The Story of Ralstonism, One of History's More Bizarre Health Movements

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cosmin4000/iStock via Getty Images

When Webster Edgerly appeared on stage in a late 19th-century play about Christopher Columbus, he performed while balancing on the balls of his feet. Critics were confused, but Edgerly—a part-time actor, author, and soon to be leader of a wildly successful health movement known as Ralstonism—believed that strolling like a centaur, his body weight on his toes, would avoid leakage of what he labeled “vital forces” of the body.

The critics might have thought it was a character choice. For Edgerly, it was a lifestyle choice.

In time, Edgerly would write over 80 books, count Queen Victoria among his readers, and offer his pseudoscientific advice on everything from sex (once every eight days, and no more) to walking (avoid straight lines at all costs). He envisioned a sprawling city full of his acolytes, and bought up real estate in New Jersey for exactly that purpose. He believed Ralstonism was the key not only to health but to telepathy and other spectacular powers. Nearly a million people followed his views, and he even had a hand in originating the Ralston cereal brand. But if history seems to have forgotten such a peculiar man, there's a very good reason for that.

 

Named after the famous orator Daniel Webster, Edgerly was raised in Massachusetts and attended Boston University, where he graduated with a law degree in 1876. Though he was interested in theater as an actor and playwright, it seemed his true calling was as a guru. The same year he finished school, Edgerly founded the Ralston Health Club, a business devoted to wellness. He named it Ralston by using the letters of his mother’s name, Rhoda Lucinda Stone, and later retrofit it to become an acronym for Regime, Activity, Light, Strength, Temperation, Oxygen, and Nature—all things Edgerly valued.

The Ralston Health Club had no formal location. It existed mostly in Ralston’s head, which also conjured a series of self-help titles such as Lessons in Artistic Deep Breathing and Sexual Magnetism. Written under the pen name Edmund Shaftesbury, these tomes were verbose and offered dubious advice, like picking up a marble from a table and swinging it around in order to increase one’s “personal magnetism,” or what Edgerly believed was a person’s energy and charisma. Young men were advised to bed women old enough to be their grandmothers and then marry women 20 years their junior. (Edgerly, already married once, married again at age 42 to an 18-year-old.) He also propagated a new language he called Adam-Man Tongue. He promised that continued study of this assorted wisdom might ultimately result in the power to control the thoughts and actions of others—or even achieve immortality.

An illustration of a hand pointing a finger is pictured
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These advanced abilities were, of course, attainable only after buying many of his books, which were sometimes priced at an exorbitant $25 in 1892 (about $730 today). The cost may have contributed to a feeling that Edgerly’s advice was rare and valuable. The books sold well, affording Edgerly a lavish lifestyle. He eventually counted over 800,000 Ralstonites; Queen Victoria was said to have a complete set of his works. Members identified themselves with black armbands called Ralstonettes.

In Star Ralstonism, a kind of member guidebook published in 1900, Edgerly wrote:

“It is gratifying that all honest doctors who have investigated Ralstonism are its friends and recommend it, or rather prescribe it, in place of medicines, to their patients. A doctor who has investigated this system, and does not affirmatively aid and use it, may be set down as dishonest and unsafe to employ.”

A blend of huckster and quack, Edgerly nonetheless commanded attention in key places. In addition to his royal readership, he became friendly with William Danforth, the founder of the Purina company. Edgerly had long recommended a whole-grain breakfast, a surprisingly rational bit of instruction, and Danforth believed that Edgerly's paid endorsement would help sell boxes of shelf-stable wheat germ cereal in stores. Ralston Wheat Cereal went on sale in 1898 and was successful enough that Danforth decided to unite with Edgerly commercially to create the Ralston Purina company in 1902. To consumers, Ralston had taken on a connotation of good health.

Unfortunately, Edgerly’s beliefs were not always well-intentioned. He was a proponent of eugenics—an abhorrent attempt to "improve" the human race using selective breeding—and his books often espoused racist ideas, such as recommending that all non-Caucasian males be castrated. A principal tenet of Ralstonism was the idea of a strictly Caucasian "new race" that could live to be 100 and without illness. His quest for a “superior” human soon led him to New Jersey, and a project even more ambitious than his book series. He wanted a congregation.

 

For years, Edgerly had moved around, from Massachusetts to Topeka, Kansas, to Washington. In 1894, he started buying up land overlooking the farming community of Hopewell, New Jersey, with the goal of creating an entire city of the Ralston faithful. He imagined 400 homes, six farms, and six estates, including the one he purchased, renovated, and named Ralston Manor. A towering Victorian comprised of 27,000 square feet, the house contained a veritable maze of hallways and had a third floor devoted to a classroom for elocution lessons. The sprawling 72-step staircase was built with a 36-piece orchestra in mind—one band member on every other step. Edgerly planted trees from Japan, Norway, and China to add to its exotic aesthetic. With a rich fruit and vegetable garden, he dispatched fresh goods to residents in town, hoping to be perceived as a generous benefactor. In the house, he continued his prolific writing, which so bothered his wife that he reportedly built a separate room so she wouldn’t be disturbed by his typing.

