Really useless doctors are called quacks, but nobody is quite sure why.
Throughout the 1600s and 1700s, would-be doctors had to advertise their invariably useless cures by shouting at the top of their voices. Their squawking sounded so much like ducks that they came to be called quacks, some say. And every duck-like quack came with a bill.
Use of Mercury
In the 1600s, mercury was used, wrongly, for treating diseases such as syphilis. The physician Paracelsus used it for treating rashes. Mercury was known as “quicksilver.” This may also be where the name quack comes from.
In the American West of the 1800s, quacks tried to get rich by selling a magic remedy called “snake oil.”
Snake oil was an effective traditional Chinese remedy for painful joints, made from the fat of Chinese water snakes.
When Chinese laborers brought it to North America in the early 1800s, quacks tried to make their own versions –without knowing any of the ingredients! The results were so useless that the term “snake oil” became byword for useless medicine.
True Doctor Facts
In the 1730s, Joanna Stephens came up with her own patent cure for bladder stones. Her “cure” was a mix of eggshells, soap, and honey, along with a few herbs. It was later thought the line in the eggshells may actually have been beneficial, making urine more alkaline and dissolving the stones.
In the 1800s, American doctor Samuel Thomson treated sick people by heating them up in steam baths. He gave them cayenne pepper and made them vomit by feeding them lobelia flowers.
In the 1820s, John Long rubbed ointment on the bodies of patients with tuberculosis. If the ointment changed color, he thought the disease was being “extracted.” He died of tuberculosis.
In the 1780s, British doctor James Graham promised to cure men of infertility by burying them up to their necks in warm earthy. Amazingly, many men tried it.
Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943), inventor of cornflakes, was a firm believer in healthy bowels. He thought the key to good health was to flush out the digestive system.
Kellogg believed that 90 percent of all illnesses came from “putrefactive changes which recur in the undigested residues of flesh foods,” which means that he thought disease was caused by parts of meat in poop. He treated his patients with a continual flow of water from both ends (in the mouth and up the buttocks). Kellogg could swish an amazing 16 gallons through somebody in just a few seconds.