A few months ago I wrote about an advertisement that I found in a Chinese-language newspaper from Singapore in the early twentieth century for a “manhood creator.”

Today I came across an advertisement for something similar, with the one important distinction that this product made use of electricity.

Dr. Sanden's belt

The advertisement was for Dr. Sanden’s Electric Herculex Belt (山甸醫士靴橋力是電帶). Apparently this was one of many products that were produced at that time, mainly in America, that used electricity to improve men’s health.

I found a scholarly article on this topic by Carolyn Thomas de la Peña (“Designing the Electric Body: Sexuality, Masculinity and the Electric Belt in America, 1880-1920,” Journal of Design History Vol. 14, No. 4 (2001): 275-289), and this is what she wrote:

“While given little attention by historians of technology and medicine, [electric belts] taught a generation of American men who came of age between 1890 and 1920 that the body’s full physical potential could only be reached by connecting, quite literally, with electric power.”

Today, few of us are familiar with electric belts. In the late nineteenth century, however, Americans were more likely to have used an electric belt then to have used electric home appliances such as toasters or fans.”

belt

“The belts were, in fact, only one item in an extensive line of electric health products advertised to cure ailments in the late nineteenth century. However, the intimacy with which they came in contact with the body and the sophistication of their design and advertising materials made belts particularly influential objects for consumers with little electrical knowledge and great electrical enthusiasm.

By advertising electric products to overturn theories of sexual limitations, belt promoters taught male consumers that the only ‘modern’ body was an electric body.”

available

While I have never actually tried an electric belt, I see that some antique (used ones) are available online. So perhaps I will test one out someday.

Then again, maybe I won’t, because in conducting research on this topic, I was able to locate a sound recording from the early twentieth century of a man testing out an electric belt, and it does not really sound like something I would like to experience. This, apparently, is what it was like to use Dr. Sanden’s Electric Herculex Belt.

It’s amazing the things that guys will do to improve their sex drive. . . It’s also amazing that historians of Southeast Asia have not written about topics like this, after all, it ties together so many important issues: modernity, masculinity, the lure of the West, science, etc. It’s a fascinating topic.