An illustration of an eye is pictured
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Despite the success of his books, the Ralston utopia failed to meet his expectations. The lots in Hopewell were expensive, even for his upper-class clientele, and there were few job opportunities nearby. Only 25 of them sold. Worse, his attempt to befriend the townspeople did not go as planned. After Edgerly built a water tank on his property that fed the area, residents complained it tasted foul. The tank had indeed developed a crack, letting contaminants in. Soon, Edgerly was declared unwelcome in Hopewell and was essentially forced to move to Trenton, where he lived until his death in 1926.

Ralstonism largely faded into a historical footnote until an archaeology student, Janet Six, stayed in Ralston Manor in the 1990s. The house had come into the possession of friends after passing through numerous hands. She began investigating the history of its most infamous owner and wrote a thesis about his life. Six helped bring Edgerly back into focus, but the Ralston Purina company seems to hold little curiosity about—or reverence for—their radical and racist forebearer. There’s no mention of Edgerly in the company’s official history, only vague references to a “Doctor Ralston,” one of Edgerly’s pen names. The company was bought by Nestle in 2001 and the name changed to Nestle Purina.

Ralston Manor still stands today; the current owners use it for art and fundraising events, and locals know it as the Castle. They still sometimes talk about the eccentric who once patrolled its halls, thinking up elaborate ways to spread the word of Ralstonism while bouncing on the balls of his feet.

This Course Will Teach You How to Play Guitar Like a Pro for $29

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BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

Be honest: You’ve watched a YouTube video or two in an attempt to learn how to play a song on the guitar. Whether it was through tabs or simply copying whatever you saw on the screen, the fun always ends when friends start throwing out requests for songs you have no idea how to play. So how about you actually learn how to play guitar for real this time?

It’s now possible to learn guitar from home with the Ultimate Beginner to Expert Guitar Lessons Bundle, which is currently on sale for $29. Grab that Gibson, Fender, or whatever you have handy, and learn to strum rhythms from scratch.

The strumming course will teach you how to count beats and rests to turn your hands and fingers into the perfect accompaniment for your own voice or other musicians. Then, you can take things a step further and learn advanced jamming and soloing to riff anytime, anywhere. This course will teach you to improvise across various chords and progressions so you can jump into any jam with something original. You’ll also have the chance to dive deep into the major guitar genres of bluegrass, blues, and jazz. Lessons in jam etiquette, genre history, and how to read music will separate you from a novice player.

This bundle also includes courses in ear training so you can properly identify any relative note, interval, or pitch. That way, you can play along with any song when it comes on, or even understand how to modify it into the key you’d prefer. And when the time comes to perform, be prepared with skilled hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, bends, trills, vibrato, and fret-tapping. Not only will you learn the basic foundations of guitar, you’ll ultimately be able to develop your own style with the help of these lessons.

The Ultimate Beginner to Expert Guitar Lessons Bundle is discounted for a limited time. Act on this $29 offer now to work on those fingertip calluses and play like a pro.

 

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11 Fascinating Facts About Tamagotchi

Tamagotchi is the toy that launched a thousand digital pet competitors.
Tamagotchi is the toy that launched a thousand digital pet competitors.
Chesnot/Getty Images News

They blooped and beeped and ate, played, and pooped, and, for ‘90s kids, the egg-shaped Tamagotchi toys were magic. They taught the responsibility of tending to a “pet,” even though their shrill sounds were annoying to parents and teachers and school administrators. Nearly-real funerals were held for expired Tamagotchi, and they’ve even been immortalized in a museum (of sorts). Here are 11 things you should know about the keychain toy that was once stashed in every kid’s backpack.

1. The idea for the Tamagotchi came from a female office worker at Bandai.

Aki Maita was a 30-year-old “office lady” at the Japanese toy company Bandai when inspiration struck. She wanted to create a pet for kids—one that wouldn't bark or meow, make a mess in the house, or lead to large vet bills, according to Culture Trip. Maita took her idea to Akihiro Yokoi, a toy designer at another company, and the duo came up with a name and backstory for their toy: Tamagotchis were aliens, and their egg served as protection from the Earth’s atmosphere. They gave prototype Tamagotchis to high school girls in Shibuya, and tweaked and honed the design of the toy based on their feedback.

2. The name Tamagotchi is a blend of two Japanese words.

The name Tamagotchi is a mashup between the Japanese words tamago and tomodachi, or egg and friend, according to Culture Trip. (Other sources have the name meaning "cute little egg" or "loveable egg.")

3. Tamagotchis were released in Japan in 1996.

A picture of a tamagotchi toy.
Tamagotchis came from a faraway planet called "Planet Tamagotchi."
Museum Rotterdam, Wikimedia Commons//CC BY-SA 3.0

Bandai released the Tamagotchi in Japan in November 1996. The tiny plastic keychain egg was equipped with a monochrome LCD screen that contained a “digital pet,” which hatched from an egg and grew quickly from there—one day for a Tamagotchi was equivalent to one year for a human. Their owners used three buttons to feed, discipline, play with, give medicine to, and clean up after their digital pet. It would make its demands known at all hours of the day through bloops and bleeps, and owners would have to feed it or bathe it or entertain it.

