The Turn Of The Century
Electrotherapy Museum
Violet Ray Misconceptions Article

Master Violet Ray, from Mueller Patent
From left to right: Vacuum Electrode, Resonator Coil, Magnet Coil / Condenser, Interrupter, Line Cord

It's long been overdue to clear up some misconceptions about Violet Ray devices!  Whether you know them as
High Frequency Violet Rays, Violet Wands, or Leak Detectors these devices have been a source of amusement
controversy, and confusion over the years.
The basic Violet Ray machine is a portable form of Tesla Coil.  It is based on some of the early coils Tesla built
in his Houston Street Laboratory.  Some reproductions of these coils can be seen on this website under the article
"Tesla's Tesla Coils".
These devices started off legitimately as medical devices for treating various skin conditions and for the minor
relief of pain.  They were made originally for physicians to take to patients homes where portability and convenience
were a must.  An added bonus for these machines is the unique ability to operate on both alternating and direct
currents - even if patient's homes did not have electricity, these small devices could run from portable battery banks.
Prior to this most high frequency devices were large and cumbersome, and available electricity was rare.  It also
may be of interest to note that in the early days if people were lucky enough to have electricity in their homes, the
extent to which this existed was most often a single lamp socket hanging from the ceiling of the main room in the
house.  Wall switches and outlets were still in the distant future!   This is why so many Violet Ray manuals mention
things such as "conveniently plugs into any lamp socket".  At the time, lamp sockets were the only form of outlet!
Early portable apparatus were made by Remco, Frank S Betz, Browne, Victor, Fischer, Aloe, Wappler, Etc.  Most
of the early devices were lined in oak boxes and contained coils that produced sparks up to 3" or more.  Some units
were even sold with special X-Ray tubes for doing mild treatments at peoples homes.

Soon America became the world of patent medicine and quackery, and many manufacturers began making the
devices and advertising them as cure-alls.  This became a major US industry, from 1900 until the 1930s over
three dozen manufacturers made these units.  Some manufacturers made up to a dozen models, and production
ran into the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands for some companies!

Eventually the cure-all claims were put to trial and most of the devices were banned by the FDA for illegitimate
claims.  Cenco and Electro-Technic Products began marketing the devices as high frequency leak detectors
for neon sign and related industries.  They are still manufactured for this today.  Several other companies, such
as Fromm International, Siluoet-Tone, Holo-Electron, and Tefra make the devices for beauticians or aethetician

In recent decades many people began distributing devices from the above companies as adult novelties or
alternative medical devices.  .  It should be noted that here in the US the only legitimate manufacturers of these devices are Electro-Technic Products (Leak Detectors) and Fromm International (Aesthetician Products). 
ETP makes modern versions of the Cesco / Energex / Challenger / Cenco variety of Violet Rays, and Fromm
makes the Master Electric M66 / Master Appliance / Gibbs variety of Violet Rays.  Neither manufacturer makes
or endorses the use of the machines as "Violet Rays", or "Violet Wands". 

In Europe, there are still several manufacturers of "Violet Rays".  Holo Electron in France, and Tefra in Germany.
Many of the hard to find electrodes are still sold by these companies. 

One of the common misconceptions about Violet Rays is the actual disruptive discharge coil in the top of the unit, the
coil that makes connection with the glass electrodes.  Many newer internet resources make mention of "wax cores"
used in these coils.   One company even boasts the use of ceramic cores(!)  This information is false.  Violet Ray
resonator coils are wound on wooden or plastic cores; they contain multiple layers of wire insulated by paper which
is impregnated with insulating material.  It is the overheating of this  insulating material between layers that causes
these coils to fail.  Below is a cross section of both a Master (Fromm) and a Cesco (ETP) Resonator Coil.

Another important note and misconception is that if modern capacitors replace the original tin/waxed paper varieties
the overheating of the coils will be prevented.  In fact, the opposite occurs.  Because the coils are wound with copper,
this metal dissipates the heat quickly.  (In the case of secondary coils, this is why the wax melts from the interleaves).  In older coils with tin foil condensers, the heat was actually transferred to the condenser, which is why they often failed
before the coils when operated for extended periods.  This is of a large advantage, because replacing a condenser
is much less intensive than rewinding a complex disruptive discharge coil.  Today most condensers ("capacitors"
by today's terminology) are made smaller and with aluminum plates.  Aluminum radiates heat at nearly the same
degree as copper, making the heating distributed between both the coil and the condenser - meaning that both
have a potential for failing.  With modern dielectrics becoming smaller and smaller, the amount of metal required
in the condenser is less, and the smaller surface area of metal means that less heat is taken away from the coil,
which now has an even greater chance of failing.  Large, bulky, unattractive waxed paper and tin foil condensers
are not as bad as they look!  In the case of rare Pancake Coils for larger apparatus, saving a coil and loosing a
condenser is nothing to cry about.

