Electrotherapy: Stimulating Medicine


The early twentieth century was a transforming period for the United States. Progress was the name of the game and science became a way to play. Physicians of the day used scientific language and data to authenticate their methods and equipment. The PI Nixon Medical Historical Library has such medical equipment from the period available, particularly in the realm of electrotherapy.

Figure 1 STAR-RIGHT Violet Ray Electrotherapy Apparatus. Manufactured by The Fitzgerald MFG. CO.

Figure 1 STAR-RIGHT Violet Ray


Popular for the treatment of minor muscle discomfort, the Violet Ray electrotherapy apparatus was believed to provide healthy stimulation to ease anxiety, rheumatism, and inflammatory conditions. Developed using Nikola Tesla’s (1856-1943) invention of the resonant transformer circuit, known as the Tesla coil, and growing knowledge of alternating electrical currents, these violet ray machines were manufactured and became accessible to the public.  Figure 1, a STAR-RIGHT Violet Ray electrotherapy apparatus was manufactured by The Fitzgerald MFG. CO out of Torrington, Connecticut in approximately 1926.  The Grey 10″ X 6″ box, with a cloth interior, contains 2 general body electrodes (glass)used to provide electric therapy to various parts of the body, 1 metal electrode, an insulated handle with cord connected to the transformer, with a  secondary cord connecting the transformer to the plug.

Figure 2, is another Violet Ray electrotherapy apparatus manufactured by the A.S. Aloe company out of St. Louis between 1900 and 1940. It is in a wooden box with a cloth interior and,

Figure 2 Violet Ray Electrotherapy Apparatus. Manufactured by the A.S. Aloe Company.

Figure 2 Violet Ray

contains 3 general body electrodes (glass), one surface electrode, one comb electrode, and one throat electrode. An insulated handle with cord and plug is also included.

Another type of electrotherapy device in use was the McIntosh combined, dry cell, Galvanic and Faradic battery. This battery is unique because it was the first combination of two different types of batteries. This combination had its appeal to physicians and other scientists because either battery, or current, could be used separately or simultaneously, and it was portable. Galvanic currents were used to create localized muscle contractions or to remove or reduce moles, ulcers and tumors. The Faradic current gave a more powerful jolt to the body and was used as a general stimulant. The electrolytic needle holder was used in the removal of hair. Figure 3 shows a McIntosh Combined dry cell Galvanic and Faradic Battery, manufactured by the McIntosh Electrical Corporation out of Chicago between 1922 and 1946. It has a black, leather covered, wooden case with a covered handle and two latches, and has a purple velvet false lid that covers the compartment and is attached by two poppers.

The box contains instructions (stained with various holes) on how to use the machine and how to recharge / replace the battery, 3 felt pad electrodes, 2 wooden handles

Figure 3 Combined Dry Cell Galvanic and Faradic Battery. Manufactured by the McIntosh Electrical Corporation. 1922-1946

Figure 3 Combined Dry Cell Galvanic and Faradic Battery, 1922-1946

with metal shafts, 1 electrolytic needle holder, and 2 miscellaneous rollers. The use or purpose of these rollers is unknown.  The set may be missing a magnifying glass that attaches to the electrolytic needle holder, as well as conducting leads.

MiscRoller.ResizedIf you have any ideas or knowledge of what the two miscellaneous rollers may have been used for or if you would like to see this equipment first hand, please visit the Nixon Library or contact Mellisa DeThorne at dethorne@uthscsa.edu or 210-567-2470.


Trinaé Weldy, Special Collections Intern

Information Courtesy of:

Behary, Jeff. “AS Aloe Lightning Catalog.” The Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum. The Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum, 28 Aug 2004. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <http://www.electrotherapymuseum.com/Library/ASAloeCatalog/index.htm>.

“Biographies.” Corrosion Doctors. Kingston Technical Software, n.d. Web. 12 Sep 2013. <http://www.corrosion-doctors.org/Biographies/GalvaniBio.htm>.

Blaufox, M. Donald. “The Instruments: Electricity.” Museum of Historical Medical Artifacts. Museum of Historical Medical Arifacts. Web. 4 Sep 2013. <http://www.mohma.org/instruments/category/electricity/electrotherapy_apparatus/>.

“Electrical Stimulator, 1922-1946.” British Cojumbia Medical Assocation: Medical Museum. British Cojumbia Medical Assocation, n.d. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <http://www.bcmamedicalmuseum.org/object/993.627.1>.

“Museum Collection: 1800-1900 Galvanism and Faradism.” The Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum. The Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <http://www.electrotherapymuseum.com/Museum18001900_Galvanism_Faradism.htm>.

“Museum Collection: Violet Rays.” The Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum. The Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <http://www.electrotherapymuseum.com/MuseumVioletRays.htm>.

Vujovic, Ljubo. “Tesla Biography: Nikola Tesla The Genius Who Lit the World.” Tesla Memorial Society of New York. Tesla Memorial Society, 10 Jul 1998. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <http://www.teslasociety.com/biography.htm>.

Additional Links:

For pictures of electrotherapy newspaper advertisements, please visit The Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum, the AS Aloe Lightning Catalog at http://www.electrotherapymuseum.com/Library/ASAloeCatalog/index.htm

For more information on Luigi Galvani (1737-1798), who discovered the Galvanic current, Michael Faraday (1791-1867), who discovered the Faradic current, or Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), who invented the battery please visit the Corrosion Doctors’ website http://www.corrosion-doctors.org/Biographies/GalvaniBio.htm.