Owners that successfully raised their Tamagotchi to adulthood would get one of seven characters, depending on how they'd raised it; owners that were less attentive faced a sadder scenario. “Leave one unattended for a few hours and you'll return to find that it has pooped on the floor or, worse, died,” Wired wrote. The digital pets would eventually die of old age at around the 28-day mark, and owners could start fresh with a new Tamagotchi.

4. Tamagotchis were an immediate hit.

The toys were a huge success—4 million units were reportedly sold in Japan during their first four months on shelves. By 1997, Tamagotchis had made their way to the United States. They sold for $17.99, or around $29 in today's dollars. One (adult) reviewer noted that while he was "drawn in by [the Tamagotchi's] cleverness," after several days with the toy, "the thrill faded quickly. I'm betting the Tamagotchi will be the Pet Rock of the 1990s—overwhelmingly popular for a few months, and then abandoned in the fickle rush to some even cuter toy."

The toy was, in fact, overwhelmingly popular: By June 1997, 10 million of the toys had been shipped around the world. And according to a 2017 NME article, a whopping 82 million Tamagotchi had been sold since their release into the market in 1997.

5. Aki Maita and Akihiro Yokoi won an award for inventing the Tamagotchi.

In 1997, the duo won an Ig Nobel Prize in economics, a satiric prize that’s nonetheless presented by Nobel laureates at Harvard, for "diverting millions of person-hours of work into the husbandry of virtual pets" by creating the Tamagotchi.

6. Tamagotchis weren't popular with teachers.

Some who grew up with Tamagotchi remember sneaking the toys into school in their book bags. The toys were eventually banned in some schools because they were too distracting and, in some cases, upsetting for students. In a 1997 Baltimore Sun article titled “The Tamagotchi Generation,” Andrew Ratner wrote that the principal at his son’s elementary school sent out a memo forbidding the toys “because some pupils got so despondent after their Tamagotchis died that they needed consoling, even care from the school nurse.”

7. One pet cemetery served as a burial ground for expired Tamagotchi.

Terry Squires set aside a small portion of his pet cemetery in southern England for dead Tamagotchi. He told CNN in 1998 that he had performed burials for Tamagotchi owners from Germany, Switzerland, France, the United States, and Canada, all of whom ostensibly shipped their dead by postal mail. CNN noted that "After the Tamagotchis are placed in their coffins, they are buried as mourners look on, their final resting places topped with flowers."

8. There were many copycat Tamagotchi.

The success of the Tamagotchi resulted in both spin-offs and copycat toys, leading PC Mag to dub the late ’90s “The Golden Age of Virtual Pets.” There was the Digimon, a Tamagotchi spin-off by Bandai that featured monsters and was marketed to boys. (There were also Tamagotchi video games.) And in 1997, Tiger Electronics launched Giga Pets, which featured real animals (and, later, dinosaurs and fictional pets from TV shows). According to PC Mag, Giga Pets were very popular in the United States but “never held the same mystique as the original Tamagotchi units.” Toymaker Playmates's Nano Pets were also a huge success, though PC Mag noted they were “some of the least satisfying to take care of."

9. Rare Tamagotchis can be worth a lot of money.

According to Business Insider, most vintage Tamagotchis won't fetch big bucks on the secondary market. (On eBay, most are priced at around $50.) The exception are rare editions like “Yasashii Blue” and “Tamagotchi Ocean,” which go for $300 to $450 on eBay. As Complex notes, "There were over 40 versions (lines) of Tamagotchi released, and each line featured a variety of colors and variations ... yours would have to be one of the rarest models to be worth the effort of resale."

10. A new generation of Tamagotchis were released in 2017 for the toy's 20th anniversary.

The 2017 re-release of the Tamagotchi in its packaging.
Bandai came to the aid of nostalgic '90s kids when it re-released a version of the original Tamagotchis for the toy's 20th anniversary.
Chesnot/Getty Images

In November 2017, Bandai released a 20th anniversary Tamagotchi that, according to a press release [PDF], was "a first-of-its-kind-anywhere exact replica of the original Tamagotchi handheld digital pet launched ... in 1996." However, as The Verge reported, the toys weren't an exact replica: "They're about half the size, the LCD display is square rather than rectangle, and those helpful icons on the top and bottom of the screen seem to be gone now." In 2019, new Tamagotchis were released; they were larger than the originals, featured full-color displays, and retailed for $60.

11. The original Tamagotchi’s sound has been immortalized in a virtual museum.

The Museum of Endangered Sounds is a website that seeks to immortalize the digital sounds that become extinct as we hurtle through the evolution of technology. “The crackle of a dial-up modem. The metallic clack of a 3.5-inch floppy slotting into a Macintosh disk drive. The squeal of the newborn Tamagotchi. They are vintage sounds that no oldies station is ever going to touch,” The Washington Post wrote in a 2012 profile of the museum. So, yes, the sound of that little Tamagotchi is forever preserved, should it someday, very sadly, cease to exist completely.