Medical Inventions That Were Created For The Strangest Reasons

Obesity Soap Creator(s): Madame Cordex This was probably one of the biggest examples of snake oil we can reference, besides the stuff itself. Back in the… Joe Burgett - July 14, 2023

There are many medical inventions we still use in the world today. Sometimes, the invention was used for something else before it became prominent in another field. Yet we also have some inventions that were made for purposes we never realized. Other things were invented for relatively strange reasons and aren’t really used today. At one point in history, inventions in the medical community were incredibly common. There was a period from the late 1700s to the mid-1900s when inventions came out left and right. This was due to new discoveries we were making during these time periods. As a result, if something was new or helpful, others tried to do a lot with it.

For example, the discovery of new elements that were then utilized in new medical inventions. Other stuff was relatively known, but we did not realize how problematic it was for the human body. Think of the poppy plant and its use as a notable painkiller. In fact, Bayer (the aspirin people) used the Asian Poppy Plant to develop Heroin. A medication one could use for pain or to suppress coughing. Heroin was regularly sold at pharmacies in the early 1900s in pill or liquid form. It would later be pulled, but at least this invention had an understandable purpose. Others? Not so much. We decided to discuss all of the medical inventions created for the strangest reasons. Some of these are absolutely incredible. Remember, most were invented for similar purposes because people had simple goals.

Diabetic Equipment
[Image via Jarva Jar/Shutterstock.com]


  • Creator(s): Frederick Banting & Charles Best

We should make a note that Insulin was discovered, not created. However, what makes it a medical invention, much less a strange one? It’s probably how and why it was truthfully. Back in 1921, Frederick Banting and Charles Best were trying to find a way to treat digestive disorders. That led them to isolate a key pancreatic extract from a dog, which turned out to be Insulin. They did not realize it at the time, but they discovered something that could be used to treat diabetes.

Insulin vial
[Image via Dreamstime/MCT]

In early January 1922, a 14-year-old named Leonard Thompson became the first person to get an insulin injection as a treatment for diabetes. Sadly, Thompson’s first dose had an impurity that caused an allergic reaction. The team then formed a more refined version using a cow pancreas. Thompson’s second dosage came 12 days later, proving successful. Before this, anyone with Type 1 Diabetes wouldn’t last more than a few months, leading to several newborn deaths. The discovery and eventual creation of insulin as a diabetic treatment has now saved millions of lives.

Lithium Element
[Image via Juan Roballo/Shutterstock.com]


  • Creator(s): Judge Bowden of Atlanta (Lithium Spring Water)

Like Insulin, Lithium was discovered more than invented. However, its use has changed dramatically from its original purpose. Roughly between the 1880s and World War I, the consumption of bottled lithia mineral water was relatively common. There were some natural lithia mineral spring waters that locals used for a long time, not realizing exactly what it was. Lithium Salts (carbonate, chloride, or citrate of lithium) were in these waters, and one day someone saw a profit could be made. Water was bottled from Lithia Springs, Georgia, and sold starting in 1888.

Lithia Spring Water
[Image via Lithia Spring Water]

The water was a huge success, but by the time of World War I, the U.S. started to crack down on food and liquid safety. Many mineral waters were scrutinized due to the lies they told or the problematic ingredients they contained. The original Lithia Spring Water is still sold today but ensures its safety through sanitization and purifying processes while keeping its minerals intact. It should be noted, though, that anything the company says about the water’s ability to help with sicknesses or ailments is in no way supported by the U.S. FDA. However, we don’t tend to see lithium used in this way. Rather, it has been used as a treatment for bipolar disorder. It should be noted, however, that the lithium used for this differs somewhat from what you get in mineral water.

Dr. Scott Electric Toothbrush
[Image via Posterazzi]

Electric Toothbrush

  • Creator(s): Dr. Scott

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, medical inventions using electricity were becoming incredibly common. While we knew electricity existed well before this, people like Michael Faraday helped us realize how much potential it had. That led to some odd inventions, such as the electric toothbrush. You might be wondering, is this similar to that battery-powered toothbrush in your bathroom? Nope! This electric toothbrush was designed to be used on the teeth as well as the abdomen to help relieve constipation. The idea was that it could help stimulate the stomach/bowels enough to help you go. Of course, since this invention, we’ve learned a lot more about constipation and how it works.

