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The Medical Electricians: George A. Scott and His Victorian Cohorts in Quackery Paperback – April 27, 2013
About the Author
Robert K. Waits lives in the San Francisco Bay area and is a retired Silicon Valley engineer. He became intrigued with the mysterious Dr. Scott while researching the history of safety razors (Before Gillette: The Quest for a Safe Razor). This led to unearthing the stories of the lives of George A. Scott, and his fellow “medical electricians,” who afflicted mid-Victorian America and Britain with spurious “curative appliances.”
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Times may have changed, but quacks are still with us. It may not be "electricity" in the 21st Century; it may be Power Balance Bracelets or magic nose rings, but the principle is the same -- claim the impossible, sell to the gullible, and the truth be damned.
One think I found interesting was the infighting among quacks -- sometimes one would accuse a competitor of selling fraudulent products. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!
This is a detailed (maybe too detailed; it's more of a reference than a narrative) history of one such niche in the History of Quackery, copiously illustrated with ads for claims that were nowhere substantiated, and products that made the sellers wealthy. It should be a lesson for all of us.
In "the Medical Electricians" author Robert Waits focuses mainly but not exclusively on one certain quack, George A. Scott, who flourished in the late 1800s. Scott exploited people's ignorance of magnetism and electricity to successfully peddle a variety of devices from hairbrushes to insoles to corsets and on and on, which he claimed through their electro-magnetic powers would cure a multitude of ailments. Unlike his snake oil precursors, Scott maintained a permanent address, both in New York and in London from which he built a large mail-order business. Eventually, legislation would put an end to the businesses of Scott and other such charlatans, but it seems inevitable that modern-day quacks are still at work purveying their snake-oil wares on the Internet.
"The Medical Electricians" provides a wonderfully readable biography of Scott and others of his ilk, and is greatly enhanced by the degree of research which obviously went into its making. There are a multitude of footnotes, an epilog, a marvelous appendix of quack advertisements spanning 1879 to 1908, images of numerous quack products, a bibliography, notes to each chapter, and an extensive index.