'Galvanism in Piccadilly', c 1800.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Hand-coloured etching by Robert Middleton satirising the use of 'galvanic' machines to treat a wide variety of complaints by running electric current through people. A gentleman at home in London's fashionable Piccadilly, is being treated with an electrical machine to revive his libido. An immediate effect can be seen as spies a pretty girl from his window. Luigi Galvani (1737-1798) discovered 'animal electricity' in the late 18th century and demonstrated that nerves and muscles in animals function by tiny electrical currents, which can be stimulated by the application of electricity from outside. Electrical treatments were soon in great demand, and were believed to be able to cure all manner of complaints, from gout to paralysis. The term 'galvanise' - to shock or excite into action - takes its name from Galvani.