Jugum P. Device
[Image via Science Museum Group]

Anti-Self-Pleasure Devices

  • Creator(s): Unknown British Man

There is nothing wrong with self-pleasure. It is healthy for both men and women, and you should never feel bad for doing it. However, while the acceptance of this is pretty common today, that was not the case as recently as the early 1900s. That led to numerous anti-pleasure devices being invented. The idea was that they could help discourage or prevent people entirely from engaging in the act. The original was made for men and could freak anyone out. For the sake of our advertisers, we’ll call it the “Jugum P.” Invented in the 1800s during a time of horrific religious control and influence, the device was a steel clip with serrated teeth that could be attached to the male member. It was used to stop self-pleasure as well as “spermatorrhoea,” known today as the “wet dream.” This was a horrible invention that fell out of favor quickly.

Sauna Suit
[Image via BoxingHighs.com]

Sauna Suits

  • Creator(s): Manuel Greenwald (made the first one)

Sometimes, medical inventions are not made by people who have an interest in helping others. Sometimes, they are made entirely for profit. Take sauna suits as a good example of this. The suits were promoted as a way to lose weight, as they allowed one to sweat more during exercise. An issue people seem to not understand about saunas is that they are built entirely on a lie or misconception. Saunas do not rid your body of toxins and sweating a lot in a sauna does not help you lose unnecessary weight. Yes, one can lose some water weight from this, but you’ll gain it right back when you rehydrate. These suits were more likely to cause someone to dehydrate or go into heat exhaustion/heat stroke. In fact, so many deaths or near deaths occurred using them that the NCAA and other sports organizations banned them.

Ionized Air Machine
[Image via Molekule]

Ionized Air Machines

  • Creator(s): Alexander Chizhevsky & Cecil Alfred Laws

In the early 20th century, Ionized Air Machines were introduced. They were promoted as a medical device that could release negatively charged ions in the air, which offers health benefits. The problem with medical inventions like this is that they had no real data to support this claim. Air Ionizers still exist today and are still offering nothing substantial. In fact, in 2013, a comprehensive review was conducted on air ionizers. The researchers went through 80 years of research on air ions and respiratory function. The result was they found no clear support for any respiratory benefits. Though, they did not find any detrimental effects either. While Alexander Chizhevsky invented the first one, it was used for animal health in agriculture. Cecil Alfred Laws then utilized his work and created the first domestic air ionizer.

Color Therapy Glasses
[Image via Daydream Surf Shop]

Color Therapy Glasses

  • Creator(s): Dinshah P. Ghadiali (invented color therapy)

While there have been studies that prove specific colors can be used to aid a person’s eyes, the use of this is obvious. Think about sunglasses, for instance. They are able to handle UV rays and protect your eyes from brightness. However, this is mostly where stuff like this ends. Yet one of the medical inventions that seemed to be insane from the start was Color Therapy Glasses. They have been marked as a way to “balance energy and improve well-being.” Some even claim to improve mood and help with anxiety issues. Interesting, eh? This all comes from the world of “chromotherapy,” which is notable for being a form of pseudoscience and complete nonsense. Dinshah P. Ghadiali is the inventor of color therapy, but the glasses would be invented by several companies using his information. None of the glasses are medically viable.

Radioactive Suppositories
[Image via AL.com]

Radioactive Suppositories

  • Creator(s): Unknown

While suppositories are medically helpful for various things, there is obviously a limit to this. Apparently, some did not see the line they should not have crossed. In the early 20th Century, women were still treated like second-class citizens. Their opinions did not matter, but we men wanted to improve their health. One issue women deal with as they get older is menopause. Symptoms from this can be problematic, mostly for us as guys because we have to deal with our wives when they get to this stage obviously. Thus, the radioactive suppository for menopause was formed to improve women’s health. Did it work? Obviously not. Yes, there are some suppositories women use today. Yet these are used usually to help with things like improving good bacteria, among other female needs. None of them are radioactive either.

Tongue Patch - For Weight Loss
[Image via Good Morning America]

Tongue Patch

  • Creator(s): Dr. Nikolas Chugay

The Tongue Patch, also known as the “Tongue Patch Diet,” was for weight loss. One would have a patch of mesh sewn onto their tongue, which made eating solid food incredibly painful. As a result, one could lose weight. This was obviously controversial from the start. One would likely have to go on a liquid diet if anything, and this is not exactly a healthy diet. Even people who eat healthily still eat foods that would be tough to eat with the Tongue Patch. You’re essentially enforcing a fast. The patch could be removed at any time, but one could do the exact same thing without the patch. The patch concept was invented by a plastic surgeon named Dr. Nikolas Chugay in 2009. He saw something similar being done in Mexico by a friend and introduced it to the U.S. to help people avoid gastric bypass or Lapband procedures.

Tobacco Smoke
[Image via Ehab Edward/Shutterstock.com]

Tobacco Smoke Enemas

  • Creator(s): Native American Tribes

While Tobacco products are a health hazard, tobacco itself has been used for successful medical treatments. Yet some medical inventions using tobacco were not exactly, shall we say, “smart.” For example, in the 18th Century, Tobacco Smoke Enemas were introduced. While enemas themselves, like saunas, are based on misconceptions or lies…this was just over the top. These enemas were done for various conditions, even for resuscitation from drowning. Smoke has proven to sometimes help people in these situations. However, this was usually helpful when another person did things like CPR compressions, as the smoke loosened up the lungs to help the person cough up the water. Yet enemas wouldn’t do much here. It wasn’t uncommon to see this in tribal territories yet Europeans took this concept and ran way too far with it.

Man with Toothache
[Image via Nestor Rizhniak/Shutterstock.com]

Toothache Radio

  • Creator(s): Unknown

There has been scientific evidence to prove that radiowaves can be used as a successful treatment, as well as sound itself. We’ve even seen soundwaves that were capable of putting out fires. Yet medical inventions that used these things were sometimes over the top. For example, in the 1920s, a toothache radio was invented as a pain relief device. The idea was that radio waves being emitted could potentially help alleviate toothache symptoms. While it might seem insane, this form of sound therapy has sometimes proven to be quite useful. Of course, this usually comes down to the cause of the tooth pain. Meaning, this radio wave treatment could be quite helpful for some stuff yet it might not work quite as well or at all for others.

Female Blue Eyes
[Image via Sruilk/Shutterstock.com]

Eyeball Exercise Machines

  • Creator(s): Various

In the mid-20th Century, someone had the bright idea that eyes were not swole enough. That is why people had bad eyesight and needed glasses. It was all about the muscles around the eyes obviously! This led to one of the most pointless medical inventions ever, the eyeball exercise machine. The idea was that one would exercise the muscles around the eyes to improve eyesight and reduce future issues. While there is some correlational evidence to prove wearing glasses or contacts could cause one to have worse eyesight over time, this had nothing to do with the muscles. Muscles around the eyes have nothing to do with your eyesight, for the most part at least. Thus, these machines really never stuck around, though you can still find them online.

Going Bald
[Image via Phovoir/Shutterstock.com]

Anti-Baldness Helmets

  • Creator(s): Numerous

We cannot tell you how many anti-baldness medical inventions were developed. There are so many that it is hard to keep track. However, one of the most popular has always been the anti-baldness helmets. We should note that there are countless versions of this, so one will differ from another. One of the most interesting versions was a helmet developed in the 1920s. It was equipped with rubber bands and promoted as a way one could prevent baldness. Of course, another was developed in the 20th century that used electrical and chemical mechanisms. This helmet claimed it too could prevent baldness, as well as promote hair growth. While the helmet versions as of late have shown some real promise, the original versions were pretty crappy.

Throat Microphone
[Image via IASUS Concepts]

Throat Microphone For The Deaf

  • Creator(s): Charles Edmond Prince

Probably one of the most interesting, yet somewhat odd medical inventions was a throat microphone for the deaf. It was invented originally for use in World War I in the 1910s so that pilots could hear or amplify their voices in noisy or windy conditions. Due to its success, the concept was used for deaf people in the 1920s. The idea was that it worked off of vibration-sensitive receivers. The concept had merit, but it was not exactly successful because it relied on the idea that vibrations when amplified could be helpful to deaf people. In reality, the idea needed to be expanded upon. Today, these amplifiers are very successful and work through great hearing aids, which have also become incredibly advanced.

Woman in Bikini Top
[Image via Studioloco/Shutterstock.com]

Hormone Cream For Breasts

  • Creator(s): Numerous

Sometimes when you see medical inventions from the past, it feels like a frat guy from college came up with the idea. Many years ago, a hormone cream was developed for women who wanted to have larger breasts. The cream consisted of hormones like estrogen and progesterone, which in theory could stimulate growth. Of course, the big problem with this idea is that this is not exactly how these hormones work. Even the creams sold today cannot prove entirely that their creams are causing the growth, so they give a low number like 10 to 18%, for example. Pills containing progesterone can stimulate growth, however. Yet they stimulate growth in the milk-producing cells which you’d probably want to avoid unless nursing a child. Creams, however, are usually a scam.

Obesity Soap
[Image via Amazon]

Obesity Soap

  • Creator(s): Madame Cordex

This was probably one of the biggest examples of snake oil we can reference, besides the stuff itself. Back in the 1920s, a specific soap was marketed to people who were dealing with obesity. All one had to do was wash themselves with this cleansing product, and they could lose weight according to the marketing campaign. It was sold by Madame Cordex, located on Molesworth Street starting in 1899. People were constantly looking for quick-fix solutions to their problems in the late 1800s and early 1900s, which is still an issue we have today. Rather than put in the work to exercise more, or even control the amount of food/types of food one eats, magical cures like a random soap seemed very useful. Sadly, it was complete nonsense. Obesity products like this were incredibly common and still exist today.

Dr. Scott's Electric Flesh Brush
[Image via The Quackery Factory]

Electric Flesh Brush

  • Creator(s): Dr. Scott

From the crazy man that brought you the electric toothbrush for constipation, we have the Electric Flesh Brush! Yes, Dr. Scott is at it again with his amazing technology using electricity in a variety of ways that make no freakin sense! What was the Electric Flesh Brush? Apparently, this brush, developed in the late 19th Century, used static electricity to stimulate the skin. The theory was that it could improve circulation in the body. Why would one want to do this? Depends on who you ask honestly. Dr. Scott’s advertisement claimed it: “cured rheumatism, sciatica, gout, nervous debility, lumbago, neuralgia, toothache, malarial lameness, aches and pains from colds, impure blood, and impaired circulation.” It also hilarious mentions that it helps “backaches’ peculiar to ladies.” The dude was referring to periods, seriously!

Homer Choking Bart
[Image via 20th Century Fox]

Vitality Extractor

  • Creator(s): Unknown

The Vitality Extractor was one of the medical inventions that was based entirely on a lie. In fact, fake news or beliefs have circulated around the world about stuff like this over the years. Such as the rumor that celebrities drink the blood of children to stay young. Because obviously, they don’t have the money to get plastic surgery or anything like that, right? That isn’t how anything works, people. The Vitality Extractor’s entire concept was based on this idea. Where one could transfer energy from one person to another for health benefits. Scientifically speaking, this belief is complete idiocy. We can forgive the ignorance of the past because they truly were working off of an immense lack of knowledge that we have today. However, there is no reason to believe anything like this today.

Fat-Jiggling Machine
[Image via Buzzfeed]

Fat-Jiggling Machine

  • Creator(s): Unknown

Was this invention made by the same person who wrote The Goonies? It seems like it. For those of you who are under 30 years old, watch the movie, you’ll get the joke after. Remember when we said people were trying to come up with quick-fix solutions to their problems, especially issues related to being overweight? This is Exhibit B to drive home that point. Fat-Jiggling Machines were developed by numerous different inventors from the 1920s to the 1930s, so it is hard to find the original inventor. The idea behind the machines, however, was pretty simple. Mechanical vibrations would shake and jiggle body fat, which the companies promised would result in not only weight loss but also toning. Funny enough, these things are still sold today!

Electrical Bathes of Japan
[Image via Amusing Planet]

Electric Bathing Machines

  • Creator(s): Golding Bird (popularized it, made it mainstream)

The medical inventions we’ve mostly covered had to do with people who genuinely thought their inventions could help or were simply trying to take people’s money. This invention was, well, clearly invented by a potential serial killer. In the late 19th Century, the “electric bathing machine” was designed to treat a wide range of problems. These machines provided therapeutic electric shocks to your body while bathing. The claim was that this would improve your health. How did it do this? Your guess is as good as ours on this one because there was never any evidence to prove it. However, most knew by this time that electricity and water were not a good mix. We suppose they were also just now learning about Darwin’s survival of the fittest idea too. If you used this machine, you did not match the “fittest” concept most likely.

