Thank You.

Well, it’s all done. I successfully defended my dissertation on May 16, 2014, and passed with minor revisions (I’m so terrible with grammar). I owe so many thanks to all of you–for supporting me on this project, for cheering me on as I reached completion, and most importantly, for being a wonderful source of motivation. It’s because of you, Dear Reader, I write. So thank you, thank you, thank you.


Below is the dedication and acknowledgements that will be placed in my final bound copy.

For the women who first told me there are stories worth remembering:

My mother, Paramjit Virdi, and

My teacher, the late Mrs. Janet Ower


I first encountered the story of aurists while searching through the stacks of the “Old Catalogue” of Gerstein Library for a book on nineteenth-century anatomy. The title of the book now escapes me, for where it should have been on the shelf, was John Harrison Curtis’ A Treatise on the Diseases of the Ear. I sat there on the floor, gently flipping through the pages, and finding myself lost in Curtis’ detailed descriptions of deafness. A quick Google search further piqued my curiosity as descriptions of Curtis as a “notorious aurist” seemed to contradict what I had just read. So I would like to first thank the person who removed the anatomy book; otherwise this would have been a completely different dissertation.

The whole reason I was searching for the book on anatomy was to choose a new topic for my course paper for Lucia Dacome’s class on the history of medicine. Having spent five years studying philosophy before entering graduate school, I had tremendous difficulty retraining my thinking and learning how to write history. It took me a while to even understand what a historiography was. I want to thank Lucia for not only introducing me to a remarkable area of research, but for agreeing to supervise and guide me on a new path of scholarship. She patiently showed me how to address key intellectual issues I raise in this dissertation, scolded me when I fell in the traps of anachronism, and encouraged me to break out of my shyness and present my work at international conferences. The sense of marvel I initially felt in her course has created a deep and permanent love of history. I am a historian and a scholar only because of her continual encouragement and support.

Janis Langins and Neita Israelite formed the other two-thirds of my supervisory committee.  I am so grateful to them for their confidence and support in my project. Janis returned chapter drafts full of provoking questions, forcing me include more aspects of French medicine and strengthen my analysis. I also benefited from his corrections of French grammatical gender nouns. Neita’s energy and enthusiasm made our lively conversations over coffee all the more memorable. Not only did she clarify pivotal moments in deaf history for me, but she also outlined several avenues I could use to create a more interdisciplinary focus for my dissertation. I would also like to thank Lori Loeb and Chen-Pang Yeang, who served on my oral exam. Their insightful and thoughtful questions created a stimulating conversation and raised crucial points for me to address in future publications. Michael Brown served as my external examiner. I have long admired his work on medical culture and have the honour of being his first external Ph.D. examination. In his report, he highlighted key historiographical issues for me to address, providing invaluable comments and suggestions for reshaping my work into a monograph. I look forward to continuing our conversations down the line.

Throughout this project, the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at University of Toronto created an incredibly positive and collegial environment for me to work in. I’ve been lucky to grow and work alongside an astonishing group of scholars. Denise Horstley and Muna Salloum were more than administrative wonders: they were my cheerleaders. Marga Vicedo, Mark Solovey, and Paul Thompson offered advice for navigating the threshold of graduate school and frequently inquired about how my research was going. As my project heavily relied on archives in England, the department generously supported me through several travel grants. Lunchtime brownbag sessions provided me with opportunities to present my work in an informal setting; I am thankful for all of those who turned up for free sandwiches and/or pizza and took the time to think of thoughtful questions even when I didn’t make any sense.

