LOOKING BACK – OCTOBER 2012

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VISION UNDERGOES AN ELECTRIC SHOCK

In the late 19th century, electricity/galvanism was thought of as a credible form of therapy for various ailments in the
medical community. As a result, many medical quackeries were produced during this time. Advertisements for these products touted “Electricity as a curative, strengthening and vitalizing agent.” Claims were made on how “Electricity when
converted into electro-magnetism and properly applied to the human frame, no matter how, when or where, cannot fail
to render the greatest benefit to the user.” One of these quackish devices was the galvanic/electro-magnetic spectacles.
In 1868, Judah Moses, of Hartford, CT, received the first U.S. patent for galvanic spectacles. Shown at right is a 1905 version of a pair of frayed galvanic spectacles that feature an additional metal frame mounted to the inside with electrical wiring. In 1888, a patent was granted to Scotland’s John Leighton for his electro-magnetic spectacles. Similar patents soon followed. Most of these spectacles relied on a small zinc and copper plate to generate a tiny current. This current was delivered to the wearer at the bridge or nosepiece, where it was thought to reach the optic nerve to enable wearers to see better, read longer, etc. An advertisement shown at left hypes electro-magnetic spectacles’ so-called benefits.

Courtesy of the Foundation of the American Academy of
Ophthalmology’s Museum of Vision and museumofvision.org.

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