OxygenatorsOxygenators belong to a class of quackery devices that began with the development of the Electropoise, a gas-pipe device promising “spontaneous” cure by Hercules Sanche in the 1890s. Various iterations of the device included Oxydonor, the Oxygenor, the Oxygenator (pictured) or Oxypathor, and the Oxytonor.
They all involved the application of electrodes and claimed to cure a variety of ailments. The Oxygenator comprised a nickel-plated tube filled “with a black powder which analysis discloses to be a crude mixture of inert substances apparently, the waste or by-product of a manufacturing plant,” as noted in “Nostrums and Quakery” published in 1912. Although essentially harmless, these devices were shilled to hopeful individuals with insidious lies about other treatments.
The worst case might be in the claim to treat diphtheria, a disease that affected children.
In 1890, adiphtheria treatment was developed from the blood of immunized animals contained an “antitoxin” that could be injected to cure symptoms of the disease – an early application of antibodies. Such a cure, though, might have seemed farfetched to parents in that time period and far more dangerous than a painless buzz of electrodes (advertisements of the time warned buyers that they might not feel anything from the Oxygenator). Fraudulent peddlers understood that fear. Here is some of the language used (this is again, from Nostrums and Quackery):
“Diphtheria: This overwhelming child’s disease finds its supreme master in the Oxygenator. No earthly power except the Oxygenator can take the slowly choking child and with speed, simplicity and safety bring it back to health. Don’t jeopardize the health and life of your children by allowing to be injected into their veins and blood the often fearfully contaminated and death-dealing serum of an animal otherwise known as antitoxin.”
Nostrums and Quakery is a collection of articles that first appeared in Collier’s in 1905 and subsequently published by the American Medical Association, and it is a delight to read. In it the authors rail that:
“It is difficult to restrain one’s indignation at the thought that such viciously cruel lies as these are permitted to be scattered broadcast. Let the neurotic and neurasthenic adult if he can convince himself that a nickel plated piece of gas pipe possesses curative properties experiment with it on his own person if he wishes. But that a helpless child in the throes of a fearfully dangerous and yet rightly treated curable disease should be allowed to suffer and die because ignorant parents have been persuaded to rely on these mechanical frauds is no less than criminal. As for the miserable harpies who for a few filthy dollars will write such coldblooded untruths as those quoted above the safety of society demands that they be put where they can do no further harm.
We think that about sums it up.