Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Past Caring

Shocking treatment

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 08 June 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3566
  1. Wendy Moore, freelance writer and author, London
  1. wendymoore{at}

Nothing stimulated the 18th century mind, or body, quite so much as electricity. For scientists and the public alike, the mystical properties of electrical power provided both medical hope and endless entertainment throughout the 1700s.

Named after the Greek word for amber, electricity had been used in medical treatment since ancient times. But it was only after the invention in the 1740s of the Leyden jar, which could store an electrical charge, that electricity generated mass interest. Fascinated by this elemental fluid or fire, experimenters sent electrical charges through rats, cats, dogs, frogs, and, inevitably, people.

Willing volunteers linked hands to feel the force. …

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