I am especially thankful to my fellow graduate students for our random conversations, though at time serving as a distraction, nevertheless helped me to tie together intellectual threads: Isaac Record, Ari Gross, Erich Weidenhammer, Aaron Wright, Cory Lewis, John Christopoulos, Paul Greenham, Chris Belanger, Kira Lussier, Anthony Kulic, Nico Salidas, and Jon Turner. Delia Gravus serves as an incredible inspiration as a writer and historian. She not only read key aspects of my work, but has cheered me on from afar. Charissa Varma delighted me with enlightening and entertaining chats. She also provided her hospitality during a visit to Cambridge and made sure I embraced the full glory of natural sciences with a tour through the Darwin Correspondence Project. Special thanks are owed to Mike Stuart, who sometimes took upon the dangerous task of untangling my web of thoughts. Our many conversations and paper exchanges helped to keep my head in order. Thank you for editing so much of my work and for believing in me—especially at times I found it impossible to continue forward.

The CGS Doctoral Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada gave me the financial flexibility to take long winters off and write in isolation. Travel grants from the School of Graduate Studies at University of Toronto provided immense support during long research trips. Chapter drafts were presented at various conferences and workshops. I’m grateful to audiences at these meeting and to the following societies for financial support that enabled me to participate: the Canadian Historical Association (2009), Society for the History of Technology (2009), the local organizing committee for the International Congress in History of Science and Technology (2009), the Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Science (2012), the History of Science Society (2012), and the Disability History Association (2012). I’m also thankful for the University of Toronto for a fellowship while I was doing my masters studies and to the National Science Foundation for a grant in 2009 for additional support for the ICHST meeting.

The final stages of completing my draft were undertaken in residence at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin on a pre-doctoral fellowship. I am tremendously grateful to Sabine Arnaud for initially inviting me to present at the Deaf World/Hearing World workshop and then offering me the fellowship. Our research interests overlapped at certain intersections and her invaluable insight has strengthened my analytical framework for chapter five. Special thanks are to fellow members of my research group: Raluca Enescu who kept me company during our occasional office hours and Debolina Dey for being a wonderful, curious, and creative person I am glad to count as a friend—we spent many hours together locked in our office, sitting in the courtyard, or making excursions to the market to delight in the variety of German cuisine. Mara Mills also arrived to MPIWG during my last month. I thank her for her patience for the many occasions I dropped by her office unannounced to share a new research find or ask yet another question, and for her friendly counsel in improving my research on hearing aids. The MPIWG library staff deserves all my praise for their tireless efforts to ensure any book I ordered was effectively delivered to my desk as soon as possible. As it can be daunting to reside in a foreign country, homesickness can be tended by the kindness of friends: special thanks to Bridgit Ramsingh for making sure my transition was an easy one, and to Anja Peters for welcoming me into her beautiful home and letting me fall in love with her family.

This work owes so much to the generosity of librarians and archivists who tracked down records and manuscripts for me, especially through correspondence. These include: Philip Skroska at the Bernard Becker Medical Library; Jim Edmonson at the Dittrick Museum; Katherine Ott at Smithsonian; John W. Hawks at the Kenneth Berger Hearing Aid Museum; Wellcome Library and Archives; the Bodleian Library; the London Metropolitan Archives; Louise King at the Archives of the Royal College of Surgeons, England; the Science Museum Archives in London; the Royal Society of England; the Toynbee Collection at the Hunterian Museum; the British Library, especially for tracking down nearly-lost copies of The Aurist; Kate Collins at Duke University Special Collections;  and Stephen Potter at Southwark Local Archives; the UK National Archives. Matt Edwards from the Gerstein Science Library at University of Toronto not only placed interlibrary orders from me, but kindly decided to deal with communication confusions by personally emailing me every time my materials arrived. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Dom Stiles at the UCL Ear Institute and RNID Library. Dom not only dug up rare sources for me, but eagerly shared his own research with me. I enjoyed our countless of discussions over coffee, lunch breaks, dinners, and emails over the years. He has been my rock and I’m happy to count him as a friend. Of course, sometimes there are times that archival research encounters roadblocks. I’m thankful to John Hay and Peter Jackson for making inquiries on my behalf to access the archives at the Royal School for Deaf Children, Margate, even though at the end, I was denied access.

