Chiropractic + Naturopathic Doctor

Chiropractic History Assignment: : Frankenstein, D.D. Palmer and the No. 2 Polysine Generator

By Steve Zoltai   

Features Education Profession

In the February edition of Chiropractic Health Assignment, we
introduced you to our mystery machine, the McIntosh No. 2 Polysine
Generator. Information about this elegant, but vaguely sinister,
looking instrument has been elusive and our polysine generator has
given us a merry chase.

In the February edition of Chiropractic Health Assignment, we introduced you to our mystery machine, the McIntosh No. 2 Polysine Generator. Information about this elegant, but vaguely sinister, looking instrument has been elusive and our polysine generator has given us a merry chase.

Ever since Luigi Galvani discovered that his accidental battery made the muscles in a frog’s legs jump, the belief in electricity as a life force became entrenched in the popular consciousness. Electricity was routinely administered for toothache, back pain and other pain-related ailments as well as for reviving asphyxiated children. In 1818, Mary Shelley immortalized the belief with her tale about a scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who learns how to create life and animates a being in the likeness of a man. By Victorian times, the notion that electricity was life, the source of regeneration and animation, was unstoppable.

The McIntosh No. 2 Polysine Generator

Electrotherapy was featured in all the higher-end spas in the 19th century. Electric baths were promoted as “health cures” and electric belts and corsets, which incorporated batteries, were marketed as being able to cure a wide range of ills. All sorts of electric devices were for sale with wild claims to health improvement.

The turn of the 20th century was a moment of great optimism in the power of electricity. Henri Bergson’s “Elan Vital” provided a consciousness-based rationale for evolution and development of organisms, while others suggested this “essence” could be transferred to inanimate objects and activated with electricity. Elan Vital was a progression of the Victorian idea of Vitalism, itself little more than the concept of the soul with a scientific veneer. The effect of thinkers like Bergson, along with progressive urban electrification, only heightened this fascination with electricity and its wonders.

Dr. Howard Vernon, our Director of the Centre for Study of the Cervical Spine at CMCC, is an avid student of the history of science. He writes:

“The role of electrical treatment devices in chiropractic goes back to the inception of the profession in the early 1900s. There was a huge public interest in these devices, as electricity was just making its way into the average household on a daily basis.  There were all manner of health practitioners making all manner of health claims with electrical therapy.  It really was “the rage” for a few decades and chiropractors were right in the middle of it.”

“The other connection to chiropractic is the role of electricity in the thinking of D.D. Palmer. He was described as being interested in “animal magnetism,” after studying the work of Anton Mesmer, whom we often associate – wrongly! – with hypnotism and being “mesmerized.” Mesmer’s work was really based on the idea that the vital energy of life was an animal form of electricity that could be exchanged between people in a fashion like magnetism. Palmer interpreted the “animal magnetism” in a quasi-religious fashion, connecting it to the universal intelligence of God. He thought of this intelligence as deriving from God, and being embodied in each of us as “Innate Intelligence” – as in the phrase “spark of life.”  He also thought of it as “flowing” in the manner that was being discovered for electricity. He placed the flow of this “energy” in the nervous system. He then equated normal, unimpeded flow with good health and flow that was interrupted or interfered with as ill health. He identified the site of this interference as the spinal bones where the nerves exit the spine: this he called “subluxation.” Hence, his healing model was:  The removal of subluxation – by a chiropractic adjustment –  will restore the flow of Innate Intelligence and bring good health again!”

But what of our polysine generator? It seems to fall squarely into the general context of the 19th and early 20th-century fascination with all things having to do with electricity.

Drs. Warren Jahn and Leanne Cupon of Roswell, Georgia, provide some insight. Dr. Jahn directed me to The Bakken Library and Museum on the Internet.1 The Bakken holds a wealth of information on 18th-century to early 20th-century electrical artifacts including photographs of other McIntosh polysine generators. Model 1058 is a wall unit dating from between 1910 and 1930. The Model 1258 is a floor standing unit dated somewhat later, between 1930 and 1950. (It is reproduced here courtesy of The Bakken Library and Museum, Minneapolis). Our model has a look and feel of something midway between the two Bakken units so maybe a date range of about 1920 to 1930 is reasonable.

Dr. Jahn also points out that the Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum – also Internet accessible – houses an extensive collection of antique instruments and manuscripts. This museum places its sole McIntosh unit under the general category of high frequency/diathermy instruments dated between 1900-1930.2 According to one of these manuscripts, the high frequency current “can be made to produce the most profound physiological effect” including restoring original colour to grey hair, relieving baldness, reducing blood pressure in cases of arteriosclerosis and “is being successfully used in the reduction of superfluous flesh.” For the faint-hearted, the authors hasten to add that “the patient has been brightened up, given added vigor and cheerfulness, and in fact, has exhibited all the favorable effects of a powerful tonic without sustaining any of the unfavorable after effects of a stimulant.”3

Diathermy, on the other hand, is a method of heating tissue electromagnetically or ultrasonically for therapeutic purposes and is commonly used for muscle relaxation.


I asked Dr. Calin Lucaciu in our Anatomy Department to give me his best opinion as an anatomist.
He tells me: “This machine seems to be some sort of primitive hybrid Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator (TENS)/Electrical Muscle Stimulator (EMS) unit. Considering the various electrical components, I would suggest that the device was used as an electric muscle stimulator, or pain-killing device, or possibly a hybrid used for both applications. At the beginning of the 20th century, an electrical device named Electreat was relatively popular and was used for pain control. The modern version of this instrument is the TENS unit and consists of a small transformer, a pulse generator, frequency and intensity controls and a number of electrodes – similar to our polysine unit. Alternatively, the polysine machine may be an early EMS device used as alternative therapy for muscle atrophy.”

Current medical applications of sine waves include use in modified electroconvulsive therapy in Japan4 and in experimental in vivo electro-gene transfer.5 As recently as 2006 a company in the United States was promoting sine wave massage therapy for sports-related applications and for relieving anxiety, reducing discomfort and increasing circulation. Apparently, “a number of European countries make this technology available to their Olympic training centers and it has been used to advantage by many Olympic Gold Medalists.”6 Perhaps coincidentally, the company appears to be no longer in business. At least it no longer has a current web presence.

So, is the use of sine waves a modern therapeutic modality or is this a bit of 21st-century snake oil? Are you in the personal acquaintance of one of the many “Olympic Gold Medalists” who make use of this therapy? You tell me: .




3. Curtis, Thomas Stanley, High Frequency Apparatus; Design, Construction and Practical Application, New York: Norman W. Henley Publishing Company, 1920, p. 22-23.

4. Kobayashi et al. Modified Sine-wave Electroconvulsive Therapy-Setting of Stimulation Dose by Intraoperative Electroencephalograms and Relation between Convulsion Threshold and Therapeutic Response, Fukushima Medical Journal (2004) , 54, 3 195-203.

5. Liu et al., Sine-wave Current for Efficient and Safe In Vivo Gene Transfer, Molecular Therapy (2007) 15, 10, 1842–1847.


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