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popular with consumers for several years until they were superseded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.
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
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.