Monday, July 11, 2016

You Can Breathe Easy, this Mystery has Been Revealed!

As Kate answered on Facebook (Thank you for your answer!), this is a Kerosene Lamp Vaporizer from the late 1800s. Specifically, this artifact is a “Vapo-Cresolene Vaporizer.” Now what does that mean, exactly?

Most of you reading probably deduced that the lamp-like part of the object was used for heat. The flame from the lamp heated up the apparatus above it, which was meant to be filled with Cresolene. Cresolene was a sticky black liquid, made from coal tar, used as a disinfectant. This substance was used these kinds of vaporizers, supposedly meant for medicinal purposes. On the object’s box, it describes Vapo-Cresolene as “a germ destroying liquid to be vaporized.” Here's how it was meant to be used:

The Vapo-Cresolene Vaporizer that we have in the collection (actually, we have a few of them) is advertised to aid in relieving a number of ailments such as colds, asthma, whooping cough, croup, catarrh, pneumonia, “the bronchial complications of scarlet fever and measles” and  could be used “as an aid in the treatment of diptheria.” Essentially, these kinds of “lamps” were meant to help with any and all respiratory diseases. And don’t just think we’re talking about human respiratory diseases! Oh no, it was also advertised that Vapo-Cresolene could be used as help for horses, dogs and “fowls” with various breathing problems.

Though the manufacturers would like us to believe that this strange substance, Cresolene, was imbued with extraordinary healing powers, the American Medical Association disproved them in a 1908 report. Even so, there were “Vapo-Cresolene” vaporizers still being manufactured until the 1950s.

An electric vaporizer from the '50s!

These days people use humidifiers in much the same way that these vaporizers were used at the turn of the twentieth century. Personally these little machines seem a lot safer to me than inhaling coal tar and sleeping with a lit kerosene lamp next to my bed!

I hope you enjoyed learning about this little artifact as much as I did! Stay tuned next week for another mystery artifact! And as always, if you're interested in a closer look at this or any of our recent mystery artifacts, please come visit us and take a look around the museum too! 

Thanks for reading!

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