died’. Basically, these were selfies with a dead loved one, taken shortly after their death. Some death photos showed the deceased looking as though they were peacefully sleeping. Young children were often photographed with a favorite toy or doll. Still others were family photos, with loved ones gathered around the corpse, which was propped up and arranged in a lifelike fashion. After the photo was taken, an artist would paint pupils onto the dead person’s eyes to make them look alive. Creepy.
Blood transfusion bottle, England 1978.
Thanks to World Wars I and II, tremendous medical advances were made in the area of blood transfusion. It was innovation borne out of necessity as so many people were wounded in battle and needed life-saving blood transfusions. But it wasn’t until the end of World War II that John Elliott developed a vacuum bottle for blood transfusions. His invention was used exclusively by the Red Cross and helped to make blood donations, collections and transfusions more safely available. Elliott's same design was still in use when this photo was taken in 1978.
Electro-convulsive therapy, or electroshock, has a bad reputation, but medically its efficacy is well documented, even if nobody knows how it works.
In the past, electroshock therapy was dangerous and controversial, but did you know that it is still in use today? According to the Mayo Clinic, much of the negative stigma comes from decades-old experiments that went awry when too much electricity was used, or not enough anesthesia was used. Today, however, electroshock therapy is much safer and much more regulated. It is effective for treating patients suffering from psychosis, severe mania, dementia with aggression, catatonia, and depression that doesn’t respond to medication.
Fish oil. Remember this?
During the 1940s and 1950s, cod liver oil was routinely given to school children at school but that practice ended with too many parents questions the rights of the schools and governments to administer mass medications to students without parental approval. Besides, people began to question the effectiveness of cod liver oil any way. But recent studies have proven that fish oil is beneficial. The amino acids help in brain development and aid the body in fighting off disease. If we bring back fish oil to schools, I just hope they don't use the same spoon for every child!
Frank Lentini was born in 1889 with a parasitic twin attached to his body at the base of his spine consisting of a pelvis bone and a rudimentary set of male genitalia.
Frank Lentini found a way to turn his deformity into a career when he joined the circus as an 8-year old Italian immigrant. He eventually worked for every major circus in the United States and was billed as the Great Lentini. His deformity was the result of an under-formed parasitic twin that was fused to his body at the spine. If you think you’ve seen a photograph of Lentini before, you might be right. A photograph of him was used on the back cover of Alice in Chains’s self-titled album that was released in 1995.
This 3,300-year-old Egyptian stele is thought to depict a polio victim.
Polio has a long history of ravaging humans. In fact, it may even extend back to the time of ancient Egypt. In the late 1700s, a British physician named Michael Underwood noticed this image in this Egyptian stone tablet that dates back to the 15th century B.C. He pointed out that the man carved into the stone has a withered leg and appears to be carrying a crutch or cane. Perhaps, Underwood theorized, this tablet shows as polio victim. To back up his theory, archeologists have found numerous Egyptian mummies that show signs of paralysis that could have been caused by polio.
In the late 1800s, these devices were sold as artificial eardrums. They were tiny devices that were inserted in the ear in order to resonate sounds throughout the auditory canal and eardrum.
Louisville, Kentucky, inventor George H. Wilson, designed a rimless, self-ventilating artificial eardrum and applied for a patent for it in 1892. According to the advertisements of the day, the artificial eardrum was shaped so that it could be inserted easily and painlessly into the ear canal where it would be hidden from view. The label assured wearers that they would soon forget they were wearing it. By 1910, a new salesman joined the company and began marketing the artificial eardrum as a cure for deafness. Although there was no scientific backing for this claim, the salesman understood that sensational claims sold product.
Lucy Hobbs Taylor was the first American woman to graduate from dental school, in the 1860s.
Although she started her career as a school teacher, Lucy Hobbs Taylor’s passion was elsewhere. She longed to be a dentist, but was denied admission to the Eclectic Medical College of Cincinnati because she was a woman. She then applied at the Ohio College of Dentistry and was again denied admission. Undeterred, she studied independently under the tutelage of a dental professor. She moved to Iowa, where she did not have to be licensed, and opened her own dental practice. She became a member of the Iowa State Dental Society and represented the state at the American Dental Association’s convention. As soon as the Ohio College of Dentistry began allowing women to enroll, Taylor applied. When she graduated in 1866, she became the first female in the world to earn a doctorate of dentistry.
A bottle of Harriet Hubbard Ayer’s Moth and Freckle Lotion. Moth was a Victorian term for a facial blemish.
