JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
This is the 12th installment of a new series United States Patent Reports on electrical quackery and unsubstantiated bric--a-brac from the newly-electric world of the period of 1870-1900.
Let's state as a given that some things are real, and some things aren't. There is a very broad history of things believed to be real but weren't, or aren't--I'm not sure what the percentage of those things would be in the overall Scheme of Things, whether the things-that-aren't outnumber the things-that-are, or not. It does seem ready for a Dr. Seussian treatment, though.
Thomas Edison (in)famously fooled a reporter into thinking that he was creating a phone to the dead, an unintentional hoax that he allowed to fester for as long as he (Edison) lived; H.L. Mencken wrote a fictitious story about the history of bathtubs, a humorous piece, really, that turned out to be a satire on the way things are perceived and published, as the story took on a life of its own as factual, reported as true to this day even though Mencken stated immediately afterwards that it was a joke.
And then there are the real things that aren't--not really--and look (and sound) that way. Such is the case with these fabulous electric baths, below. As is what seems to be the custom with patent reports (from this period, anyway), the inventor needed to thoroughly explain how the invention was made to function, while not actually addressing what that function was. This was lucky for the inventor and manufacturer, though not necessarily so for the consumer. Had these electrical quack devices worked, the introduction of electric hair, electrically-induced mega-bowels, sharp eyes, pretty teeth, accelerated masculinity, relaxed femininity, spine straighteners, beard growers, inner-secret-strength enhancers, and so on, would've produced a nation of ________ brought about the miracle of electricity.
In this vein, here are a few examples of electric baths, including one with one of the scariest drawings of a person I've ever seen in a patent report: