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
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