Albert Abrams (1863 – 1924)
The latest practitioner of the ignoble art of quackery to fall under our microscope is Albert Abrams who unleashed radionics on the unsuspecting public.
Born in San Fransisco Abrams obtained a medical degree at the Medical College of the Pacific in 1881 and then moved to Germany where he graduated the following year at Heidelberg University and then undertook further studies in London, Berlin, Vienna and Paris. He went back to the States holding various teaching posts at Cooper College and was President of the California Medico-Chirurgical Society in 1893 and at the turn of the twentieth century became a respected expert in neurology, publishing a number of books almost up until his death from broncho-pneumonia.
However, it was adherence to radionics that brought Abrams to wider public attention. The theory behind radionics was that a healthy person would radiate certain energy frequencies through their body which defined their health and general well-being whereas an unhealthy person radiated different energy frequencies which defined their disorders. Abrams developed a machine called a dynamizer which purported to diagnose and heal by applying appropriate frequencies to counterbalance and negate the effect of the discordant frequencies emanating from the patient’s malaise.
So sensitive and powerful was the Dynamizer, according to Abrams, that any ailment could be diagnosed simply by feeding into the amazing black box a slip of paper upon which a drop of the patient’s blood had been blotted. If the patient was unwilling to donate a drop of their blood, an example of their handwriting would suffice! He even claimed he could tell their religion from a drop of their blood.
The machine was then attached to a healthy assistant by means of an electrode to their forehead. The assistant was then turned to face a westerly direction (very important, this) in a room with dim light and then Abrams would proceed to strike their abdomen repeatedly with a mallet. The vibrations coming off the abdomen of the assistant would indicate to the quack the nature of the ailment. Amazingly, Abrams came up with another device, known as an oscilloclast, which fired frequencies at the patient to cure them. So strong were the frequencies emanating from the machine, so Abrams claimed, that they would work even in a telephone consultation.
So successful was Abrams that he made millions leasing out his devices and was dubbed by the American Medical Association (AMA) as the dean of gadget quacks. Unfortunately, his runaway success attracted the attention of sceptics and spoilsports started to test the system out A member of the AMA sent him a blood sample and the results suggested that the patient was suffering from malaria, diabetes, cancer and syphilis. The donor of the blood was actually a Plymouth Rock rooster.
Several adherents of Abrams also misdiagnosed samples of animal blood and a few of them found themselves up before the beak on fraud charges. Abrams was due to appear as a witness but (conveniently) died before the trial. Officers of the Food and Drugs Agency opened up his boxes and found that one produced a magnetic field similar to a doorbell and another was little more than a low-powered radio wave transmitter. Astonishing!