Vitality Air
[Image via Greg Southam/Postmedia News]

Inhalable Fresh Air

  • Creator(s): Unknown

Dr. Seuss actually based a character and business on this concept. Back in the 19th Century, devices were created claiming to deliver fresh air to users in enclosed spaces. The idea was that their invention would improve your health by offering fresh air. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to see the problem with the one, right? First off, it isn’t like this was an oxygen machine you can see in hospitals or retirement homes. Second, this claimed to bring fresh air, but how did they trap this air? They didn’t really. Devices similar to hoses would be funneled into homes, while some swindlers would give one a device to inhale from that somehow contained fresh air. It didn’t, but that was the selling point. Funny enough, this sort of led to the later invention of things like inhalers and oxygen masks.

Radioactive Water - Radithor
[Image via Pinterest]

Radioactive Water

  • Creator(s): William J.A. Bailey (Radithor)

Just like with electricity, the discovery of radiation and the things it could do led to many new inventions. Sadly, just like with electricity, people did not realize the dangers of radiation for a long time. In the early 20th Century, several radioactive water tonics were being sold. They were marketed to the public as a way to cure several potential ailments. One was referred to as “Liquid Sunshine,” and another was known as “Radithor.” Marketed as a health tonic, it consisted of a solution of radium that had been dissolved in water. Most of the radioactive water concepts were pushed as health tonics, which were all the rage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, unlike others, stuff like this could cause cancer. At times, there were even cases of jaws disintegrating and developing tumors.

Original Vibrator
[Image via Women’s Health Interactive]

The Vibrator

  • Creator(s): Joseph Mortimer Granville

Self-pleasure is a healthy thing for both men and women. However, the idea around female self-pleasure was that it was a terrible thing to do for many years. Yet one invention would start to shift this concept. While many medical inventions around “pleasure” were made to avoid it, the vibrator was invented to do the opposite. On the “technical” side, it was made to treat a completely made-up condition known as “female hysteria.” Joseph Mortimer Granville is responsible for inventing the first vibrator, but it was used to treat male muscle aches originally. He then saw success using it for arthritic issues, constipation, and much more.

Vibrators would go on to be used by physicians to treat all sorts of pain-related issues. Yet Granville was also the first physician to treat female hysteria with it. While the female hysteria term dates back to ancient times, it would later swing back around as a mental disorder or condition. Women would show up to doctor’s offices and the obviously male doctor would use the vibrator to induce “The Big O.” The device allowed them to do this without touching the female patient, making it a terrific tool to do the job without any sexual connection. Due to the obvious love women had for the invention, it was later remade in several forms for people to buy for personal use.

Stethoscope In Use
[Image via Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com]


  • Creator(s): René Laennec

French physician and inventor René Laennec created the very first stethoscope in the early 19th century. Due to now dating back to 1812, the invention has been critical to the world of medicine for over 200 years. Interestingly, Laennec actually invented the stethoscope for what some might find to be a strange reason. At the time, doctors used to listen to heartbeats in one of two ways. Either putting their head onto a patient’s chest or via a small device that could isolate the heartbeat enough to listen. Laennec did the former but felt uncomfortable placing his ear against the chest of female patients. Today, the stethoscope is one of the few medical inventions to last as long as it has and is still being used by doctors worldwide.

Psychic Surgery Being Performed In The Philippines
[Image via Microgen/Shutterstock.com]

Psychic Surgery Tools

  • Creator(s): Mala Cosa, Eleuterio Terte, Tony Agpaoa (earliest practitioners)

We’ve actually covered the world of psychics and other things connected to the occult on our sister website, Science Sensei. If you find psychics alone to be problematic, you’ll probably hate psychic surgery tools. These tools were developed in the mid-1900s for surgical procedures that claimed to be capable of removing tumors and other diseases through non-physical means. What’s so funny here is that these “surgeries” would be done with one’s bare hands, using sleight-of-hand tricks. Fake blood would be utilized as well as animal parts to convince someone that horrible things were removed from their body. The “tools” in this case were the hands and any incision they claimed to make magically healed…well, because there was never an incision, to begin with.


Where Do We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

United States Food And Drug Administration (FDA)

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

National Public Radio (NPR)

Association Of Anaesthetists

Harvard University

Cornell University

San Diego State University


New York Times

The Atlantic

The Washington Post

Science Sensei