Currently viewing the category: "Electro-LUXurious"

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1919

I am quite certain that entering into a category of ElectoPunk Found Art was the furthest/furtherest thing from the minds of these inventors, mainly because these words didn't yet exist, and also because these inventors worked on practicable application of the relatively new employment of electricity for advertising. Still, they were serious efforts in pursuing the sale of soap and cigars and "pure food" and other sundries large and small. But removing them fro their intentions clearly makes these designs into art, some of which is just drop-down gorgeous.

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1909

Robot tx820

[Image source: Popular Mechanics, September 1936, page 400.]

Robots, or mechanical beings, or mechanized forms of humanity or from the animal kingdom have been around in popular literature for many decades by the time this giant robot appeared in Texas in 19361. (The idea is old though the name "robot" didn't appear until Karel Capek invented it for his book on the future called R.U.R in 1920. Actually the human-like forms created by Capek in this early scifi work were biotech, and not fully mechanized.) The form of the robot stretches back hundreds of years, in a way–if not the exactly the idea of a robot, but at least with the appearance of one.

Such is the case with Albrecht Durer's (1471-1528) revolutionary drawing of a geometrical man, compartmentalizing the bodyd into distinct chunks–these and other woodcuts appeared in his Symmetria partium…humanorum corporum and must have been an amazing, startling site for the new reader to such things in 1537.To me this looks like visionary thinking in trying to understand the motions of living beings with no actual way of capturing the image in motion.

Perspectiva (Lautensack) 1564 e

[This and many other images from the fabulous Bibliodyssey website, here.]

All of which are retro-reminiscent of early robots, like this from The Fantast in 1939:

Robot durer[Image source: the wonderful Cybernetic Zoo website, with loads of images and timelines, here.]

Seven years late in Nuremberg Erhard Schoen published Unnderweissung der proportzion unnd stellung der possen, liegent und stehent…, which followed Durer showing that the human form was reducible to connected but discrete Euclidean solids:


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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

Here’s an ambitious alarm clock that I stumbled across–something designed so as to not be ignored, something for the people who regularly sleep through simple alarm clocks. This device, patented by Samuel S. Applegate in 1882, woke the sleeping client by dropping that cage-resembling apparatus on the sleeper’s head. Evidently the ends of the suspension were soft, but hard enough to cause the sleeper to get straight-away back into the waking world. There’s probably nothing quite so like being slapped awake every morning.

Patent waking people up
The apparatus is seen better here–it is an unusual contrivance:

Patent waking people up_edited-1

Such a pretty picture of the sleeper, though I must admit the perspective would’ve been a bit of a challenge especially to a challenged artist.

Okay, this one is walking people using water dropped on the sleeper’s neck:

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

This is the 15th installment of a new series on United States Patent Reports on electrical quackery and unsubstantiated bric–a-brac from the newly-electric world of the period of 1870-1900–the following is a little outside the norm, being French, but I couldn't resist it.

Electropunk electro the dead
When a picture just isn't enough…

And while we’re at it, let’s consider the work of Dr. Varlot (of the Paris Hospital) in electrocuting the dead. Actually, what he proposed was another pretty gruesome use of electricity, though this one didn't make promises of miraculous cures, or execute anyone. Varlot proposed to “metalize” the dead (as we see in this very unsettling image of a child being electroplated) for, well, some purpose, purpose unknown. It just seems and seemed like a bad idea, all the way around–a poster child for Bad Ideas everywhere. The medical uses of an electroplated baby seem very limited, and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do such a thing to a dead child of their own. It is wrong on every level.

The engraving comes from Leonard de Vries, Victorian Inventions" (1971), who quotes the original source (the Scientific American for 1891) with this description of the procedure:

"Dr Varlot, a surgeon in a major hospital in Paris, has developed a method of covering the body of a deceased person with a layer of metal in order to preserve it for eternity. The drawing illustrates how this is done with the cadaver of a child. The body is first made electrically conductive by atomising nitrate of silver on to it. To free the silver in this solution, the object is placed under a glass dome from which the air is evacuated and exposed to the vapours of white phosphorous dissolved in carbon disulphide. Having been made conductive, the body is immersed in a galvanic bath of sulphate of copper, thus causing a 1 millimetre thick layer of metallic copper to be deposited on the skin. The result is a brilliant red copper finish of exceptional strength and durability."