You can clearly see the different layers of wire, and the waxed paper used for insulation.  The secondary coil is close
wound layers with wire .006" in diameter, while the primary is a single layer wound with .012" diameter wire.  Some
manufacturers used two wires wound side-by-side for the primary winding to increase the coupling of the coils.
Today it's possible for coils can be impregnated with high temperature epoxy rather than wax, making a coil that will
withstand extended use.  Unfortunately, the other components of the Violet Ray (such as the condenser or magnet
coil) also tend to overheat when operated for more than 10 minutes - defeating the purpose of a heavy-duty coil.

Whether or not you believe in the authenticity of the treatments, most "treatments" lasted no longer than 10 minutes,
and if the machine is allowed a 20-30 minute period of "cooling off" between treatments it will last a lifetime.  Violet
Ray machines are often more expensive to repair than they are worth, so it's best just to take good care of them and
they will last indefinitely.

Another misconception is that Violet Rays contain transformers and spark gaps.  They actually contain a "self-
induction coil" and "interrupter".  The self-induction "magnet coil" is really a single layer of wire that magnetizes an
iron core.  Whenever the core is magnetized, the bottom contact of the interrupter (which is attached to a steel
armature) is attracted to the core of the coil, thus breaking the contact of the interruption.  At this point the
collapsing magnetism in the core of the coil induces a high voltage back-emf in its winding of around 1-2 kV.
This high voltage is used to charge a condenser and discharge it across the disruptive discharge "resonator coil".
The combination of inductance and capacity form a high frequency resonant circuit, and it is through resonance that
a small coil operating from a 110V source can yield an output of over 50,000V with very little wire.

Finally, the actual glass vacuum electrodes generally do NOT contain inert or noble gases as many people claim.
The color and effects of the discharge are created from normal air at various vacuums.  While sparks in normal air
are are purple, these sparks spread from red, violet, blue, lavender, and white as the vacuum inside of the tube

Some manufacturers did use Neon in their electrodes, but this was mainly limited to European devices from the
1930s and later.  Most American devices used simply normal air at various degrees of vacuum.  The photos above
are of of the same glass tube, however the vacuum is steadily increasing from left to right.  If the white vacuum on
the far right was evacuated even more, the various discharges of Crookes and Röntgen would start to appear.

One of the last misconceptions about Violet Rays is that they emit ultraviolet radiation.  This is also false.  Quartz
Glass is the only glass that can transmit Ultraviolet Radiation, and most Violet Ray electrodes are made from
Pyrex or Soda Lime Glass.  The only Ultraviolet Radiation emitted from these machines is from the actual
sparks generated from them.  All electric sparks produce Ultraviolet Radiation to some extent.  The only
effect of the gas, pressure, or vacuum inside of glass the electrodes is the actual resistance of the vacuum electrode
and the this effects the characteristics of the electricity conducted through them.  As the old manuals boast, "the
electrodes diffuse the electricity".  In other words, they remove the harshness associated with a direct electrical
spark to the body.
So who invented these electrodes?  Frederick Finch Strong invented the glass vacuum electrode around 1896.
This concept was perfected by people such as Arnold Snow.  Many physicians adopted their own form of electrodes,
and books from authors such as Eberhart or Tousey depict some of these images.
So what are the authentic use of Violet Ray machines?  Mainly (as the original units) for treating minor skin
conditions.  Ozone is germicidal (kills bacteria) and high frequency currents are dehydrating for the skin.  Acne or
similar conditions are often improved by the nature of these applications.  Also, fulguration or cold cautery is used
with these devices - the ability of a small electric spark to destroy tissue.  This is one method of removing warts.
The mild heating effects of these devices (which are minute compared to Diathermy) has the ability of
relieving pain  to a small extent.  Unlike external heating pads, Violet Ray electrode heat the body from the inside-out,
which is often more beneficial.

On the subject of applications of these currents, it should be noted that treatments rarely consist of electrical
sparks being applied to the skin.  This can cause unpleasant burns.  Whenever early books mention "a quarter inch spark" or "a half inch spark" for various ailments, it is meant that the machine be adjusted to produce such a spark, and the glass electrode applied directly to the body thereafter. 

No person with a pacemaker should be allowed near a Violet Ray machine, the effects could be fatal.  Violet Ray
devices can and will interfere with nearby electronics.