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Dr. Scott's Quack Electric Devices

Dr. Scott, an Englishman, was the most prolific advertiser and maker of "electric hair brushes" and related quackery in America, in the 1880's. He received his first U.S. patent for a brush handle in 1872, and introduced his line of "electric brushes" in 1880. The Scott brushes and other devices all contain slightly magnetized iron rods in their handles, thus, the curative power could only have been provided by magnetism. However, Scott apparently preferred using the term "electric" in all of his advertising. Although, hair growth and relief from headaches are the two obvious claims that would come to mind for the possible use of an electric hair brush, Scott went on to make many wild claims for the curative power of his electric brushes. The conditions his brushes could cure included constipation, malarial lameness, rheumatism, diseases of the blood, and paralysis. While such claims seem outlandish to most people (and would have in 1880), each disease added to the advertising claims opened up a wider potential market for his brushes. Most of the (financially) successful quacks advertised devices that were claimed to cure almost every ailment, or, at least, the most common ones. Perhaps more outlandish than the medical claims for Scott's brushes is this warning printed on the hair brush box "In no case should more than one person use the brush. If always used by the same person it retains its full curative power. Families sharing the brush, of course, wasn't in Scott's best interest - better to have two brushes in every home. Perhaps some of the dissatisfied users, for whom brushing their hair didn't cure their constipation, blamed their spouse for sucking up the power of their personal electric brush. In addition to his popular hair and flesh brushes, Scott marketed electric plasters, insoles, rheumatic rings, shoulder braces, throat protectors, nerve and lung invigorators, body belts, wristlets, sciatic appliances, anklets, leg appliances, office caps, and other special appliances made to order. He also offered electric curry combs for horses. His brochure states, "There need not be a sick person in America (save from accidents), if our appliances become a part of the wardrobe of every lady and gentleman, as also of infants and children. By the 1890's, the public's affinity for magnetic brushes appears to have waned, being replaced by Dr. Hercules Sanche's gas pipe devices.

Dr. George A. Scott's U.S. Patents

None of Scott's patents directly addressed the curative power of his brushes and other gadgets. In his March 1,1881 patent, he claimed a brush with embedded magnet. While the patent claim did not mention the medical purpose of the brush, he did mention this in the third paragraph of the patent specification "The object of the invention is to secure within the interior of the brush one or more natural or artificial magnets, which, according to the belief of many persons, founded upon a theory of magneto-therapeutics which has become widely prevalent, have the effect of rendering brushes to which they are applied advantageous in use for relieving headache, preventing baldness, and other similar purposes. His first two patents, granted in 1872, were actually for something useful - a molded brush handle, with the holes for attaching bristles and the decoration both molded in one step. Several other patents granted to Scott were for the elaborate designs on the backs of his brushes. His design patents may have served to prevent others from making exact copies of his widely advertised brushes. They also served the purpose of allowing the term "patented" to appear in his ads, thus suggesting that the U.S. Patent Office had approved his devices on their medical merit. Scott's last patent, in 1889, for his improvements in his electric corsets, again alludes to the magnetic curative power in the third paragraph of the specification and mentions inducing galvanic action by use of dissimilar metal bands in the 2nd claim of the patent. He may have been making a last ditch effort to switch from magnetised gadgets to galvanic gadgets, however, other companies producing galvanic belts, insoles and other devices may have had too much of a lead on him. His advertising seems to have faded away by the end of the 1880's.
Photos of several Scott devices
Scott's electric hair brush
Scott's electric flesh brush
Scott's electric pad? rubber?
Scott's electric curler
Scott's electric curler & button hook
closeup of above
the compass used to test Scott's devices

1880's advertising for Scott devices
1884 Harper's Weekly- electric tooth brush
1882 Harper's Weekly - Scott's electric hair brush
1882 Harper's Weekly - Scott's electric flesh brush
1883 Harper's Weekly - Scott's electric corset
Scott's electric plaster and insoles
Scott brochure - electric toothbrush
St Louis Drug Market Reporter- electric hair brush (trade ad)

U.S. Patents granted to George A. Scott
Dec 3, 1872 - Improvement in tooth, nail and other brushes
Dec 3, 1872 - similar to above
March 1, 1881 - molded brush with embedded magnet
Feb 28, 1882 - designs on the back of the hair and flesh brushes
Dec 4, 1888 - electric curling comb
April 2, 1889 - electric curling comb and button hook
Sept 10, 1889 - electric corset

Directions for using Dr. Scott's Electric Flesh Brush

Dr. Scott items for sale in the American Artifacts online catalog

other quack medical articles American Artifacts home page

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Contact: Richard Van Vleck