Q: This interesting box was given to my father several years ago. It is marked "Inspected by Achille St. Laurent date July 12 1917." All instructions and parts are intact. The instruction booklet is titled "Medical Electricty @ Home." Can you tell me more about it and its possible value?
A: Electric battery machines like yours were used to treat various illnesses, including fevers, rheumatism, epilepsy, cancer, and other diseases in the 1800s and early 1900s. The use of electricity to cure or alleviate disease was an accepted medical practice in the United States and Canada until about 1930. The box or carrying case usually included an induction coil, dry cells, and parts needed to give a slight electric shock to the patient. To treat a fever, the patient was touched with the positive end of the terminal while the patient's feet and the negative end were immersed in a basin of water. People still believe that electricity cures things, and there are modern devices available. Medical batteries similar to yours were advertised in the 1923 Sears Roebuck catalog for prices ranging from $5.80 to $13.55. Today they usually sell for $50 to over $100.