The Attraction of Magnetic Medicines

Digger Odell Publications ©2009

Many centuries ago in Asia Minor, legend has it that a shepherd discovered a mysterious black stone which stuck to the end of his iron tipped staff. Large amounts of this stone were found in this country which came to be known as "Magnesia". The stones came to be called magnes lapis, meaning Magnesia stone. Men were puzzled by the strange behavior of these stones, and in ancient times they were believed by many people to be magical.

Many Centuries later, the magical powers of magnetism were exploited by medicine makers of the nineteenth century. Dr. Edward B. Foote M.D. in his book Plain Home Talk And Medical Common Sense says, "Happily for suffering humanity ... the therapeutic value of the electrical discoveries of Galvani, Faraday, Cross and others have been tested in the universities and hospitals in England, France and Germany. Galvanism, electro-magnetism and other forms of electricity, are now extensively employed in the best institutions of the old world...with the most flattering results." He sites another author as saying " Water is valuable as a medical agent, but its efficiency consists, not in the element itself, but in its subservience as a handmaid of electricity. Electricity is the queen of medicine: water merely a pool in which she bathes her feet."

Dr. Foot gives the history of the discovery. "Dr. Frederic Anthony Mesmer was the first one, I believe in the Christian world to recognize the effects of animal magnetism, and employ this agent in the cure of disease. He promulgated his theory in Paris in 1778.

Of his own electro-magnetic device he asserts, " The reputation of electricity has suffered by its bungling application in the hands of inexperienced operators. He explains the qualification essential for a "eminently successful electrical operator is a god-given gift. It is the possession at all times of a good supply of animal magnetism. To be a first-rate operator, a physician must be a battery in himself. "

"The hand held above the head

illustrates the magnetic power of a

person who is highly electrical..."

Dr. Foot sold a number of magnetic medical articles as shown in the accompanying illustration. But Dr. Foot was only one of many magnetic magnates. Machines and medicines claiming to use magnetic power to treat disease were common in the era of the patent medicine. The extent of this use is shown by the great proliferation of products. In addition to electro-magnetic machines, one could find Electro-magnetic trusses, belts, plasters, balms, liniments, cordials, ointments, oils, and even magnetic spring waters-all claiming beneficial health effects.


Perhaps the best known magnetic medicine was Trask's Magnetic Ointment made by the David Ransom & Son company of Buffalo, New York. The ointment a "remedy for pain, nervous headache, inflammation of the bowels, burns, fever sores..." was first produced in 1848 according to the patent office records. According to Wilson in his book on 19th century medicines, "Trask's Ointment was introduced by S. Bull, of New York state in 1846." Ransom became the proprietor in the mid 1860s and ownership changed hands several times after that. It was still being advertised for sale one hundred years after being introduced.

There are many different variants of the Trask's Ointment including machine made embossed bottles and a damaged yellow green pontiled specimen. The wholesale druggist catalogs of the 1880s list the ointment in two sizes (25 cents and 40 cents). The inexpensiveness of the brand probably contributed to its long lived success.

The David Ransom Company also controlled Dr. Miller's Universal Magnetic Balm introduced according to patent records in 1851. Wilson's research indicates it was first made in the 1860s by Dr. J. R. Miller of Syracuse, New York. The Magnetic Balm was a remedy for stomach and bowel complaints including cholera. The Ransom company also owned Prof. Anderson's Dermador another popular seller.

Christie's Magnetic Fluid was another early product to capitalize on the magnetic bandwagon. According to Blasi, Abel H. Christie was listed as a Physician dealing in galvanic and magnetic curatives in New York City in 1846-47. The Galvanic Rings, show in the 1844 newspaper ad, were to be used in conjunction with the Magnetic Fluid to effect a positive cure for rheumatism, gout, toothache, bronchitis, palsy, epilepsy, cramps, fits, palpitations of the heart, apoplexy, spinal complaints and general debility.

The relatively scarce Magnetic Fluid was apparently not as good a seller as Christie's Ague Balsam, a more common bottle. Christie died in 1852 or 1853 and the business was carried on by J. and J.F. Trippe & Co. as sole agents.

