22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past

By Attila Nagy on at

In the history of medicine, machines became crucial parts of the diagnostic and treatment process in the first half of the 20th century. Scientists and doctors experimented with some really strange devices, and they developed a lot of creepy-looking health equipment—at least some of which seems almost horrific, seen through the eyes of today. The following 22 instruments are partly scary, partly weird, and partly awesome—just as inventions should be.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Pre-PET headgear (Positron Emission Tomography), built by the Brookhaven National Laboratory's Instrumentation Division to study the working brain.

Image: Brookhaven National Laboratory


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Large-sized eye models, moved by two small motors, developed by aero medical researchers.

Image: Otis Historical Archives – National Museum of Health and Medicine


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Winston Churchill’s personal pressure chamber, created to enable him to take high-altitude flights safely.

Image: Life, 10 Feb 1947.


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Three plastic humanoid shells, filled with sodium chloride solution, used for measuring radioactivity.

Image: Health Physics/IHM


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Bergonic chair for giving general electric treatment for psychological effect, in psycho-neurotic cases from around the time of the first world war.

Image: National Museum of Health and Medicine


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Artificial kidney machine, ca. 1950.
Image: William Warrell/National Museum of Health and Medicine


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Roentgen steed, designed to hold children as they sit for chest X-rays, 1957.

Image: Images from the History of Medicine


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

This old man is sitting in a machine that is used to stimulate blood circulation in the legs.

Image: C. Huber/WHO/Images from the History of Medicine


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Los Alamos chemist, Wright H. Langham with Plastic Man, used to simulate human radiation exposures, 1959.

Image: Los Alamos National Laboratory


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Electro-retinogram: apparatus devised to measure the electric potential of the retina.

Image: Paul Almasy/WHO/Images from the History of Medicine


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Circa 1900: A woman inside an Electric Bath at the Light Care Institute.

Image: Reinhold Thiele/Thiele/Getty Images


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

The first electrocardiograph, introduced by Cambridge Scientific Instruments.

Image: Central Press/Getty Images


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

1919: A woman wearing a flu mask during the flu epidemic after the first world war.

Image: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Children around a radiating glow of ultraviolet light at the Institute of Ray Therapy.

Image: Fox Photos/Getty Images


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Measuring the brainwaves, 1940.

Image: Fox Photos/Getty Images


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

1955: A portable respirator, or iron lung, designed to enable patients to recuperate at home.

Image: Hans Meyer/BIPs/Getty Images


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

1960: Dr G. H. Byford stands under an optokinetic drum wearing a contact lens with a miniature lamp cemented to the lens, during an experiment to investigate the reflex movements of the eyes and their association with visual illusions, at the RAF Institute of Aviation Medicine in Farnborough.

Image: Harry Thompson/Evening Standard/Getty Images


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

1960: A wire suit designed to measure body temperatures while researching the physiological effects of high speed and space travel.

Image: Ron Case/Keystone Features/Getty Images


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

1955: A rotating cobalt machine swinging around the body of a patient, attacking cancerous tumours.

Image: Carsten/Three Lions/Getty Images


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

A physician adjusts the beam path of the 2,000,000-volt Deep Therapy X-Ray Machine used to treat cancer at the Francis Delafield Hospital in New York City.

Image: Grundy/Getty Images


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Cobalt "bomb" treatment of a patient at a Paris clinic.

Image: Népszerű Technika, 1959 április


22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

A therapy unit installed at the Oak Ridge hospital in 1955 used a source of radioactive cesium-137 to kill diseased tissue, allowing maximum dose of radiation to the cancerous area and minimising effects to healthy tissue elsewhere.

Image: AP/Oak Ridge Associated Universities