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June 2013

A shocking machine

What was this machine used for?


The magneto electric machine on display in the Discovery Centre, level 3 of the Queensland Museum.

These intriguing antique boxes full of strange cogs and gears were popular in the mid to late nineteenth century. They were designed as medical electro-therapeutic devices to cure anything from nervous disorders to toothache by delivering an electric shock. Electricity was a new and mysterious invention that a few people cashed in on with negligible claims.

The magneto electric machine works by producing an electric shock believed to stimulate a healing reaction within the human nervous system. The current was applied by the means of two electrodes placed on the part of the body that required healing. You could adjust the strength and frequency by adjusting the speed of the handle and manipulating a control knob on the box.

The electricity is generated by turning the crank handle which moves the gears and pulleys that spin two felt covered spools. The two solenoids were made to spin against the poles of a large horseshoe magnet producing an alternating electrical current. It all packed away neatly into a compact, easily transportable box.

Visit the discovery center to see the electro magnetic machine we have on display along with other items of early medical innovation.

Queensland Museum's Find out about... is proudly supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.