While working pharmacy at a hospital in northern Indiana, I could not help but notice the collection of antique pharmacy items and some interesting books on pharmacy history. I was intrigued, an old Bates stamp, flasks, mortar and pestles, and jars. When I got home I dug out an old book from my library, Extraordinary Popular Delusions the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay. It is an old title, the first edition published in 1841.
Like any business, marketing is necessary for all aspects of the healthcare industry, and that of course includes pharmaceuticals. And how that has changed over the years. It was in the 17th century that physicians of the day had to compete with the alchemists, sorcerers, and quacks. Charles Mackay begins a chapter, “The wonderful influence of imagination in the cure of diseases is well known. A motion of the hand, or a glance of the eye, will throw a weak and credulous patient into a fit; and a pill made of bread, if taken with sufficient faith, will operate a cure better than all the drugs in the pharmacopeia.”
Magnetism was an attractive source of healing in the late 18th century. Germany, in particular, was entrenched with the properties of the lodestone or magnet. Father Hell, a professor of astronomy at the University of Vienna became famous for his magnetic cures and his invention of a steel plate that he applied to bodies as a remedy for a multitude of ailments. In the year 1774, he disclosed his invention to Anthony Mesmer. Mesmer then improved upon the ideas of Father Hell, developed a theory of his own and became the pioneer of Animal Magnetism.
“It has been the fashion among the enemies of the new delusion to decry Mesmer as an unprincipled adventurer while his disciples have extolled him to the skies as a regenerator of the human race,” writes Charles Mackay. He took his work to Paris, France and then imitators began to arise in France, Germany, and England.
Mesmer…mesmerize. Hmmm. Mesmerize, as you most likely know means to enthrall, to hold one’s attention, to spellbind or fascinate, and even to hypnotize. Sure enough, the word mesmerize dates back to Franz Anton Mesmer, an 18th-century physician who founded a therapeutic movement that became known as mesmerism.