19th century quack, Dr Scott and his electric hair brushes !
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Englishman, Dr. George A. Scott, was a prolific advertiser of "electric hair brushes" other quack products in late nineteenth century America. Scott marketed electric plasters, insoles, rheumatic rings, shoulder braces, throat protectors, nerve and lung invigorators, body belts, wrist bands, sciatic appliances, anklets, leg appliances, and several other products. These were made by the Pall Mall Electric Association and extremely popular with consumers for several years until they were superseded by other quack products from competing companies.

His amazing brushes and other devices all contained magnetized iron. In brushes and combs, three magnetic iron rods ran from the handle to the brush embedded inside. These magnetic rods were the apparent key to treating all kinds of ailments including constipation, malarial lameness, rheumatism, diseases of the blood, paralysis, and hair loss. The confusion of the general population over magnetism and electricity served Dr. Scott well in his advertising campaigns. Rather than call his brushes and combs magnetic, they were truly electric!

By claiming therapeutic effectiveness in such a wide range of diseases doctor Scott was increasing his sales potential. He went even further by adding a warning to the instructions for each product "In no case should more than one person use the brush. If always used by the same person it retains its full curative power". In this way, he could sell several brushes to a single family! Better still, if a complaint was made that the brush did not cure an ailment it must have been because someone else used the brush and removed its curative powers!

To gain some legitimacy for his product doctor Scott took out several patents. However, the patents were not for the curative powers his products. Rather, doctor Scott patented the design of his brushes, combs, and other magnetic products. By patenting the design he could add the important word "patented" to his advertisements. The consumer naturally concluded the patent was for the therapeutic benefits, and the claims were supported by the patent office, rather than how the product looked.

In one of his patents for a hair brush doctor Scott did briefly allude to the potential therapeutic effects by saying; "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." However, this was as close as he got to making any medical claim. By 1900 advertising for doctor Scott's products had disappeared. The consumer fashion for magnetic products had moved on to "galvanic products" and presumably doctor Scott went out of business.

It is notable that magnetic products are now coming back into fashion with supplies of magnets to put in shoes, or magnetic wrist bands, readily available from many sources. The scientific evidence to support therapeutic claims for magnets is no more reliable today than it was in 1880.