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The Electrical Purple Snake-Oil Machine

The violet ray machine has an superior title that conjures up photos of cartoon supervillains taking out Gotham, however its precise historical past is even odder—and it features a superhero, not a villain.

The know-how underpinning the machine begins with none aside from
Nikola Tesla and his eponymous coil. After Tesla and others made some refinements to the gadget, an influential clairvoyant named Edgar Cayce popularized violet ray machines for treating nearly each form of ailment—rheumatism and nervous circumstances, pimples and baldness, gonorrhea and prostate troubles, mind fog and author’s cramp. Even Marvel Lady had her personal health-restoring Purple Ray gadget. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, plenty of firms manufactured and offered the machines, which grew to become ubiquitous for a time. And but the scientific foundation for the therapeutic results of violet rays was scant. So what accounted for his or her recognition?

The cutting-edge tech of the violet ray machine

Violet ray machines make use of a Tesla coil, also referred to as a resonance transformer, to provide a high-frequency, low-current beam, which is then utilized to the pores and skin. Nikola Tesla kicked off this line of invention after touring to Paris through the summer time of 1889 to attend the
Exposition Universelle. There he discovered of Heinrich Hertz’s electromagnetic discoveries. Intrigued, Tesla returned to New York Metropolis to run some experiments of his personal. The end result was the Tesla coil, which he envisioned getting used for wi-fi lighting and energy. In April 1891, he utilized for a U.S. patent for a “System of Electrical Lighting,” which he acquired two months later. It will be the primary in a collection of associated patents that spanned greater than a decade.

In Might of that yr, Tesla unveiled his wondrous invention to members of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, throughout a
lecture on his “Experiments with Alternate Currents of Very Excessive Frequency and Their Utility to Strategies of Synthetic Illumination.” He continued to check totally different circuit configurations and patented some (however not all) of his enhancements, resembling a “Means for Producing Electrical Currents,” U.S. Patent No. 514,168. After extra years of tinkering, Tesla perfected his resonance transformer and was granted U.S. Patent No. 1,119,732 for an “Equipment for Transmitting Electrical Power” on 1 December 1914.

An old black and white photo showing a man sitting next to a large electrical apparatus that is emitting sparks.
Nikola Tesla envisioned his eponymous coil getting used for wi-fi lighting and energy. It was additionally on the coronary heart of the violet ray machine. Stocktrek Pictures/Getty Pictures

Tesla promoted the
medical use of the electromagnetic spectrum, suggesting to physicians that totally different voltages and currents might be used to deal with quite a lot of circumstances. His endorsement got here at a time when skilled medical doctors in addition to shrewd hucksters have been already experimenting with electrotherapy and ultraviolet gentle to assist sufferers or to make a buck, relying in your perspective.

The market was completely primed for the violet ray machine, in different phrases. Tesla himself by no means commercialized a medical gadget based mostly round his coil, however others did. The French doctor and electrophysiologist
Jacques-Arsène d’Arsonval modified Tesla’s design to make the gadget safer for human use. It was additional improved by one other French physician and electrotherapy researcher, Paul Marie Oudin. In 1893, Oudin crafted the primary working prototype of what finally grew to become the violet ray machine. 4 years later, Frederick Robust developed an American model.

An influential clairvoyant named Edgar Cayce popularized violet ray machines for treating nearly each form of ailment—rheumatism and nervous circumstances, pimples and baldness, gonorrhea and prostate troubles, mind fog and author’s cramp.

One other charismatic particular person will get credit score for popularizing the gadget: the psychic
Edgar Cayce. As a younger grownup, Cayce reportedly misplaced his voice for over a yr. No physician might remedy him, and in desperation he underwent hypnosis. He not solely regained the power to talk, he additionally started suggesting medical recommendation and homeopathic treatments. Cayce, who claimed to have had visions from childhood, grew to become knowledgeable clairvoyant, and for the subsequent 40 years he allotted his knowledge by means of psychic readings. Out of greater than 14,000 recorded readings, Cayce talked about the violet ray machine nearly 900 instances. In case you doubt his standing as an influencer, Cayce counted Thomas Edison, composer George Gershwin, and U.S. president Woodrow Wilson amongst his shoppers.

Was there nothing the violet ray machine couldn’t remedy?

