Science as entertainment part 2

I’m going to start republishing some of what I consider the ‘good stuff’ from the previous Blogspot blog, in case the cancelers decide to work harder. This also gives me an opportunity to place things in proper sequence with connected titles. Part 1 goes on top instead of the usual blog sequence of first-is-last. So here’s part 2 of the sequence where I discussed Science as Entertainment.


The 1856 Pike catalog featured a Magnetic Machine For Medical Purposes on its cover. I’ve animated it, and added another unique item from the period. Both of these have a medical/magical flavor.

Here’s the magnetic machine in use for electrotherapy. You can see that Happystar is getting a pulse once in each revolution of the big wheel:

The Magnetic Machine (left) is just an induction coil with a buzzer, the most common source of high voltage from Wheatstone to Marconi to the Ford T. The coil has a primary with less turns and a secondary with more turns, and the iron core (protruding on left) can be slid in and out for more or less coupling.

The Pike catalog gives $10 as the price of the machine itself, which is about $400 now.

This early version has a uniquely shaped buzzer:

A fine iron wire is pulled down when the magnets are energized, breaking the circuit to the magnets. When it springs back up, it closes the circuit again. This seems overly delicate, and most later buzzers had a more massive spring element, looking and acting more like a pendulum.

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The big wheel in the middle is a Rheotome (flow-cutter), a long-forgotten source of timed pulses with controllable width. It was often used in electrotherapy to provide brief pulses that could be sync’d with the heart or other rhythms. It’s driven via pulleys by the electric motor on the right. Speed varied with usage; apparently 10 RPM was typical.

This particular rheotome has two entirely separate timers, for different purposes. Each timer consists of a pair of sliding brushes mounted on the wheel. The wheel itself doesn’t carry any electricity, and there’s no connection between the two pairs of brushes. Each pair skates on the insulated turntable below the wheel, and each pair connects two sets of contacts mounted on or in the turntable, but only when it skates onto the contacts.

The outer pair of brushes has one needle and one brush for more precision. The needle is running over a ‘compass rose’ of precisely spaced metal contacts protruding from the insulating turntable. The outer brush is running over a continuous circle. When the needle passes over one of the precise compass points, current flows from the outer circle to the compass rose. These are tied internally to the binding posts on the right leg.

I’ve connected a simple series circuit with two drycells and a voltmeter, showing when the needle makes contact. (Not running the full circle here, because the rest would be repetitive.) These ticks could be used to activate a buzzer, but they would be more suitable as drivers for a time-marker pen on a chronograph.

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The more interesting pair is the inner pair. Two brushes pass over a short pair of ‘mesas’ on the insulated turntable. The outer mesa (which is adjustable) leads to the outer binding post on the south leg, and the inner mesa to the inner binding post. When BOTH brushes are contacting BOTH mesas, current passes between the binding posts. Again I’m using a simple series arrangement so the voltmeter shows when the pulse is on.

The outer mesa can slide both ways to vary the pulse length. When it’s more southward, the area of overlap is narrower, so the pulses are narrower. The difference isn’t impressive, but this seems to be a realistic representation of the difference in the real rheotome.

The 1848 Pike catalog describes the use of the Magnetic Machine thusly:

It may be used agreeably, and with much effect, by the patient holding one of the conductors, and another person the other conductor, and with the other hand making passes over or around the diseased part. This is particularly useful about the head, and where the pain is under the hair it should be thoroughly wet, to have the effect pass through it. The best effects have followed from regular applications of a mild power, from five to fifteen minutes, twice or more a day. The machine may be used with confidence, no injury being known to result from its use.

And the machine was used with confidence! Happystar’s waves are resync’d, back in resonance with the universe.

Sounds like the main effect was pulsed static charge, not current through the body. The hand of the healer has always been important in real healing. Modern “medicine” has forgotten it, and in 2020 prohibited all healing entirely.

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