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This 1850s Medical Device Was Said to Cure Toothache, Gangrene, and Ennui

Many leading scientists of the day vouched for the healing power of electricity

6 min read
Photo: Science & Society Picture Library/Getty Images
Shocking Grasp: In the mid-19th century, this electrotherapy machine was popular among patients who decided it was better to be shocked than be in pain.
Photo: Science & Society Picture Library/Getty Images

It is easy for us today to look at 19th-century medical devices as nothing more than quackery, the ineffective tools of fraudulent or ignorant medical practices. But the actual history is a bit more complicated.

In the 1850s, leading scientists and medical professionals endorsed Davis & Kidder’s Patent Magneto-Electric Machine for Nervous Diseases [above], and the ubiquity of the devices in museum collections is a testament to their popularity. So was it quackery or a pioneering innovation?

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How the Graphical User Interface Was Invented

Three decades of UI research came together in the mice, windows, and icons used today

18 min read
Stylized drawing of a desktop computer with mouse and keyboard, on the screen are windows, Icons, and menus
Getty Images/IEEE Spectrum

Mice, windows, icons, and menus: these are the ingredients of computer interfaces designed to be easy to grasp, simplicity itself to use, and straightforward to describe. The mouse is a pointer. Windows divide up the screen. Icons symbolize application programs and data. Menus list choices of action.

But the development of today’s graphical user interface was anything but simple. It took some 30 years of effort by engineers and computer scientists in universities, government laboratories, and corporate research groups, piggybacking on each other’s work, trying new ideas, repeating each other’s mistakes.

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