Museum of Vision

Dedicated to preserving ophthalmic history

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Sectional Navigation

  1. Selections from the Sherman Collection
  2. History of Ophthalmology in the Asia Pacific
  3. Their Eyes to the Sky
  4. Great Insights and Great Thinkers in Ophthalmology
  5. Beyond Ophthalmology, Beyond the Clinic
  6. Extreme Vision: Science Fiction or Truth
  7. Contagion! Epidemics in Ophthalmic History
  8. The Eyes of War
  9. Spectacular Spectacles
  10. To Fool the Eye
  11. Windows to the Soul
  12. Picturing The Eye: Ophthalmic Film and Photography
  13. Collecting Ophthalmology: 30 Years at the Museum

Electrotherapy

Actina Battery
Actina Battery, 1886

The use of electricity and magnetism to cure medical problems points to the quacks' ability to take a general scientific discovery and manipulate it for profit.  In 1791, Luigi Galvani discovered that direct current could be created when certain metals were put in contact with each other and placed in seawater.  In 1800, Alessandro Volta found that he could store the galvanic electricity in a 'battery' made of disks of silver, copper and moistened cardboard. 

Quacks reasoned that human sweat could be used to replace the water in these experiments and a whole host of remedies using electrical current were born. Belts, hairbrushes, jewelry, spectacles and even supports for shoes were made to carry an electric current with the understanding that whatever they touched could be improved. 

Galvanic and faradic batteries were manufactured for physician's offices and home use.  They were capable of delivering mild electric shocks. In 1921, Dr. George de Schweinitz advocated in his book, Diseases of the Eye, that galvanic electricity be used to treat retinitis pigmentosa, tabetic atrophy and heterophoria in the doctor's office.  At home, batteries were sold with extravagant claims that they could cure a number of diseases including deafness, loss of smell and cataracts.

One of the worst offenders was the Actina Sight Restorer.  This small steel cylinder was advertised as being an electric device that could cure eye, ear and nose troubles by stimulating the blood vessels. Instead of housing a battery it contained belladonna extract, oil of mustard, oil of sassafras, ether and nitrate of amyl.  In 1916 Actina Company president, John Foran, admitted that the device was not electric in nature and that he had no medical education or training.  Federal authorities concluded that the Actina Sight Restorer was "absolutely worthless."



  1. Nostrums and Patent Medicines
  2. Patent Medicine and the American Civil War
  3. To Strengthen the Eyes
  4. Sight Restorers
  5. Electrotherapy
  6. Violet Ray Machines
  7. Color Therapy
  8. Quackery's Demise

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American Academy of Ophthalmology