#6. Having Sex Therapy in Electric Beds
Presumably very few of you find light sockets or power cords particularly erotic, unless you're an exceptionally impassioned engineer. Well, the clearly aroused lady in the electricity-charged bed above disagrees. This was just one of the electric sex therapies present at "Doctor" James Graham's infamous Temple of Health and Hymen in the 1750s.
The temple was advertised as a place to improve the sex lives of married couples through all things electrical. You could pay to get a shock from the Celestial Throne -- that is, kick start your gonads in an electrified chair. But the crowning glory, the finest sex toy in the entire building, was the Celestial Bed. A childless couple could pay a fortune to spend a night in it, surrounded by an electric field, which supposedly guaranteed conception ... because, you know, science.
"Electrocute me like one of your French girls."
The bed was decorated with little musical robots, and "electricity crackled across the headboard." If the whole electric aura wasn't quite enough to get the groove on, the temple would provide an extra couple of half-naked "Goddesses of Health" to help things along. OK, yeah, that was a brothel.
#5. Putting Lightning Rods in Hats and Umbrellas
Tired of having your top hat constantly knocked off by bolts of lightning? This French lightning-rod-fitted umbrella solves this common problem while making you look stylish and even doubling as a pointy weapon to fend off muggers and panhandlers. Yes, this was a thing people actually walked around with. In 1769, lightning struck an arsenal in Italy and destroyed 190 houses, all because the owners had refused to have Ben Franklin's lightning rod installed (he had more luck when he made the same offer to numerous old ladies).
Anyway, people in Europe overreacted just a little and started putting lighting rods on everything, even their fashion accessories. Take this lightning rod hat made in the 1770s (note the chain trailing behind -- if a bolt struck, the electricity would be diverted there).
Some ladies also used it to walk their dogs, with tragic results.
#4. Taking Medicinal Electricity "Baths"
Despite sitting in what looks like a steampunk torture device, this gentleman looks remarkably calm about the situation. That's because those ghastly spikes above the man's head actually emit electric waves that "bathe" him in pure healing science. The plus and minus signs represent the magnetic charges that are no doubt rendering his sperm sterile.
This bath is just one of countless electric therapies Enlightenment doctors pulled out of their asses. They would blast away any ailment, from a sore throat to your STD of choice. Does your kid have diarrhea? Try some electricity. Granny suffers from rheumatism? Hook her up to the current. Even major complaints like paralysis or tuberculosis were deemed entirely manageable with a good shock or 16. Sometimes the thing to do was to step into a literal electric bath ...
... and sometimes the doctor would invert the process and draw sparks out of you, a preferred treatment for deafness. And if you think these were just ruthless quacks taking advantage of the ignorant masses, even Charles Darwin's brilliant grandfather Erasmus was known to prescribe electric shocks for everything from toothache to gallstones. We don't want to know where they inserted the wires on that last one.
#3. Curing Baldness and Dandruff With Magnetism (and Racism)
Electric brushes were a popular fad of the latter half of the 19th century, as this delightfully racist ad demonstrates. Besides supposedly curing male pattern baldness and dandruff, this particular brand of multitasking electric hairbrush will somehow also rid you of headaches, rheumatism, and even constipation. Wait, under what scenario is this thing even close to the part of the body where digestion happens (or doesn't)? What type of body hair does Dr. Scott think we're brushing?
These things are full of old-time pubes, aren't they?
In truth, this thing was electric only in name -- it was actually a regular brush with magnetized rods in its handle. How exactly that was meant to cure anything is anyone's guess. This didn't stop advertisements of the era from warning that "in no case should more than one person use the brush." Why? Because "if always used by the same person it retains its curative power," naturally. So, you see, if your hair didn't stop falling out after you bought this, it isn't because it doesn't actually do anything: It's because your wife borrowed it that one time.
#2. Selling Electrified Women's Underwear
There's that Dr. Scott again, putting electricity into any household object he could get his hands on. This precursor to today's light-up bras was not only fashionably elegant but could also "ward off disease" -- it was said to cure "any bodily ailment," including liver and kidney troubles, spinal complaints, and rheumatism (was there anything that didn't cure rheumatism back then?). It even granted women shape-shifting powers, judging by this part: "Ladies who wear these corsets will have no difficulty in molding the figure to any desired form."
We're just glad this guy didn't sell toilet seats.
Unlike the hairbrush or other bullshit products peddled by Dr. Scott, this thing did actually have some electric qualities: The patent states that the corset was stuffed with metal bands that induce "galvanic action." Strangely, this was Scott's last invention. Apparently his idea for a pair of men's briefs with the same qualities never took off.
#1. Electrocuting Human Corpses (in the Ass)
Frankenstein's creator, Mary Shelley, didn't just come up with the idea of bringing life to human body parts with electricity by herself -- that's something that scientists of her era were literally trying to do, some with more success than others. For every doctor who managed to resuscitate accident victims by blasting away at them, you had 10 more feeding electricity into days-old corpses just to see what happened.
What exactly is the best case scenario here?
One of the earliest scientists to try this was Giovanni Aldini, the nephew of the guy who first discovered that you could make a dead frog's legs twitch by electrocuting it. Aldini took his uncle's ideas to the next (insane) level by procuring the bodies of executed criminals and trying to reanimate them by sticking wires into every possible orifice -- and we mean every possible orifice. During one public demonstration, he applied electricity to a dead guy's butt, "causing his clenched fist to punch into the air, as if in fury."
Aldini was also known to electrocute sewn-together human heads, making them open their eyes and change their expressions. So really, Dr. Frankenstein seems pretty sensible by comparison.
For more ways people in the olden days were nuts, check out 8 Terrifying Instruments Old-Time Doctors Used on Your Junk and The 7 Most Hilariously Badass Magazine Covers Ever.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 3 Reasons to Fear The New Gun That Can Post To Facebook.