Perhaps the greatest advocate of 'electrical health' was Otto Overbeck (1860 to 1937). Born in the UK, he qualified in 1881 with a chemistry degree from University College London, and was elected a Fellow of the prestige Chemistry Society in February 1888. He became an industrial chemist and by the early 1890s was the Scientific Director of Hewitt Brothers' Brewery in Grimsby.
By 1924, while still at Hewitt Brothers, Otto Overbeck had developed and patented The Rejuvenator. The following year he published the New electronic theory of life, which linked many ailments, including toothache, to an electrical imbalance within the body. By passing low levels of electricity through the affected areas, balance would be restored and the patient 'cured', he said.
Overbeck admitted that The Rejuvenator had no beneficial effect on germs or deformities but it would, if nothing else, make 'you look younger and live longer'!
The Overbeck Rejuvenator came in an elegant leather case with a pair of metal combs. One would be combed through the hair and held against the scalp. The long or short metal fingers were used depending on the thickness of the hair. One of the electrodes would then be placed against the 'painful' area and connected by the cable to the battery (not shown). The comb would be connected in a similar way.
The low voltage direct current was harmless, but useless. Nevertheless, Overbeck died a very wealthy man – who says a placebo doesn't work?
His palatial house, Overbeck, at Salcombe in Devon, which was bought by him in 1928 and bequeathed to the National Trust on his death in 1937, contains the vast collection of artefacts and specimens collected throughout his life – as well as other examples of Rejuvenators. It is well worth a visit.
View a demonstration of the Rejuvenator at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1sKXpYPq5Y.
The BDA Museum thanks the volunteers at Overbeck House for their help with this article.