The recognition of violet ray machines exploded after 1915, as soon as all the parts for a transportable gadget might be simply manufactured. They might be plugged right into a lamp or wall socket or wired to a battery—keep in mind that most properties and companies within the early twentieth century weren’t but electrified, and so most producers supplied each alternating and direct present choices. The machine’s handheld wand consisted of a Tesla coil wrapped in an insulating materials, resembling Bakelite. The coil produced 1 to 2 kilovolts, which charged a condenser, after which discharged at a fee between 4 to 10 kilohertz when handed over the pores and skin. A voltage selector managed the depth of the spark, creating something from a light sensation to one thing fairly intense. This video reveals the sparks coming from an vintage machine:

Glass electrodes—partially evacuated glass tubes referred to as Geissler tubes—might be inserted into the wand. These got here in numerous shapes relying on their supposed use. For instance, a rake-shaped attachment labored to therapeutic massage the scalp, whereas a slim tube might be inserted into the mouth, nostril, or one other orifice. The excessive voltage ionized the fuel inside the glass tube, creating the purple glow that gave the gadget its title.

Quite a few producers sprang as much as produce the transportable machines, together with Detroit’s
Renulife Electrical Co. Based by inventor James Henry Eastman in 1917, Renulife offered totally different fashions for various makes use of. In response to firm literature, Mannequin M was its hottest general-purpose product, whereas Mannequin D was for dentistry, and the tricked-out Mannequin R [pictured at top] had finer regulation of present and a built-in ozone generator to assist with head and lung congestion.

In 1917, editors on the
Journal of the American Medical Affiliation reported {that a} violet ray generator actually couldn’t deal with “virtually each ailment recognized to mankind,” as one producer had claimed.

Directions for the violet ray machines manufactured by Charles A. Branston Ltd. comprise an alphabetical checklist of issues that might be handled, from abscess to author’s cramp, with dozens of different illnesses in between. Just like the Renulife merchandise, the Branston machines additionally got here in totally different flavors. The Branston machine’s high-frequency mode had germicidal results and purportedly might be used to remedy infections in addition to relieve ache. Sinusoidal mode was used to softly therapeutic massage away nervousness and paralysis. Ozone mode was for inhaling, to deal with lung issues. The Branston gadgets ranged in worth from US $30 for the Mannequin 5B (high-frequency mode solely) to $100 for the Mannequin 29 (which had all three modes).

A page from a pamphlet showing the potential uses of an electrotherapeutic machine.
The violet ray machines made by Charles A. Branston Ltd. had totally different modes for treating all kinds of illnesses.Historic Medical Library/Faculty of Physicians of Philadelphia

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, producers marketed the machines to medical doctors and shoppers alike. By the point Marvel Lady debuted in her personal comedian ebook in June 1942, the violet ray machine was a widely known family know-how. So it wasn’t too shocking that the superhero had a machine of her personal.

Within the very first problem, Marvel Lady’s future love curiosity, Steve Trevor, is grievously injured in a airplane crash. Looking for to remedy his wounds, Diana works tirelessly for 5 days to finish her Purple Ray machine—however she’s too late. Trevor has died. Undeterred, Diana bathes her affected person within the glowing gentle of the machine. The end result may need embarrassed even the admen who wrote the promotional copy for Branston’s merchandise: Marvel Lady’s Purple Ray
brings Trevor again to life.

Science frowns on the violet ray machine

Regardless of their recognition, the machines didn’t fare fairly as effectively inside the medical institution. In 1917, editors on the
Journal of the American Medical Affiliation reported {that a} violet ray generator actually couldn’t deal with “virtually each ailment recognized to mankind,” as one producer had claimed. Though the gadgets emitted a violet coloration, they weren’t in actual fact emitting ultraviolet gentle, or a minimum of not in quantities that will be useful. In 1951, a Maryland district courtroom dominated in opposition to an organization named Grasp Home equipment in a libel swimsuit. The cost was misbranding, and the courtroom discovered that the gadget was not an efficient remedy nor able to producing the claimed outcomes. On the time, Grasp Home equipment was one of many final producers of violet ray machines in america, and the ruling successfully ended manufacturing on this nation.

And but you may nonetheless purchase violet ray machines right this moment—each the vintage selection and its
fashionable equal. In the present day’s items are primarily marketed to aestheticians or offered for dwelling use, and a few dermatologists should not able to categorically dismiss their advantages. Though they most likely received’t remedy indigestion or grey hair, the excessive frequency can dry out the pores and skin and ozone does kill micro organism, so the machines could assist deal with pimples and different pores and skin circumstances. Plus, there’s the placebo impact. As with all shopper electronics for which outrageous claims are made, let the customer beware.

A part of a persevering with collection images of historic artifacts that embrace the boundless potential of know-how.

An abridged model of this text seems within the October 2022 print problem.



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