Harriet Hubbard Ayer was a business-minded entrepreneur in Victorian England who made a fortune selling non-cosmetic skin care products. One of them, Harriet Hubbard Ayer’s Moth and Freckle Lotion, was intended to rid the face and hands of freckles and other spots, not furry butterfly-like insects. Ayer was a consummate salesperson. She claimed the formula for her freckle lotion came from France because she knew that Paris was considered the pinnacle of fashion and beauty. She also used celebrity endorsements to market her product, including Sarah Bernhardt, Fanny Davenport, and Lillian Russell.
Neurological exam with electrical device, c. 1884.
Since its discovery, doctors had been trying to find a way to harness the power of electricity for medical use. Although it was not fully understood, electricity was new and modern and powerful, so the medical community wanted in on the action. When it was determined that the brain sends signals to other parts of the body via the nervous system using something akin to electric pulses, it was game on for inventors of medical equipment. In this image, a physician uses an electrical device in an attempt to determine if the nerves are receiving the brain’s signals properly.
Photographed in 1880, Myrtle Corbin was born a dipygus having two separately functioning pelvises and four legs.
When she was developing in the womb, Myrtle Corbin’s axis split and developed two separate pelvises. Each pelvis had two legs, an outer leg that is fully formed and fully functioning and an inner leg that is much smaller. The medical doctors who examined her struggled to describe her condition. In fact, one doctor by the name of Brooks H. Wells described her as belonging to the “class of monsters by fusion.” When she was just 13, she joined a circus as a side show oddity and was billed as the four-legged girl.
Portrait photos of the oldest Native American to have ever lived...
White Wolf was born in 1785 and died in 1922 at the age of 137, making him the oldest known Native American to have ever lived. There is much debate over the authenticity of his age, but most accounts agree that he was 137 at the time of his death. Up until his death, he still enjoyed fishing at Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods and spent much of his time walking through the forests. We could credit the fresh air, fish diet, and daily exercise to his longevity, but White Wolf himself had another theory. He was once asked about the secret to his long life, to which he quipped, “I never fly United Airlines.”
Pro wrestler Adrienne Nichols demonstrating her fitness routine, 1948.
Professional wrestler, Adrienne Nichols, shown here demonstrating her fitness training routine, understood that a woman’s body differs greatly from a man’s body. She was among the first female athletes to design training and fitness regiments that were specifically designed to target the strengths and weaknesses of the female body. Prior to Nichols, most female athletes simply adopted the routines that men were doing even though they noticed the results were not the same.
Railroad First Aid demonstration with a Johnson & Johnson First Aid Kit, c. 1800s
Johnson and Johnson Company founder, Robert Wood Johnson, was on a train headed to Colorado in 1888 when he struck up a conversation with the chief surgeon of the Denver and Rio Grande Railway. The surgeon explained that accidents happened frequently among railroad workers, but that medical help was often too far away to do any good. That gave Johnson an idea. He packaged together several of his company’s products, such as gauze and bandages, into a box that could be keep nearby in case of emergency. The first first aid kits were born.
Stella Grassman being tattooed in the early 1900s.
Stella Grassman, seen here being tattooed by her husband, Deafy Grassman, was a tattoo artist in her own right and owned two tattoo parlors, on in Philadelphia and the other in New York City, in the 1920s. Both Stella and Deafy Grassman toured with traveling circuses and showed off their tattooed bodies to crowds of spectators. The Grassman helped to popularize tattooing among women.
The patient's skin is burned in a pattern corresponding to the dark portions of a kimono worn at the time of the explosion, 1945.
The power of nuclear energy! When the first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, August 6, 1945, it unleashed a power never before seen on Earth. That deadly power had many unexpected results. For example, this woman’s skin was burned with the pattern of the kimono she was wearing at the time of the explosion. Only the dark colors of the fabric absorbed the energy of the blast and burned her skin. The lighter colors in the fabric did not seem to attract as much of the deadly energy. The woman had a lasting reminder of the outfit she wore on August 6, 1945, in the form of scars on her skin.
Taking an x-ray in 1942.
Wilhelm Rontgen is credited with the creation of the first x-ray machine, but his invention was a happy accident. Rontgen was experimenting with cathode rays and found that the rays were strong enough to pass through skin, but not strong enough to pass through denser objects, like bones, when photographed. The medical and scientific community latched onto Rontgen’s invention because it provided them, for the first time, with a way to see inside the human body without cutting it open. The baby shown in this image is getting an x-ray and he nurse is trying to get him to sit still.
Until the end of the 1920s, when the electric slit lamp became widely available, candlelight was the best bet, 1910
Prior to electricity, the only way for a physician or eye doctor to see into a patient’s eye was with candlelight. The challenge was to focus the candlelight into the eyeball without getting the flame too close to the patient. Being able to see into the eye ball was important, though, as it was the best way for doctors to diagnose optical diseases and observe damage to the eye from injury.
Woman with an artificial leg, c. 1890-1900.
It was scandalous to show your bare leg one hundred years ago and that was even true of an artificial leg. When physicians wanted to photograph and document this woman’s artificial leg, she agreed only if she could cover her face and keep her identity a secret. This prosthetic appears to be quite advanced for the day, so it is understandable that her doctors wanted to record the device and note how it fit.
Working out at the gym aboard the Titanic, 1912.
The Titanic was a luxury ship with all the amenities wealthy passengers could possibly want. But did you know it even had a state-of-the-art gym on board for the ship’s more elite passengers. The gym included stationary bikes, a heated salt-water pool, and rowing machines. The wealthy passengers could still keep their physiques in top shape while crossing the Atlantic. We can’t help but wonder if the gentleman rowing this rowing machine was able to row a life boat to safety.
Willem Einthoven, a Dutch doctor and physiologist, invented the first practical electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) in 1903.
The Dutch doctor, inventor, and physiologist, Willem Einthoven, is credited with inventing the first electrocardiogram. Prior to Einthoven’s time, it was well-known that the heart produced electrical currents but there was no way to accurately measure these currents. Einthoven created a string galvanometer that used thin filament of conductive wire and strong magnets to record the heart’s electrical current. For his work, Einthoven received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1924.
Roy Lee "Rocky" Dennis (pictured with his mother "Rusty" in 1977) was an American boy who had craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, an extremely rare sclerotic bone disorder.
Rocky Dennis’s story was popularized in the 1985 film, Mask, starring Cher in the role of Rocky’s mother. Born in 1961, Rocky suffered from craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, a rare bone disease that caused extreme facial deformities. Despite his limitations and strange appearance, Rocky and his mother were determined that he lead as normal a life a possible. He attended school and made friends. He died at the age of 16 and, as per his wish, his body was donated to science.
Antique leeching kit, with 21 leech cups each about 2" tall, a glass knife, and an antique pencil used for the burning parts of the process.
Bloodletting was a common medical practice in the Middle Ages. The physicians felt that, occasionally, the body gets too bogged down with blood and it slows the system. The cure was bloodletting, most often using leeches. The glass cups seen in this leeching kit were placed over the leeches on the skin and were used to collect the blood. But the cups served another purpose, too. They created a suction over the skin and, it was thought, the suction pulled out the sickness right through the skin.
The first embalming tent of the Civil War. The man pictured did 4000 embalmings over the entire war period. This tent is decorated for Christmas.
With so many casualties on both side of the Civil War, the need to prepare and preserve bodies for burial was important. In this photograph dating back to the Civil War, we see an embalming tent. Bodies were taken to the embalming tent where the undertakers did the embalming. This undertaker performed more than 4,000 embalmings from this tiny tent, but that was just a drop in the bucket. An estimated 620,000 people lost their lives fighting in the Civil War.
Maud Stevens Wagner was the first known female tattoo artist in the US. (1907)
The Tattooed Lady! Maud Stevens Wagner’s first job in the traveling circus was as an contortionist and aerialist, the that all changed when she met Gus Wagner, the tattoo artist who would become her husband. Maud learned the art of tattooing from her husband, who claimed to be the ‘most artistically marked up man in America.” Both Wagners used the hand-poked method for tattooing, even as most tattoo artists were using the newly-invented tattoo machine. In fact, the couple was the last tattoo artists to work by hand. When her training was complete, Maud Wagner became the first female tattoo artists in the United States.
A female bodybuilder from the early 1900s.
Up until modern times, it was considered unattractive and unfeminine for women to be fit and muscular. In fact, it was so out-of-the-ordinary for a female to have a toned and well-defined body that women who were physically strong and muscular were often put on display as circus side-show exhibits. By the end of the 19th century and start of the 20th century, though, more and more female fitness freaks were redefining our ideas of beauty and femininity and throwing off societal norms by joining men in athletic competitions and body building contests, like these two lovely ladies.
A 19th Century vampire hunting kit.
You wouldn’t want to run into a vampire unprepared, especially if you were traveling to Eastern Europe where vampires were known to hang out in the 1800s. That’s why vampire hunting kits, such as the one shown here, were sold to travelers headed to Romania and other parts of Eastern Europe. Inside the kit, a traveler would have everything they needed to thwart a vampire attack, including a wooden stake, garlic, holy water, and the Holy Bible. While there is some evidence that these kits were available prior to the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897, there was certainly an uptick in sales after the novel came out.