Magnetic medicines were being promoted well into the twentieth century. True's Magnetic Cordial was analysis by the Internal Revenue Service and found to contain 26.09% alcohol and was classified as a "booze medicine" or alcoholic preparation under the guise of a medicinal product. The commissioner of Internal Revenue published a list of medicines, including True's Magnetic Cordial, found "insufficiently medicated to render them unsuitable for use as a beverage." Druggists in the early part of the 19th century were forbidden by the IRS from selling these compounds classed as 'compound liquors' by the IRS unless a special tax as a retail liquor dealer had been paid.

Most of the magnetic medicines, like other patent medicines, slowly disappeared after the passage of the 1906 Food and Drug Act enacted shortly after a series of articles appeared in Collier's Weekly which dealt with what was well named the "Great American Fraud". The combined efforts of federal and state officials enforcing national and state pure food laws, together with the Post Office Department working through the agency of fraud order, and the efforts of the American Medical Association ended a colorful era of patent and proprietary medicine making in which fortunes were made and lost on the attraction of magnetic medicines. Or did they??

There has been a resurgence of interest in magnetic medicines. Today, across the country magnetic bracelets or wraps and other similar items are being sold. One company uses testimonials from sports figures who claim, "Tectonic® magnets are worn by football players, pro tour golfers, tennis players and active people world wide" Although they claim people should be skeptical about "claims {that} are being made about the ability of magnetic devices to cure cancer, heart disease in addition to a host of other disease. Magnets do not do the miraculous. Whereas, electromagnetic devices do speed up the healing of fractures and soft tissue injuries, and relieve pain, these devices are based on repeated motion and pulsating energies that cause chemical changes in the body that are beneficial".

Another company Healmag® claims their elctro-magnetic coil, "improves vitality, rejuvenates cells ... Cures chronic as well as acute problems, longer life, Improves health, provides energy and builds resistance to disease."

Another company, The Asha Company®, sells Magnetic Therapy Products, even goes so far as to say how the magnets perform their work, "Our handsomely crafted, powerful bracelets are being worn by thousands of men and women. From professional athletes to everyday people.... Here is a brief explanation of how magnetic healing works. Magnetic energy attracts iron and other electrically charged blood particles to the area of discomfort or pain. The blood is drawn towards the magnet at an accelerated pace, which in turn, fully oxygenates the blood cells. This enriched blood supply and enhanced circulation causes blood vessels to dilate allowing the injured tissue to receive additional oxygen and nutrients, thus providing healing."

Yet another opinion is offered by Dr. Allison Lee M.D. Medical Director, Board Certified in  Anesthesiology and Pain Management, Passed Proficiency Exam, American Academy of Medical Acupuncture says: "No one can really say for sure how they work, but this is an interesting new area in medicine that will continue to grow in many ways." Sometimes no matter how much things change they stay the same.

Reader's comment added January 2005

"Magnetic medicines: The explanation the magnet companies give for the "healing" properties of their products is completely ignorant. The iron in hemoglobin is not ferromagnetic. There is no way magnets can attract blood to any part of your body. Do the experiment yourself. Get some blood and a magnet and see if you can make it move. Ever see a compass needle point towards a bloody steak? I didn't think so. MRI scanners use 1.5 Tesla magnets. These are so strong they can pull a pen out of your pocket and draw it across the room like a bullet. They can erase your credit cards if you stand too close. If magnets could attract blood an MRI scan would probably kill you. For comparison, the Earth's magnetic field, which can move a compass needle, is 0.0001 Tesla. Also, a lot of people get MRI scans because they are hurt or sick. How come nobody ever feels better after 45 minutes at 1.5 Tesla??" Michael S. Gorback, M.D.

The Following Magnetic Medicines were Registered with the U.S. Patent Office before 1900,

Dr. Batdorf's Magnetic Rheumatic Syrup, Jacob C. Batdorf- Grand Rapids, Mich. registered 1882
Dr. Batdorf's Magnetic Lung Balsam and Asthma Cure
Dr. Batdorf's Magnetic Uterine RegulatorMagnetic Liver and Kidney Cure.

