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Western Coil and Electric's machine gave electric shocks, claimed to cure any malady

By Dustin Block

Journal Times

RACINE - Dr. Shoop was not the city's only creator of questionable medical devices.

The Western Coil and Electric Co., which worked out C.I. Shoop's building in Downtown Racine, produced its own medical quackery with the invention and sales of the Vi-Ray-O, a device that discharged an electric current onto skin and hands. The affect is a burning sensation on the skin - and little else.

Invented by W. Turnor Lewis, son of wagon and car producer William Lewis, the Vi-Ray-O found brisk sales during its day, thanks largely to an aggressive and far-fetched marketing campaign.

At the time of the sales, in the 1920s, the machines purportedly cured literally every personal ailment one could imagine. Ranging from cancer and alcoholism to hair loss and infidelity, the electric current was said to ease and improve circulation and overall health.

Western Coil was one of many companies that sold the devices, and was far from the largest. The Racine Heritage Museum owns an ultra-violet machine produced by a competitor of Western Coil, which generated the shocks.

In a recent demonstration, the device glowed purple and shocked skin that came within about an inch. The strength of the charge could be adjusted, and different shaped attachments, made of a clear glass, could be used to deliver the shocks.

The machine was also used to generate ozone. People could attach a slender tube to the device, and inhale the gas through their mouth or nose. The gas, which is three oxygen atoms, is now recognized as dangerous to people with lung problems.

But at the time of the invention, ozone was considered healthy. It gave users a light-headed feeling (probably from normal oxygen being cutoff to the brain), and Western Coil claimed that the reason country air seemed fresh to people was because it contained more ozone. Now it is believed that ozone causes respiratory problems and in severe cases, lung damage.

The violet ray machine was banned around 1930 by the federal government because of health concerns and questionable claims about the machine's effects. But later in life, decades after the government outlawed the device, Lewis continued to swear it worked.

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