Patent Medicines, Nostrums and Snake Oil

Bernard Bernard’s Height Increaser For Short People

"The patient lifted himself by the chin which was cradled in a sling attached to ropes looped to an overhead beam."

In 1937, the American Medical Association warned the public that this device, despite being widely advertised, didn't actually work.

The Muncie Star Press - Apr 9, 1937

Update: The inventor of this device was a man named Bernard Bernard who was, himself, only 5 feet 1 inch tall. Details from Hygeia (May 1936):

Another scheme exhibited at the World's Fair was the "Height-Increaser," consisting of a self hanging apparatus with a place for the head and with handles to be gripped with the hands. Fixed to an overhead beam, it was guaranteed to add inches to the growth. The promoter, Bernard Bernard, wrote touching advertisements berating the life of a small man and pointing out that his height-increaser was the road to being a "he-man." He admitted that the apparatus cost him 75 cents, but he sold 3,000 of them for $8.75 each. Bernard, who is only 5 feet, 1 inch tall, explained he had never had the time to increase his own height through his device, although he was then 38 years old.

LA Times - July 31, 1932

LA Times - May 1, 1930

Posted By: Alex - Sat Jul 02, 2022 - Comments (8)
Category: Inventions, Patent Medicines, Nostrums and Snake Oil, 1930s

Nose Writing

William Horatio Bates was a New York ophthalmologist who claimed that poor vision could be cured through eye exercises. He was quite well known in the 1920s and 30s.

One of his eye exercises was called "nose writing." Here it's described by Margaret Darst Corbett (an "authorized instructor" of his method) in her 1953 book How to Improve Your Sight:

Aldous Huxley was also a fan of the 'Bates Method' and of nose writing, which he described in his 1942 book The Art of Seeing:

Another excellent procedure, which is simultaneously an exercise in mind-body coordination, an imagination drill, and a small-scale shift, is "nose-writing." sitting down comfortably in an easy chair, close your eyes and imagine that you have a good long pencil attached to the end of your nose. (Lovers of Edward Lear will remember his pictures of the 'Dong.') Equipped with this instrument, move your head and neck so as to write with your protracted nose upon an imaginary sheet of paper (or, if the pencil is thought of as being white, on an imaginary blackboard) eight or nine inches in front of your face.

I don't think mainstream ophthalmologists have ever put any stock in the benefits of nose writing, but it still has promoters. See the video below.

Posted By: Alex - Fri Jun 24, 2022 - Comments (1)
Category: Patent Medicines, Nostrums and Snake Oil, Eyes and Vision

The ear as an inverted fetus

From Hugh Aldersey-Williams, Anatomies: the human body, its parts and the stories they tell (2014), p. 158:

Some people believe the outer ear may be significant other than as a sound-gatherer. In the 1950s, a French doctor and acupuncturist named Paul Nogier noted that it resembles a curled human foetus (the lobe of the ear represents the head and the interior fold known as the antihelix the spine of the foetus in this case). The scheme of alternative medicine that he devised based on this resemblance is known as auriculotherapy. The patient's ear is seen as a honunculus or map of the whole body, with stimulation at different points on it being used to treat ailments in corresponding parts of the body.

Tampa Tribune - Aug 13, 1973

More info: wikipedia

Posted By: Alex - Wed Jun 15, 2022 - Comments (2)
Category: Body, Patent Medicines, Nostrums and Snake Oil

The Health Dangers of Sleeping on a Hartmann Line

My Great Aunt recently died at the age of 100. Throughout her life she was very much into alternative medicine, and she kept hundreds of newsletters from various alt-health practitioners. Most of them aren't particularly interesting, but while going through her stuff I've found a few oddities, such as a 1990 newsletter warning of the danger of sleeping on Hartmann Lines.

I'd never heard of Hartmann Lines. Wikipedia describes them as "a scientifically unproven grid of invisible energy lines of the Earth's inherent radiation".

But how to know if you're sleeping on a Hartmann line? Well, if you've got a cat and it likes to sleep in your bed, you may be in trouble because apparently cats love sleeping on Hartmann lines. (I'm in trouble!)

I've posted a few snippets from the newsletter below, and also uploaded the full newsletter as a pdf file.

