Views & Reviews Medical Classics

A New Electronic Theory of Life (1925)

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 14 March 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2032
  1. James Stark, AHRC knowledge transfer fellow, University of Leeds and Thackray Museum, Leeds
  1. J.F.Stark{at}

Electrotherapy is most often associated with its modern manifestations, yet it has a tradition that stretches back to at least the mid-18th century. One of the major advocates of this technique was Otto Overbeck (1852-1937), an eccentric industrial scientist and inventor. He studied chemistry at University College London and worked for a brewery in Grimsby as scientific director—a common career path for chemists in the late 19th century. While there, Overbeck patented a number of devices in relation to his work, but he is best remembered for contributions to electrotherapy in his later life.

His health deteriorated during the early 1920s, and he became increasingly desperate in his …

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