Elisha Perkins (1741-1799),of Plainfield, Connecticut, received the first medical patent issued under the Constitution of the United States, in 1796, for this device.
The Perkins’ tractors were medical quackery, of course, but Perkinism promised electrotherapeutic cures for pains in the head, face, teeth, breast, side, stomach, back, rheumatism and some gouts.
The son of Elisha Perkins, Benjamin Douglas Perkins (1774-1810), was the great promoter of the tractors, most notably in England.
He also opened the market to the veterinary trade by authoring a pamphlet, The Family Remedy; or, Perkins’s Patent Metallic Tractors, For the Relief of Topical Disease of the Human Body: And of Horses, 1800.
Each galvanic metallic tractor is marked: PERKINS / PATENT / TRACTORS.
For a decade the use of tractors was a rage…even George Washington is said to have bought a set. James Gillray, the English social critic and cartoonist, famously spoofed the use of the Perkins’ invention, in 1801, which he labeled the Rod of Aesculapios [sic] (the Greek and Roman god of medicine, Aeskulapios or Aesculapius).
For a history of the Perkins’ metallic tractors, please click here.
The editors are grateful to:
Alex Peck, Medical Antiques, for supplying images and information about Perkins’ Tractors.
Professor Michael Bracken and the Yale University Medical School Historical Library for supplying the cartoon of Metallic Tractors by James Gillray.
Portrait for John Haygarth (artist unknown), at the Countess of Chester Hospital, by courtesy of Barbara Kirkham (manager, Postgraduate Centre), John Williams (consultant obstetrician) and Richard Cooke (medical photographer).