22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

In the history of medicine, machines became crucial parts of the diagnostic and treatment process in the first half of the 20th century. Scientists and doctors experimented with some really strange devices, and they developed a lot of creepy-looking health equipment—at least some of which seems almost horrific, seen through the eyes of today. The following 22 instruments are partly scary, partly weird, and partly awesome—just as inventions should be.

Pre-PET headgear (Positron Emission Tomography), built by the Brookhaven National Laboratory's Instrumentation Division to study the working brain.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Brookhaven National Laboratory


Large-sized eye models, moved by two small motors, developed by aero medical researchers.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Otis Historical Archives – National Museum of Health and Medicine


Winston Churchill’s personal pressure chamber, created to enable him to make high-altitude flights safely.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Life, 10 Feb 1947.


Three plastic humanoid shells, filled with sodium chloride solution, used for measuring radioactivity.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Health Physics/IHM


Bergonic chair for giving general electric treatment for psychological effect, in psycho-neurotic cases. (World War One era.)

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: National Museum of Health and Medicine


Artificial kidney machine, ca. 1950.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: William Warrell/National Museum of Health and Medicine

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Roentgen steed, designed to hold children as they sit for chest X-rays, 1957.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Images from the History of Medicine


This old man is sitting in a machine that is used to stimulate blood circulation in the legs.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: C. Huber/WHO/Images from the History of Medicine


Los Alamos chemist, Wright H. Langham with Plastic Man, used to simulate human radiation exposures, 1959.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Los Alamos National Laboratory


Electro-retinogram: apparatus devised to measure the electric potential of the retina.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Paul Almasy/WHO/Images from the History of Medicine


Circa 1900: A woman inside an Electric Bath at the Light Care Institute.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Reinhold Thiele/Thiele/Getty Images


The first electrocardiograph, introduced by Cambridge Scientific Instruments.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Central Press/Getty Images


1919: A woman wearing a flu mask during the flu epidemic after the First World War.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images


Children around a radiating glow of ultraviolet light at the Institute of Ray Therapy.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Fox Photos/Getty Images


Measuring the brainwaves, 1940.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Fox Photos/Getty Images


1955: A portable respirator, or iron lung, designed to enable patients to recuperate at home.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Hans Meyer/BIPs/Getty Images


1960: Dr G. H. Byford stands under an optokinetic drum wearing a contact lens with a miniature lamp cemented to the lens, during an experiment to investigate the reflex movements of the eyes and their association with visual illusions, at the RAF Institute of Aviation Medicine in Farnborough.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Harry Thompson/Evening Standard/Getty Images


1960: A wire suit designed to measure body temperatures while researching the physiological effects of high speed and space travel.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Ron Case/Keystone Features/Getty Images


1955: A rotating cobalt machine swinging around the body of a patient, attacking cancerous tumors.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Carsten/Three Lions/Getty Images


A physician adjusts the beam path of the 2,000,000 volt Deep Therapy X-Ray Machine used to treat cancer at the Francis Delafield Hospital in New York City.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Grundy/Getty Images


Cobalt "bomb" treatment of a patient at a Paris clinic.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: Népszerű Technika, 1959 április


A therapy unit installed at the Oak Ridge hospital in 1955 used a source of radioactive cesium-137 to kill diseased tissue, allowing maximum dose of radiation to the cancerous area and minimizing effects to healthy tissue elsewhere.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From the Past That Make You Shudder

Image: AP/Oak Ridge Associated Universities