I’m grateful for the incredible support from esteemed scholars who provided me with sage advice, read my work, and provided instrumental feedback: Graeme Gooday and Karen Sayer for sharing their research on hearing aids and for being wonderful friends; Christelle Rabier who cleaned up an untidy draft of chapter 4; Carl Benn for providing me with office space at Ryerson’s History department and encouraging me to finish chapter 2 while teaching; Bob Ruben for sharing his otolaryngology collection with me; Albert Murdy for clarifying medical terminologies; the anonymous referees and editors at Bulletin of the History of Medicine for their comments on chapter 4; John Hay for inviting me to publish an extract of chapter 1; Esme Cleall for helping me navigate into disability history; Jayne Elliot who edited an earlier draft of chapter 3; and Garland E. Allen who dispensed his wisdom on publishing. My dissertation grew up as the history of science landscape on twitter and the blogosphere was exploding. I’m grateful to Thony Christie, Greg Gbur and Michael Barton for introducing my blog posts on From the Hands of Quacks to other online scholars and helping me establish a virtual presence. This may be unconventional to traditional academia, but followers of my blog, including on twitter and facebook have continuously shared my love of history and motivated me to keep writing. Karen Bourrier invited me to participate in Nineteenth-Century Disability: Cultures & Contexts, encouraging me to branch out of my comfort zone and explore the material culture of hearing aids. Lindsey Fitzharris-Bracken also provided inspiration for navigating between digital humanities and public history. We bonded over our love for syphilis stories, quirky histories of medicine, and bottles of shiraz.

David Pantalony deserves his own paragraph. I have been blessed in having him as a mentor. He tirelessly kept me on track with my research, sending emails asking for updates, and guiding me with difficult moments of analysis. He read incoherent drafts of chapters, highlighting the strengths and forcing me to transform the weaknesses into strengths. A trip to Ottawa for the Reading Artifacts Seminar introduced me to different elements of material culture research, but David further took me backstage to allow me to see how my artistic eye can introduce new dimensions for artefact analysis. It goes without saying that so much of David is in reflected in my growth as a scholar and in future directions of my research; he was the first person I emailed when stuck on a research problem and frequently served as a tremendous source of strength. I am eternally grateful for how he put me in touch with scholars whose influence I could benefit from, how he sent me applications for fellowships, and how he unfailingly provided me with moral support and encouragement. His enthusiasm and insight made me determined me to finish this project. I owe so much to him.

Finally, I thank those I consider my family, who frequently dealt with my prolonged absences and crankiness through many long periods of writing. Teresa Branch-Smith, Colleen Burns, Menolly Lysne, and Sarah Kay dealt with cancelled plans and neglected phone calls, but never let me forget the importance of glamour. Zoona Khalid provided years of moral support and joined me on several research trips, reminding me to have fun and leave work behind once in a while. Lucy and Gizmo kept me company during many cold winter days, showering me with unconditional love and reminding me that even bad days can end up good. My in-laws purchased a beautiful desk for me, making me feel so welcome into their family. My mother has been a constant source of inspiration, strength, and devotion. I am especially grateful to my siblings for being a source of love, encouragement, and support, especially during trying times. My brother Jaskaran teased me for reading too much, but that didn’t stop him from helping me organize my files before I started on this huge project. My sister Pooja was a frequent source of comedic relief. More than that, she helped me study my French, accompanied me on research trips, and every once in a while, asked me how “Curtis that aurist you never shut up about” was doing. When we were growing up, my sister Sundeep and I spent so many sleepless nights discussing philosophy and history. Nothing really changed, though she deserves her thanks for helping me frame the narrative thrust of my dissertation while she was finishing her own Masters thesis. She is courageous and wonderful and I am so grateful for her support.

And to Harry: there were so many moments you couldn’t understand what I was doing, or even why I was doing it. I love you in ways I could never adequately express through words. You quietly accompanied me on this journey and had the difficult task of dealing with my mood swings, my constant travels, and moments of sleep-deprived insanity.Thank you for always making sure I never fly too close to the sun.


