The Advanced Medical Sciences Institute
One of the most common traits that we have observed amongst the practitioners of quackery is never to be shy in proclaiming the virtues of your panacea. A case in point is X W Witman and his Diagraphoscope which toured the States in the early years of the 20th century.
According to contemporary adverts it was “the most truly marvellous invention of the age” which “has revolutionised the medical world”. In essence it was one step beyond an X-ray machine enabling the user “by virtue of this phenomenal machine’s power” to see with the naked eye “every organ in the patient’s body”. “It makes” the advert goes on “the formerly much-wanted X-ay look like a toy”. “The screen is placed on the chest or other portion of the body and every interior condition of happening is immediately visible to the naked eye”.
The rays emanating from the machine were so powerful that they would pierce “almost three feet of solid wood and reveal a copper cent on the opposite side” but, naturally, were not injurious to man. The screen through which the insides of the patient could be viewed was made of a compound “which cost in the rough just five times its weight in gold”. Inevitably, this made the diagraphoscope phenomenally expensive but Witman made a virtue of this. It was so expensive a machine that “only the most elaborately equipped hospitals in Berlin and Paris have been able to stand the gigantic cost… let alone the practical impossibility of securing specialists whose skill is equal to the successful operation of its parts.”
So, in a nutshell, Witman was doing the great American public a favour by touring the country giving demonstrations of a machine that was beyond the pocket and wit of the American medical community. The consultation was free in the first week that he pitched up in a city or town, after which the customary consultation fee of $5 was charged. Hours of operation were between 9 and 12, 2 and 4 and 7 to 8, allowing good time for a hearty lunch and dinner.
Not everyone, though, was taken in by the eighth wonder of the world. An observer of potentially fraudulent advertising, one Karl E Murchey, was singularly unimpressed by the machine, describing it as a circular tube full of coloured liquid, with a photographer’s hood through which the doctor viewed the patient and an electric buzzer with which appropriate sound effects were made. After a demonstration which was a classic set up and where the patient’s condition was miraculously discovered just in time to save him, Murchey obtained a warrant for Witman’s arrest but by the time it had been prepared he had scarpered.
But the net was closing in on Witman. He pitched up in Louisville, Kentucky in 1912 and as per usual advertised his presence and the wonder of his machine in the local papers. These adverts came to the attention of the State Board of Health who promptly charged Witman and his associates with failing to file certificates naming those conducting the business and for practising medicine illegally. Up before the beak Witman was fined $700 and within an hour the offices had closed down and moved on.
With heightened scrutiny and more onerous regulations the days of the most marvellous invention of the age were up.