16 Medical Procedures and Devices from the Early 1900s that are Straight Out of a Nightmare

By Megan Hamilton

Medical devices from the early part of the 1900s looked like torture devices dreamed up by the devil himself. They were so bizarre looking in some cases, that medieval torture devices looked kind by comparison. And that includes such torture devices as the rack — once used to pull a victim’s limbs off. Quite obviously our ancestors were built of stronger stuff, but with hairy-scary devices like the Electro-Retinogram and the Electrical Bath Machine, it’s more than clear why they needed to be.

The terrifying technology behind these medical instruments of the late 19th and early 20th Century definitely looks dated. But no matter how scary these devices appear, they paved the way for science and innovation, creating some of the most important advances in medicine today.

That includes such ominous instruments as:

A pulmonary resuscitation machine circa 1908. Image license Public Domain by the Internet Book Archive via Flickr

1. This pulmonary resuscitation machine from 1908

Looking as if it could inhale your very soul, mechanical ventilators like this were designed to prevent miners from dying of gas asphyxiation. Invented by Heinrich Drager in 1907, the first machine was called the Pulmonator. Despite its ominous Dr. Lecter/Silence of The Lambs appearance, the machine’s function was to keep people alive until the effects from the gas wore off. Connected to an oxygen tank, the gadget was powered by oxygen pressure which alternated between positive and negative pressure to provide breaths. It helped the patient inhale and exhale to breathe properly.

A later model, designed by Drager’s son Bernard, and engineer Hans Schroder, administered pressure in cycles. Which means it continued to breathe until the designated pressure was met, thus ensuring a patient’s lungs wouldn’t over-inflate. This model turned out to be quite successful and was easier for doctors to use. In 1908, it went into serial production, and within five years 3,000 Pulmotors were in use. That number jumped to 12,000 in 1946. Indeed, Pulmotors had a successful run, all the way up until the mid-1970s when they were replaced by more sophisticated ventilators.