Dieting Deafness Away

I’m sure some of you have heard of London-based undertaker William Banting (1797-1878), who was the first to popularize a low-carb diet that formed the basis of modern-day diets (think Atkins). Banting was an upper middle-class funeral director whose family held the Royal Warrant for burials for five generations, until 1928; George III, George IV, Prince Albert, and Queen Victoria were buried by the Banting family.

William Banting. (Wikipedia)
William Banting. (Wikipedia)

There’s plenty of commentaries on Banting’s diet floating around the Internet. A retired widower, he was obese, 5’5 and 202lbs at age 66, his heaviest weight. He wore a truss to hold in place an umbilical rupture. His weight—and the associated complications—was so bad he could not stop to tie his shoe, and had to go down the stairs backwards to limit the pain of weight on his knees and ankles. He tried various attempts to drop some pounds: “sea air and bathing in various localities, with much walking exercise; taken gallons of physic and liquor potassae, advisedly and abundantly; riding on horseback; the waters and climate of Leamington many times, as well as those of Cheltenham and Harrogate frequently…”[1] All of these were in vain.

In 1862, after finding his eyesight failing and his hearing greatly impaired, Banting consulted an aural surgeon, but was disappointed with the surgeon’s medical approach: He “made light of the case, looked into my ears, sponged them internally, and blistered the outside, without the slightest benefit, neither inquiring into any of my bodily ailments, which he probably thought unnecessary, nor affording me time to name them.”[2] After the surgeon went on holiday, Banting sought other assistance to relieve him from his ailments. He likely visited the Royal Dispensary for Diseases of the Ear (est. 1816), which in 1862, was directed by the aural surgeon William Harvey (1805/6-1876/9).

Harvey was a well-known aurist in London and had a steady career as a surgeon. He was educated at Guy’s Hospital and practiced general surgery for a few years before establishing himself as an aural specialist and publishing The Ear in Health and Disease in 1854. In addition to his post at the Royal Dispensary, Harvey was also aural surgeon to the Freemason’s Asylum for Female Children and the Great Northern Hospital. As he repeated often, he bore no relation to the physician William Harvey who experimented with blood circulation.

Upon examining Banting’s ears and assessing his obese stature, Harvey explained that the deafness was symptom of fat deposits in the Eustachian tubes. He advised Banting to overhaul his diet to lose weight, explaining that as the pounds came off, his hearing would be improved. Banting was advised to abstain from bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer, and potatoes, which had “been the main…elements of [his] existence.”[3] Instead, he was to eat four meals a day composed of meat, greens, fruit, and dry wine. The diet worked: Banting lost 46 pounds in a few months. He was so astounded by the results he gave Harvey an extra £50 to his usual fees, to be distributed amongst his favourite hospitals. In addition, Banting published a pamphlet in the form of an open testimonial, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public (1863).

Photo: University of Buffalo Libraries
Photo: University of Buffalo Libraries

The first edition was self-published at his own expense, but became so popular that he sold it; later editions were published by Harrison, London. The pamphlet and Banting’s dietary success became so well-known that “Do you bant?” became a referred to fashionable way of asking whether people were trying to drop a few pound.

Where did an aurist get the idea for dietary management as a way to improve hearing? According to Harvey, in 1856, while he was out for a walk in Paris, he came across an announcement for a lecture by Claude Bernard at the Paris School of Medicine. Through Bernard’s lectures, Harvey learned how starch could affect the body negatively and played a role in the production of insulin. Diabetics management in particular, could be handled with a proper diet—and of course, assist in losing weight.

Unfortunately for Harvey, false rumours spread in London that the diet had ruined Banting’s health, and that Harvey was to blame. Furthermore, his practice suffered as he was constantly ridiculed for being unable to explain why the diet worked; medical practitioners criticized the diet as “unscientific” and Harvey’s application of diet management as a process that could not be replicated under similar variables.