Dr. Bates Electro-Magnetic Cure. The Bates Medical Company -Eldred, PA registered 1887

Bonnore's Electro-Magnetic Bathing Fluid Louise A. Bonnore - San Jose, CA registered 1881

The Magnetic Remedy Julia Blankman - NY, NY registered 1876

Cronin's Egyptian Magnetic

Strengthening Plaster Cornelius J. Cronin - Glen Falls, NY registered 1883

Magnetic Hand Charmar (medicine) Dearth & Smith - Jasper, AL registered 1892


Acme Vegetable Magnetized Remedies Wm. Dobie - Pittsburgh, PA registered 1892

Lodestone (name for several medicines) Tyler & Embree - Belton, TX registered 1887

Lodestone Oil (liniment) Wm. Bagley & R. W. Tilford - Greenville, MS registered 1886

Lyon's Magnetic Powder (since 1840) Barnes, Demas - NY, NY registered 1880

Prof. Low's Magnetic Worm Syrup ( since 1875) Smith, Kline, French registered 1877
Prof. Low's Magnetic Liniment (since 1865) registered 1877

Dr. Miller's Universal Magnetic Balm (since 1851) Ransom, Son & Co.- Buffalo, NY registered 1873

Trask"s Magnetic Ointment (since 1848) registered 1873

Magnetic Tablets Joy Post - Essex, CT registered 1885

Magnetic Pain Medicine Lacey E. Payton - Onana, NE registered 1892

Magnetic Medicine Magnetic Med. Co,- Detroit, MI registered 1882

Mayer's Magnetic Catarrh Cure Henry J. Mayer - Oakland, MID registered 1893

The Electro-Magnetic Anodyne Nathan Haas - Dayton, OH registered 1877

Geneva Magnetic Mineral Spring Geneva Magnetic Min. Water Co.- Geneva, NY registered 1889

Dr. Golden's Magnetic Ointment Owen H. Golden - Buff, NY registered 1875

Dr. Barker & Smith's Magnetic Balm (since 1852) Nathaniel Smith - Syracuse, NY registered 1872

Magnetica (liniment) Benjamin Weeks et. al. - Lawrence, MA registered 1884

Wright's Magnetic Electrifier (since 1861) Frank A. Wright - Lewiston, ME registered 1889

Dr. Horn's Electric Belts with magnetic insoles registered 1888

Lorence's Magnetic Liniment circa circa

Cooper's Magnetic Balm circa 1888

Flower's Magnetic Plaster circa 1888

Morehead's Magnetic Plaster circa 1888

Patchin's Magnetic Oil circa 1888

Dr. Foot's Electro-Magnetic Machine Dr. Edward Foot- NY, NY 1884

Dr. Foot's Magnetic Ointment 1884

Dr. Foot's Magnetic Anti-Billious Pills 1884


Magnetic Croup Tippet 1884

Howard Electro-Magnetic Truss American Galvanic Co.- NY, NY 1886

Indian Magnetic Liniment Dr. R. Green - Boston - MA 1857

Indian Magnetic Ointment 1857

True's Magnetic Cordial circa 1912

Kamiah Magnetic Cough Balsam circa 1914

Magnetic Cough Balsam circa 1914

Low's Magnetic Electric Oil circa 1914

St. Nicodemus Magnetic Oil circa 1914

Zaegel's Magnetic Oil (two sizes) circa 1914


Some of the Known Bottled Products

ALPENA MAGNETIC SPRING CO., amber, quart, smooth base.

DR. J.C. BATDORF'S MAGNETIC - LIVER KIDNEY CURE - GRAND RAPIDS MICH, aqua, 8 3/4", rect, smooth base.

CHRISTIE'S - MAGNETIC - FLUID, aqua, 4 1/4", rectangular, square collar top, open pontil.


GERMAN / MAGNETIC - LINIMENT - MADE BY / A.C. GRANT / ALBANY NEW YORK, aqua, 5", rect., rolled lip, open pontil.

HOPES - MAGNETIC / OINTMENT - NEW YORK, aqua, 2 7/8", open pontil.

PROFESSOR. HUNTER'S / ELECTRO-MAGNETIC - OIL, Aqua, 4 3/8", rect., rolled lip, Open pontil.

