In the late 19th century, new inventions such as the telegraph and incandescent light bulb helped spark public fascination with electricity, and with it, belief in the healing power of electrical charges. At the same time, scientists and physicians discovered and proved that electricity affects the body, and even that it is responsible for controlling many bodily functions. Electricity is what causes nerves to communicate, and electrical impulses are what stimulate the muscles. It was not long before the first ideas began to circulate about how to put these findings to work and implement them in technological terms as well.
A new industrial segment arises
In 1844, Werner Siemens and his brother Friedrich got an idea: They would use one of Werner’s inventions for medical purposes. Friedrich was suffering from toothaches, and the brothers decided to treat him with electricity. For their plan, they used one of Werner’s devices, which he had christened the Volta Inductor. Werner Siemens had a business partner, Johann Georg Halske, who worked with a physiologist named Emil Du Bois-Reymond to improve the device later on. The new unit was produced in volume by the company Siemens & Halske and became a success all over the world. Reiniger’s “immersion battery” is another early therapeutic device. It is a very specific way to store energy: When the lid is opened, carbon zinc elements are immersed in a chromic acid solution. This generates electricity that can be used for electrical stimulation therapy. The device was developed by Erwin Moritz Reiniger before 1882, and sold by the thousands over the next ten years. This makes electrotherapy one of the oldest forms of medical technology in existence.
Ideas like these and many more gave rise to a completely new industrial segment in the late 19th century, one that specialized in production and sales of various electromedical devices. The first companies to produce these kinds of equipment – initially only for therapeutic purposes – included Siemens & Halske, in Berlin, and Reiniger, Gebbert & Schall (RGS), which was based in Erlangen. The two companies were rivals until 1925, when Siemens & Halske acquired RGS.
… and diagnosis
The era of electrodiagnostics started around 1900, with the development of the electrocardiogram. The new devices were able to measure the body’s subtle electrical currents more accurately, for an even clearer picture of how the body works. The results, in turn, helped make more targeted therapy possible – including through methods using electricity. The Pantostat universal connection device, for example, was used for various therapeutic and diagnostic purposes, including vibration massage and electrical stimulation therapy, but also for examinations using endoscopes. The Pantostat replaced the many specific devices that had previously been commonplace, with each one serving only a single use. With more than 16,000 units sold worldwide, it was one of the most widely used apparatus of this kind in its time.
Electromedicine is still an important area of medical technology to this day in terms of both diagnosis and treatment.