In 1872, Harvey published his own account of the diet, On Corpulence in Relation to Disease as a way to address some of the critique against him. In particular, he outlined how his treatment was misapplied in many cases, applied rashly and indiscreetly without proper medical advice. And of course, he points out, it “was…natural to expect that a pamphlet on a dietary for the cure of Corpulence, coming from a lay source, would not have found much favour with the profession, and that it would receive some severe criticism.”[4]The book is technically detailed, with information on the physiology and anatomy of the body, how fat deposits affect tissues and muscles, and symptoms of illness that arise from obesity. He also provides an explanation of how fatty deposits can enter the Eustachian tubes and result in temporary deafness through the mucus membranes.



[1] William Banting, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public (1863), 12.

[2] Ibid, 16.

[3] Ibid, 17.

[4] William Harvey, On Corpulence in Relation to Disease (1872), vi.

An Experiment in Chloroform


A ringing, buzzing, singing, clicking, roaring, annoying sound. It can get so loud that every other sound in the vicinity is drowned out. It can last a few minutes, or hours, or even years. It can be divine retribution, the “Curse of Titus,” after an insect flew into Titus’ nose and picked his brain for seven years. Beethoven complained of the ringing. Charles Darwin recorded the amplitude and frequency of his tinnitus daily.

In the mid-1860s, the aural surgeon Joseph Toynbee (1815-1866) began experimenting for a cure for tinnitus. He was plagued with the malady for years and could sympathize with his patients who complained and clamoured for a cure. In Diseases of the Ear (1860), Toynbee described a few case studies in which he devised treatments that included leeching and syringing. None of the cases were successfully cured of tinnitus in the long run.

Wanting to help his patients as well as himself, Toynbee conceived an experiment that induced chloroform into the tympanic cavity through a Valsavian maneuver. Chloroform was discovered in the 1830s by three researchers working independently of each other: French scientist Eugène Soubeiran 1797-1859), American physician Samuel Guthrie (1782–1848), and German chemist Justus von Liebig (1803-1873). Shortly after, chloroform’s  properties as an anaesthetic was introduced by Scottish obstetrician Sir James Young Simpson (1811-1870) in 1847.

Glass ampoule of liquid chloroform, Paris, France, 1845-1945
Glass ampoule of liquid chloroform, Paris, France, 1845-1945

Chloroform is a clear, colorless liquid. Physicians, surgeons, or even dentists would drop liquid chloroform to a cloth and place it over a patient’s nose until they became unconscious. It could also be vaporized and inhaled through a face mask. It’s popularity owed to its effectiveness as pain relief, as an alternative to opium or alcohol, and especially more so when Queen Victoria insisted on using it when she gave birth to Prince Leopold in 1853.Chloroform was administered by physician John Snow (1813-1858), who would also administer it to Queen Victoria for the birth of Princess Beatrice in 1857.[1] As the Queen wrote in her diary upon the birth of Leopold,

Dr. Snow administered ‘that blessed Chloroform’ & the effect was soothing, quieting & delightful beyond measure.[2]

For Joseph Toynbee, his experiences with tinnitus as well as his clinical observations suggested that chloroform could aid in relieving the ringing. In the summer of 1866, he conducted an experiment with chloroform and hydrocyanic acid, using himself as the test subject. He hypothesized whether the inhalation of vapours could pass through the Eustachian tubes and reach the cavity of the tympanum, effectively treating the tinnitus.

