10 Medical Tools You’re Glad Only Exist in Museums

Phisick / Phisick

Breathe a sigh of relief that these gadgets are no longer in your M.D.'s arsenal.

1. The Scarificator, 1874


Show your child this the next time he cries over his booster shots. The Mallam Scarificator temporarily vaccinated against smallpox. All you had to do was dip the four blades into the pustules of a person already infected, then flip the lever to stab the blades into a child’s arm. If he didn’t cry, he could choose between the Otto Von Bismarck or Susan B. Anthony Band-Aids.

2. The Miraculous Chair of Palermo, parturition chair, early 18th century.

Science Museum

It’s not a potty-chair—it’s a birthy-chair. The hole is where the midwife reaches up to help the baby come out. Later incarnations of parturition chairs would include sturdy handles for gripping as well as leg rests. The Miraculous Chair of Palermo indulged in no such frippery, but did provide a religious icon for the mother to bang her head against while praying for unconsciousness.

3. Mercury syringe and field dressings, 1545

The History Blog

The saying goes, “One night with Venus gets you a lifetime with Mercury.” Found onboard the sunken Tudor ship the Mary Rose, this mercury syringe was used to treat sailors with syphilis. Guess what part of the body the needle (filled with toxic mercury) was jabbed into? Yep: right up the ole coxswain.

4. Bloodletting Fleam, 1850


To use a fleam, the triangle blade would be pressed into the vein, allowing excess blood to drain out of the body until healthful sanguinity had been restored. By the time this particular fleam was made, bloodletting as a cure-all to balance a person’s “humors” was starting to fall out of fashion. Possibly because it kept killing everyone it was done to.

5. The Prepurex Pregnancy Test Kit, 1980

Science Museum

And now for something from more recent history: This early home pregnancy test was a forerunner of the wonderfully simple pee sticks we know today. This test measured the hormone HCG in urine to detect pregnancy. Simple to operate, it required only the use of antiserum, latex, sampling tubes, a mixing plate, two minutes of gentle rocking, and a Masters in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

6. Trepanation Kit, 1771

Wellcome Collection

Sometimes the only way to get an epileptic to stop acting so strange was to drill a hole in his head to let the demons out. Trepanation has been in practice since ancient times, employed to cure everything from migraines to bad moods. Neurosurgeons still use a form of it today, though they call it a craniotomy

7. The Utica Crib, 1840s

The Original Institute

The medical staff at the New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica found an ingenious solution to the problem of their patients walking, sitting, or moving: The Utica Crib. It would keep especially disagreeable patients restrained, and was often lined with straw for easy clean up. They were mostly abolished from mental hospitals in the early 1900s and replaced with restraints, padded rooms, straitjackets, and lobotomies. Now that co-pay on your Zoloft doesn’t seem so steep, does it?

8. German Spermatorrhoea Ring 1894


Angels may not cry when you touch yourself, but you’re going to. Though “spermatorrhoea” technically means involuntary loss of semen, this device wasn’t picky. The male organ was placed inside the inner ring and the teeth were tightened till not quite touching the flaccid and therefore inoffensive member. However, should any engorgement or growth occur, the teeth would bite.

9. Civil War Dental Screw Forceps, 1860s


From the website Physick: “A central telescopic screw extends and is held secure with the blades allowing the root to be tapped. Sadly all before the advent of the anesthetic.” Think about that the next time you’re mush-mouthedly complaining about numb cheeks after getting a cavity filled, you pantywaist.

10. Civil War Bone Chain Saw 1860s


This peppy little saw could actually save men from war field amputations. It allowed surgeons to wrap the saw around the bone and cut out only the damaged parts, not the whole limb. You’d still likely die of infection, and if you didn’t, the affected body part would be forever stunted, pained, and weakened. Still, ebony handles! Classy.