Welcome to America Comes Alive!, a site I created to share little-known stories of America's past. These stories are about Americans - people just like you - who have made a difference and changed the course of history. Look around the site and find what inspires you. Kate Kelly
Maybe This Would Stimulate Retail Sales?

Maybe This Would Stimulate Retail Sales?

While there is nothing humorous about the current state of the economy, I could not help but smile when I read about something that seemed to help boost the economy in the 1930s. I was writing about phrenology (a method of analyzing a person’s personality based on the bumps and curves of the head), when I came across this account and thought it might interest President Obama and Senator Judd Gregg, Obama’s leading candidate for appointment to be commerce secretary, and retailers nationwide:

American businessman Henry C. Lavery and a partner, Frank P. White, who lived in Superior Wisconsin, took their life savings to finance research to create a machine that would evaluate a person’s skull to assess personal characteristics. White actually withdrew a $39,000 investment in the 3M Company in order to go into business with Lavery. (We need to pause for a moment to think about what White’s worth would have been if he had maintained his stock in 3M, but I guess that’s another blog entry…)

Twenty-six years after they began working on their device, Lavery and White had a machine with which they were satisfied. The Psychograph, as they called it, consisted of 1,954 parts including a hood-like device with 32 probes that touched the person’s head. The machine was preloaded with 160 possible statements, and the “score” the person received varied since there were an almost unlimited number of possible combinations.

To be analyzed, the subject sat in a chair connected to a headpiece (the way women used to sit under hairdryers at beauty salons). When the operator pulled the lever to activate the machine, the probes sent back signals that identified appropriate statements for each part of the head and its related trait. The operator then presented the person with their own “personalized diagnosis.”

According to Bob McCoy, curator of the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, Lavery’s and White’s company built 33 machines that were leased to entrepreneurs throughout the country for a $2,000 down payment plus $35 a month rent on the machine. They were popular attractions for theatre lobbies and department stores, as they were good traffic builders during the Depression. It was reported that “business flourished.” In 1934 two entrepreneurs set up a machine at the Century of Progress at the Chicago Exposition, and they netted $200,000!

Does anyone have any ideas for the Psychograph of today?




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