On Saturday July 7, 1866, Toynbee’s servant George Power found his master in his office dead. A piece of cotton-wool was placed over Toynbee’s nose and mouth. The room smelt strongly of chloroform and on a chair besides the couch, there was a watch, empty bottles, and two papers with handwritten notes: “The effect of inhalation of the vapour of chloroform for singing in the ears, so as to be forced to the tympanum, either by being taken in by the breath through a towel or a sponge, producing a beneficial sensation or warmth,” and “The effect of chloroform combined with “hydocyanic acid.”” The combination of chloroform and acid proved fatal.[2]

A familiar scene.  Sir James Young Simpson found unconscious following an experiment with chloroform. Lithograph: Edwin Hodder, c.1880
A similar scene.
Sir James Young Simpson found unconscious following an experiment with chloroform. Lithograph: Edwin Hodder, c.1880

Syphilitic Invasions of the Ear

The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice has a wonderful post on Georgian prostitution and syphilis, which inspired me to dig up my research notebooks and uncover what nineteenth-century aurists wrote about syphilis and deafness. Syphilis is a fascinating topic. In nineteenth-century London, people were quite aware of the gruesome and devastating aspects of the disease. The memoirs of Reverend Frederick Gilby (1865-1949), for instance, documented a “tragic case” of a poor deaf and dumb child at the Bow and Bromley Workhouse Infirmary who began to develop syphilitic symptoms.

Aurists were aware that syphilitic invasions of the ear were not uncommon occurrences. Most of them agreed on the symptoms of syphilitic deafness, though they may have disagreed on the stages of the disease or which part(s) of the ear the disease was presented. Matthew Berkeley Hill (1834-1892), for instance, argued deafness in syphilis occurred at the late stages of the disease and presented in the tiny bones of the ear.[1] By the 1870s, it was agreed that syphilitic deafness included symptoms of: damage to the eighth cranial nerve, tinnitus, a gradual loss of hearing, with periods of remission, and evidence of damage in the tympanic cavity.[2]

John Cunningham Saunders (1773-1810), founder of the London Infirmary for Eye and Ear Diseases, believed that proximate causes of syphilis and nervous deafness (hearing loss due to defective or damaged nervous system) were the same.  “Constitutional deafness” (selective, temporary deafness) also included deafness caused by syphilis. The Irish aurist William Wilde (1815-1878) defined syphilitic deafness as “syphilitic myringitis.” He described the disease as being rooted in the tympanum (bony cavity of the middle ear, behind the eardrum):

[T]he deafness which sometimes accompanies the secondary form of syphilis is generally believed to be caused by inflammation, and ulceration extending from the throat through the Eustachian trumpet [tube] into the middle ear.[3]

The aurist Joseph Toynbee (1815-1866) also discussed deafness arising from syphilis, though he didn’t go into much detail on its root causes. In The Diseases of the Ear (1860), he outlined a case of 28 year old “H.L.” who came to see him on June 25, 1853 for treatment of deafness and afflicted symptoms arising from syphilis:

[He has] suffered for several months from sore throat, consequent upon an attack of secondary syphilis: for two months has complained of deafness in both ears, so as not to hear any except a loud voice. The deafness is accompanied by constant singing [tinnitus], which is increased when the head is on the pillow, and it varies much…The treatment pursued was the use of the nitrate of silver to the fauces, and the administration of steel wine. On July 2d he told me that three or four days previously he heard quite well in the morning, and the improvement lasted for two days, since which he has been gradually getting deaf again. By perseverance in the treatment for a month he perfectly recovered.[4]

James Hinton (1822-1875), aural surgeon at Guy’s Hospital, also noted that 1 in 20 of his patients manifested symptoms of syphilitic deafness. Hinton also assisted in the research of English surgeon Jonathan Hutchinson (1828-1913), who was collecting data on inherited syphilis.

