Electro-galvanic machine

The electrical nature of muscular motion that Galvani and Volta investigated did not only spur further physiological research, but also provided foundations for innovative medical therapies.

Image 1 English electro-galvanic machine, late 19th century, Horne, Thornwaite, and Wood, London (Wh.5813). Image © the Whipple Museum.

The Whipple Museum's Electro-Galvanic Machine was built in the late 19th century (likely between 1886 and 1893) by Horne, Thornwaite, and Wood at 123 Newgate Street London, where they ran an instrument company. Ironically, perhaps, given their inventors' disagreements, the Galvanometer was powered by a voltaic pile. Metal electrodes channelled current through specific contact points on the body, each selected for a precise medical purpose.

Covering the lid's inside surface is a pamphlet on "Administering Medical Galvanism". Scientific studies on the medical uses of Galvanism proliferated in the second half of the 19th century. They claimed, for its uses, the healing of paralysis and other disorders related to the nervous stimulation of muscles. Some used Galvanian stimuli to treat hoarseness, ocular distortions apparently due to anemia, asthma, and constipation. Several obstetricians tried to induce and facilitate labour by administering shocks to pregnant women, which usually met with tragic results.

Henry Schmidt

Henry Schmidt, 'Electro-galvanic machine', Explore Whipple Collections, Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge, [http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/whipple/explore/frogs/animalelectricity/electrogalvanicmachine/]

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