Posted By: Alex - Tue May 24, 2022 - Comments (4)
Category: Health, Patent Medicines, Nostrums and Snake Oil, Cats

Usnea, or Skull Moss

Mummy, unicorn's horn, and bezoars appealed to the imagination because of their unusual character, but even the most commonplace substances might develop supposedly medicinal virtues if they had unusual or gruesome associations. Usnea was a substance of this nature. It was moss; not ordinary moss, but moss scraped from the skull of a criminal who had been hung in chains. Usnea was an official drug in the pharmacopeia until the nineteenth century; it was carried by all apothecary shops, and the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica devoted a section to its curative properties. Usnea was present in the prescriptions of the best physicians over a period extending from the Middle Ages until well after the American Revolution.
Source: Howard W. Haggard, Devils, drugs, and doctors (1929).

image source: reddit

More info from Frances Larson, Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found (2014):

Paracelsus recommended the 'moss', or lichen, that grew on a dead man's skull for seizures and 'disorders of the head', and to bind wounds, on the basis that the 'vital spirit' released at death would be transferred from the skull into the lichen that started to grow on its surface. The fact that these skull-grown lichens were quite rare only increased the value of the cure. Skull moss seems to have been a particularly popular remedy in England and Ireland, perhaps because in these countries dead criminals were often left on public display until their flesh started to rot away and things began to grow on their bones. In 1694 it was reported that London druggists sold suitably mossy skulls for 8 to 11 shillings each, depending on the size and the amount of growth on them. . .

There were reports of people growing moss on stones and then spreading it onto the skulls of criminals, as a way of harvesting the tiny green plants for sale. In practice, apothecaries probably used anything that grew on skulls, and some things that did not grow on skulls, to maintain their supplies.

Posted By: Alex - Fri Apr 29, 2022 - Comments (0)
Category: Death, Medicine, Patent Medicines, Nostrums and Snake Oil, Renaissance Era

The Radiac, or Radio-Active Appliance

My great-aunt recently died at the age of 100. While cleaning out her garage I came across an unusual device (shown below) stored in a shoebox. The literature in the shoebox identified it as a "Radio-Active Appliance (Impedance Device)".

click to enlarge

Some googling reassured me that it's not actually radioactive. It turns out to be an oddball healing gadget used by followers of the clairvoyant Edgar Cayce. So it makes sense that my great-aunt would have one of these, since she was a long-time Cayce devotee.

A description of the device from an Edgar Cayce website:

Vibrational appliances are a unique contribution to alternative medicine from the Cayce readings. The first one I’ll discuss is the Radiac Appliance, also called the Radial Appliance, Radio-Active Device [Radio Active Appliance], Impedance Device or the Radiac. The specifications for the construction of this gadget were entirely channeled from the Source of Cayce’s readings. Cayce himself, knew nothing about this device, nor did this device exist at the time...

How does it work? In electrical terms it could be called a capacitor, (passive electrical component), surrounded by a resistor, (a two terminal electrical component). In other words, it would seem to be some kind of battery. Interestingly, unlike a battery, the Radiac appliance offers no electrical charge or output of its own. It utilizes your own electrical currents and manipulates them in such a way as to give you back your own perfect recharge. It is truly medicine for your energy.

To use it, you're supposed to place the device in a bowl of ice water, attach the electrodes to your wrist and ankle, and then sit like this for half-an-hour to let it "recharge" you.

It's still possible to buy these. Baar products sells a "Radiac Starter Kit" for $315. According to the receipt in the shoebox, my great-aunt paid $15 for hers, back in 1977.

I'm left with the problem of what to do with the thing. I doubt it has any resale value. But it's too strange to simply toss it. It'll probably end up back in the shoebox on a top shelf in the garage.

Posted By: Alex - Fri Apr 15, 2022 - Comments (5)
Category: Patent Medicines, Nostrums and Snake Oil

America’s Fattest Presidents

A 2013 article at this link ranks the weightiest of our leaders. Of course, former-President Trump is not included. This official 2020 health report puts him at 244 pounds, making him, by my calculations, Number Three.

Number Two, Grover Cleveland, tried many times to lose. His personal physician, Dr. John Gibbs, was fond of a new German treatment.

Read more in this book, which is partially available via Google Books.

Posted By: Paul - Sat Mar 19, 2022 - Comments (2)
Category: Government, Patent Medicines, Nostrums and Snake Oil, Nineteenth Century, Twenty-first Century, Obesity

Haarlem Oil

Their home page.

The Wikipedia page.

A 300-year-old "remedy," whose ingredients are:

Ad from 1920.

Posted By: Paul - Wed Mar 02, 2022 - Comments (1)
Category: Animals, Patent Medicines, Nostrums and Snake Oil, Seventeenth Century

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