Another method of electroplating the dead (in 1934) is discussed in the interesting blog, Quigley's Cabinet, here.

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

This is the 14th 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.

The history of the electric chair is odd, and ironic. The "electric chair" that we think of first when we hear the phrase is actually the "electrocution chair", and it comes into being after the introduction of the medicinal electric chair, which was designed as a palliative, electrical ointment of sorts for people with virtually any form of physical complaint. Thomas Edison introduced the notion of the lethal use of punitive electricity in a brilliant if not diabolical ploy, suggesting in 1888 that Hew York State pursue the new procedure of executing its condemned via the use of an electrified recliner, using the Westinghouse AC system–and thereby forcing the association of his competitor Westinghouse's electricity with electrocution in the mind of the general public. (I can only imagine being a Westinghouse exec and waking up to that bit of Edisonian showmanship; there's an earlier post on this blog here that discusses the electric chair in more detail.)

These chairs below are good examples of the earlier quack/medicinal sparking loungerettes, even if they are dated a little later (1890).

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.

This extraordinary device was an experiment in the further purification of the American way of death. The casket was fitted with an electrical heating element which–after viewing of The Departed was completed–would be activated to heat a soft metal, which would seal the casket. After this, the casket would be pumped to “form a vacuum” so that there would be no further deterioration of the deceased. There seem to have been at least a dozen different designs for these caskets from 1880 to 1950 or so, each building on some hope and prayer for the benefits of the dead not deteriorating, for whatever that was worth.

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:

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

This is the fourth in a new series of posts on interesting, early applications of electricity, most of which are taken from the archives of the U.S. Patent Office.

I'm not sure exactly what Mr. Paige was trying to do with this electrical implement of his–he writes:

which to my mind means that he is passing a "medicine" over or into some part of the body and while doing so either passes a charge through the liquid or provides a small series of shocks to the affected area so that it hurries the treatment along a little faster, or with more efficacy, or something. Whether this is a topical application, or a delivery to an open wound, or to an incision is not altogether clear to me. As is generally the case with these things, the inventor is given the luxury in the patent report of not having to say what the thing they have invented actually "does" after describing how it is that the machine will "do" it.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1492

This is the 10th in a new series of posts on interesting, early applications of electricity, most of which are taken from the archives of the U.S. Patent Office.

As usual there is no explanation for the intended function or outcome was for these belts, although I think that they occupied two ends of a spectrum. It seems as though the women's belt apparatus was meant to address "female hysteria", which for many centuries was seen as the dementia a woman suffers when she felt the need to fill up her womb with a baby; Plato (in his Timaeus) reckoned that the uterus actually detaches and wanders through the body, causing all manner of havoc, including "hysteria".

Plato, who lived ca. from the mid 4th to mid 3rd century of the common era, commented so:

“The animal within them is desirous of procreating children, and when remaining unfruitful long beyond its proper time, gets discontented and angry, and wandering in every direction through the body, closes up the passages of the breath, and, by obstructing respiration, drives them to extremity, causing all varieties of disease.” –Plato, Timaeus, 91c

(It is odd that Plato starts this book out with Socrates counting to three, but that's another story I guess.)

The issue of the physiology of the uterus received modern treatment in modern times, though the philosophical aspects of this and other similar issues managed to rip themselves free of biology and culturally implant themselves without the benefit of factual support, lending their entirely questionable weight to the continued issue of the subjugation of women. The idea of woman's "hysteria" as a very wide term into which all classes of medical concern was dumped seeped into the 20th century, and was answered with devices such as this electro-onanistic medical quackery.

For the men it seemed that the issue of "seminal seepage" and erection control was answered with devices such as this thing, below, a slightly shocking reminder to keep thinking the pure thought:

And of course a belt like this would not be complete without "complete" treatment, and so is included the following "attachments", Fig 7 being the one of some considerable interest to the wearer:

Of course it is entirely possible (likely?) that I have gotten this all wrong, completely wrong, and backwards.


Here's an interesting book: Maines, Rachel P. (1998). The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria", the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press