Bob McCoy Warns of Quackery

ByABC News via logo

April 4, 2001 -- In the age of quick fixes and assembly line cosmetic surgeries, Bob McCoy urges us to beware of the quack: the doctor who may very well not be a doctor, and who purports to have a cure for just about anything.

The advertisements are inescapable even today — swallow this pill and lose weight while you sleep; eat this chocolate flavored mush and scrub your arteries clean. In his new book, Quack! : Tales of Medical Fraud from the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, McCoy insists that quackery is an age-old societal problem.

McCoy is the founder of the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in St. Anthony Main in Minneapolis. The museum is the nation's largest display of quack medical devices and was founded in 1987.

Read the first chapter of McCoy's book here.

Throughout history, the public has put blind faith into myriad medical gadgets or prescriptions. According to McCoy, here are some of the items the public has been duped into buying:

The Ruth Drown Therapy Machine

Ms. Drown has earned the title "Queen of Quackery" for her bogus medical devices. The Therapy Machine makes a noise that supposedly checks the vibrations of a patient's saliva, facilitating a diagnosis of illness. Tuning the machine's radio waves to the frequency of the saliva then treats the illness, curing the patient. Ms. Drown sold a number of these devices to chiropractors, osteopaths, naturopaths and some medical doctors in the late 1940s.

Cosmos Radioactive Pad

The pad itself was really a pillow-like bag that contained radium. Promoted by a man supposedly named Cosmos, he insisted that arthritis sufferers would find relief of symptoms. Oddly, the reverse side of the bag says, "do not eat the contents of this bag."

The Nose Straightener (1924)

Before the days when nose jobs became as common as dental cleanings, this metal apparatus purported to reshape the nose of the wearer during sleep. There was a chart to accompany with various misshapen noses that the device could fix. The ads attracted buyers by appealing to the aesthetic senses: "Improve on Nature," they boasted. "A Perfect Looking Nose is Attainable."

The Relaxacizor

This family of devices was sold to tone muscle, increase bust size and remove wrinkles and cellulite via electric pulse from discs attached to the wearers body. Although the FDA put out a warning in 1970 that these machines could aggravate health problems or cause miscarriages, one can still find ads for these devices in airplane magazine ads offering up toned abs.

The Roll-A-Ray

Plug this device into a light socket and it was supposed to use infrared light that would roll away fatty tissue.

The Vision Dieter Glasses

It was claimed that the wearer would receive a subliminal message from the off-coloration caused by the glasses causing a decrease in appetite — even if the glasses weren't being worn!

The Blud Rub (1940s)

Commonly found in barbershops, the machine featured four rotating pads that were placed on the scalp of a bald customer. The pads massaged the scalp to supposedly increase hair growth. The device was seen on an episode of I Love Lucy.

The Lady Bountiful (1950s)

Who needs plastic surgery when the secret to a beautiful bust line is in a vacuum? The device attached to the kitchen faucet and produced a vacuum when the water ran past a tube connected to the breast hose. A modest vacuum supposedly sucked the breast into shape. The FDA outlawed the device in 1957.'s Seth Cohen contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events