The history of medical devices is fraught with misguided ambition, shots in the dark, and, of course, quackery. It is also full of unbelievable invention.
When we look back at our medical past, we might see the early iterations of technologies today. There were mistakes, but there were also the early seeds of progress – including the development of antibodies, ingenuity in surgical tool design, and the burgeoning of medical ethics and evidence-driven medicine.
We may laugh or dismiss the missteps as folly. But we should be cautious in our laughter because these products also contain warnings about the current state and future of medicine. They show us how easily the public can be dangerously misled, such as what we see today with the anti-vaccine movement. They also demonstrate how injudicious application of a cure (fraudulent or otherwise) can lead us down an unexpected and dangerous course, such as the increase of antibiotic-resistant infections.
For this slideshow, we were inspired by the Southern California Medical Museum. Most of the images come from its collection. These horrifying devices might serve as some creepy entertainment for the upcoming Halloween holiday, but they are also reminders of human fallibility. Progress is often achieved in fits and starts.