JOHNSON'S - MAGNETIC OIL, aqua, 8", rect., tooled square collar, smooth base.

MAGNETIC / AETHER / HALSTED & CO., aqua, 4 1/4", nine sided, flared lip, open pontil.

MAGNETIC SPRING / HENNIKER, N.H., amber, quart, 9 1/4", smooth base.

MAYER'S MAGNETIC - CATARRH CURE, clear, 3 5/8", rect., smooth base.

MAYER'S - MAGNETIC - CATARRH CURE, clear, 3 5/8", rect., smooth base. Came with glass nasal tube.

DR. MILLER'S / MAGNETIC BALM, aqua, 4", rect. applied lip, smooth base.

PEOPLE'S / MAGNETIC / LINIMENT - A.H. PALMER CO. - NEW YORK, aqua, 6 5/8", rect., open pontil.

DR. SHELDON'S - MAGNETIC LINIMENT / SIDNEY N.S.W. / BOSTON USA, deep teal green, 5 1/2", rect., tooled lip, smooth base.

DR. SHELDON'S - MAGNETIC LINIMENT / SIDNEY N.S.W. / BOSTON USA, emerald green, 5 1/2", rect., tooled lip, smooth base.

STIRLINGS / MAGNETIC / MINERAL SPRING / EATON RAPIDS MICH, orange amber, quart, smooth base.

DR. I.L. ST JOHN'S / MAGNETIC OIL - CURES RHEUMATISM NEURALGIA AND - HEADACHE, aqua and clear, 5 1/2", 5 1/4", 7 1/2", rect. smooth base.

A. TRASK'S / MAGNETIC / OINTMENT, aqua, 2 1/2", square, rolled lip, backwards "N's", open pontil.

A. TRASK'S MAGNETIC / OINTMENT, aqua, 3", square, rolled lip, open pontil.

A. TRASK'S MAGNETIC / OINTMENT, aqua, 3", square, tooled lip, smooth base.

A. TRASK'S MAGNETIC / OINTMENT, aqua, 2 ", square, flared lip, open pontil.

WILLIAMS' MAGNETIC RELIEF / A.P. WILLIAMS / FRENCHTOWN, N.J., aqua, 6 1/8", smooth base.

DR. WILSONS - MAGNETIC / VEGETABLE / OINTMENT, aqua, 4 3/4", square, smooth base.

A. WRIGHT'S / AMERICAN / MAGNETIC / PILE - OINTMENT, aqua, 2 7/8", almost square, smooth base.


Baldwin, Joseph K. A Collector's Guide to Patent and Proprietary Medicine Bottles of the Nineteenth Century. Nashville, New York: Thomas Nelson Inc. 1973.

Blasi, Betty. A Bit About Balsams Louisville, Kentucky'. Farley-Goepper Printing Company, 1974.

Carson, Gerald. One For A Man Two for A Horse. Garden City, New York - Doubleday & Co. Inc., 1961.

Cramp, Arthur J. American Medical Association. Nostrums and Quackery. Chicago, Illinois: American Medical Association Press, 1912circa

Fike, Richard E. The Bottle Book A Comprehensive Guide to Historic, Embossed Medicine Bottles. Salt Lake City, Utah- Gibbs M. Smith Inc. 1987.

Foot, Edward B. Plain Home Talk and Medical Common Sense. New York, New York: Murray Hill Publishing Co. 1884.

Hagenbuch, James. Glass-works Auctions. Nos. 6, 10, 12, 13. East Greenville, Pennsylvania- Boyertown Publishing Co. 1987-1989.

McGuire, Eric. Bottled Products and the U.S. Patent Office. San Raphael, California, Eric McGuire, 1991. microfisch

Medical and Surgical Directory of the United States. New York, New York - R.L. & Polk & Co, 1886.

Nielsen, R. Frederick. Great American Pontiled Medicines. Cherry Hill, New Jersey: Cortech Corp., 1978.

Robert Stevenson & Co. Wholesale Druggist. Chicago Illinois: Rand McNally & Co. 1888.

San Antonio Drug Company. The International Druggist San Antonio, Texas: Barnes Crosby Co. June 1914.

Wolf, John. Unpublished list of Cures.

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