L0008502 Portrait of Sir J. Hutchinson.
Jonathan Hutchinson

Hutchinson studied at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and was a member and fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons; his remarkable surgical career led to appointments in several of London’s hospitals, including the Lock Hospital, the London Hospital, and Blackfriars Hospital for Diseases of the Skin. His work on syphilis was the first to connect various symptoms to form diagnosis—what’s now called the Hutchinson Triad, in which symptoms of notched teeth, interstitial keratitis, and deafness, could provide a firm diagnosis of congenital syphilis.

photo 2
Types of interstitial keratitis, from Hutchinson’s A Clinical Memoir
L0021139 "Syphilitic malformations of the permanent teeth".
Types of notched teeth, from Hutchinson’s A Clinical Memoir

In A Clinical Memoir of Certain Diseases of the Eye and Ear as a Consequent of Inherited Syphilis (1863), Hutchinson states that deafness frequently follows the presence of keratitis and in the majority of cases, the deafness was complete and permanent. He found syphilitic deafness occurred in cases of diseases of the cranial bones extending towards the internal and middle ears; of these cases, otorrhoea (inflammation of the ear with excessive discharge) was an invariable symptom.

Deafness in greater or less degree is frequent in the subjects of inherited syphilis. In some instances it advances to the almost total abolition of the perception of sound. These extreme cases are however exceptional, and more commonly only the hearing is only partially lost.[5]

Symptoms of syphilitic deafness were indicative of the progressive nature of the disease. As Hutchinson explained, deafness is usually symmetrical, in that it appears in both ears at the same time. In none of his cases did he find any changes in the tympanic membrane (eardrum), although the membrane was often abnormal in some way. The stages of hearing loss are rapidly passed through; a patient’s hearing could drastically diminish in six months from perfect hearing, to totally deaf, without any marked degree of pain. In cases of inherited syphilitic deafness, Hutchinson observed that deafness usually appears in five years either before or after puberty.

“Herdito-syphilitic deafness,” Hutchinson declared, had a poor prognosis. Its progressive nature meant there was little chance of permanent improvement, even in spite of the “cautious use” of specific remedies prescribed from the onset of symptoms. Six months to a year was the usual time “for the completion of the process and the entire abolition of the function.”[6]


[1] Matthew Berkeley Hill, Syphilis and Local Contagious Disorders (1868).

[2] Deborah Hayden, Pox: Genius, Madness, and the Mysteries of Syphilis (2003), p.80.

[3] William Wilde, Practical Observations on Aural Surgery (1853), p.252.

[4] Joseph Toynbee, The Diseases of the Ear: Their Nature, Diagnosis, and Treatment (1860), p.235.

[5] Jonathan Hutchinson, A Clinical Memoir of Certain Diseases of the Eye and Ear as a Consequent of Inherited Syphilis (London: 1863), p.174.

[6] Hutchinson, p.183.

Powell’s Electro-Vibratory Cure for Deafness

In 1905, Dr. Guy Clifford Powell, of Peoria, Illinois invented and marketed a device he called the “Electro-Vibratory Cure for Deafness.”

photo 2

The apparatus apparently cured a patient of deafness by pumping air through the ears via cotton-covered electrodes soaked in salt water. After pumping in air, a jolt of electricity generated by the solenoid coils is sent to the patient’s head. Two “Electro-Magneto Storage Cells” batteries were placed inside the top cover.

The Lindian Collection of Medical Devices has some incredible close-up photos of the device’s structures and an overview of the instruction manual.

The Electro-Vibratory apparatus was initially priced at $100 and promoted through mail-order marketing. Powell advertised himself as an “International Specialist,” even printing his image alongside his adverts for the device. Prospective clients would write in, request a trial, and the device would be sent to them once payment was received. Apparently as Powell risked being exposed as a fraud, he offered a hefty discount for clients—they only had to pay $15!

photo 3

After Powell died, his company was carried on by “Dr. L.C. Grains Company,” which operated out of Chicago instead of Peoria. The company added the Electro-Vibratory apparatus to its repository of deaf cures, including the “Read Clover Extract” and the “Curo Grains of Life.” However, all the advertising booklets, leaflets, and general paraphernalia issued by the L.C. Grains Company were identical to that of Powell’s—save for the portrait of the “Doctor!”

Testimonials and advertising ephemera from the Powell Company.
Testimonials and advertising ephemera from the Powell Company.