The ads in the Fort Worth Gazette of the 1890s are fascinating. And by “fascinating” I mean, of course, “frightening.” Such ads remind us that before the Pure Food and Drugs Act was passed in 1906, makers of medicines and health contraptions could say and sell just about any fool thing they wanted.
For example, in the 1890s people were captivated by the potential of electricity. Each day seemed to bring wondrous new ways of harnessing the thunderbolt of Zeus. While men like Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and Marconi were applying electricity to communication and illumination, men like Dr. Owen, Dr. Cheever, Dr. Dye, Dr. Sanden, and Dr. Owen (see ads below) had a better idea: Let’s apply electricity to men’s groins!
Men, as you sit there in your favorite chair tonight and watch the All-Star Game on TV, be glad that you won’t be wearing one of these gizmos:
Dr. Owen’s Electro-Galvanic Belt “carries a current of electricity direct to the weakened parts.” It is advertised here in conjunction with Dr. Israel’s Electro-Galvanic Truss.
The nether necklaces offered by Dr. Cheever and Dr. Dye promise to cure “derangements of the generative organs” and “nervous debility, loss of vitality and manhood, and all kindred troubles.”
The face of the gent on the left says it all: “Waste of vital force has drained the sweetness from millions of lives.” Ah, but there is hope. Says Dr. Sanden: “if you would throw off the fetters of wretchedness caused by early abuse and the mistakes of your life” and “renew the vigor in the weakened functions,” all you need is the “properly applied electricity” supplied by Dr. Sanden’s Electric Belt.
Yikes! Dr. A. Owen offered his battery-operated Electro-Galvanic Belt and Suspensory in both a man’s model and even a woman’s model. “The Electro-Galvanic current is applied to the body in such a way as to reach the nerve centers of the entire human system,” the ad says. The woman’s model, the ad points out, can be worn with a corset. The ad says the product cures “female complaints.” Dr. Owen probably received more than a few “female complaints” after women strapped on his electro-galvanic gizmo.
(These ads, cropped from full-page scans, are of poor resolution. If you can’t read the fine print . . . consider yourself lucky. I can read the fine print—and I may be walking funny until Christmas.)
But enough about weak men. How about weak women?
The Weaker Sex? “Ladies, Here’s to Your Health (Hic)”