Teeth, eyes and technology in the 19th century

Sandy Vasko

    Advances in technology affect a myriad of different industries and occupations. The health industry is one that has embraced new technologies and as a result we are all healthier.
    After all, where would we be without X-rays and MRIs? One of the first branches of that industry to use machinery was dentistry. Others, such as opticians used new machinery and materials to good effect.
     The first example of technology in use in the area was a dentist from Joliet. We read on April 11, 1868 in the Joliet Republican, “Dr. Salter, one of the oldest dentists in the city whose office is at 33 Jefferson Street, is always bound to be ahead.
    “One of his latest of novelties is the smallest steam engine we have seen, which is run by one of Danforth's Super heat and Steam Generators, and used to propel lathes in the mechanical department of his office. He can now finish up work in much shorter time, and make a more beautiful finish than by the old foot lathe.
    “The engine to run the machinery of the laboratory of his office has been a matter of necessity, to keep up with his business and execute his work properly, and with dispatch. He keeps at present two assistants to assist in the office and Laboratory. He is bound to do his work promptly, and make his prices reasonable, which is a rare thing in a dentist. His rooms are conveniently located and fitted up with rare taste, and will compare favorably with any dental rooms in the State. Some of the finest work in art can be seen by calling at his rooms.”
    Tasteful décor seems to be a necessity in dental offices. We read of a dentist in Wilmington in 1879, “Dr. Duncan, dentist, has one of the nicest offices in this city. It is located over Banyard's store and has been thoroughly refitted and tastily decorated. The doctor appears to be doing a good business, though he does look down in the mouth occasionally.”
    Also in 1879, a dentist in Joliet came up with a new and interesting process.
    “Dr. Cole, our popular dentist, whose enterprise is continually branching out before the public, has accomplished something in his line, that has long been talked of by the profession, but never went into effect, which is transplanting teeth, or in other words, extracting teeth, filling, and then replacing them.
    “The doctor operated upon the teeth of Mrs. Harvey of Minooka and Miss Townsend of Lockport recently, and the teeth are as solid today as they ever were. In this way, the teeth can be filled much quicker, and better. About one hour constitutes the entire time in filling and replacing.”
    Eye doctors, per se, did not exist in this area in the 19th century. Regular doctors would treat eye diseases. But in the matter of eye glasses, opticians were frequent visitors. In 1880 a traveling optician came to Joliet claiming his glasses were totally different from those made by others.
    We read, “Prof. Samuel W., optician, of Quincy, formerly of Cincinnati, is now stopping at the St. Nicholas Hotel, Private Parlor, No. 2 and offers to those who are suffering from weakness and defective sight, his improved crystal glass spectacles, superior to any in use, constructed in accordance with the philosophy of nature, admirably adapted to the organs of sight, and perfectly natural to the eye; affording altogether the best artificial help to the human vision ever invented, and used only by Prof. Samuels.
    “The advantages of these spectacles over all others, are: They can be worn with perfect ease for any length of time at one sitting, giving astonishing clearness by candle or other artificial light, to the spectacle wearer.
    “When the eyes ache or pain through the action of bright light, such as is reflected from snow, warm weather, white paper, and in reading, writing, sewing, or in vivid colored bodies, these lenses, by softening the rays, effect a most agreeable sensation and give great relief.
    “These spectacles are scientifically adjusted to every case of defective sight with unerring accuracy: whether arising from age, strains, or premature decay, by a new and exact principle entirely his own, which has seldom failed.”
    Actually traveling opticians were the norm well into the 20th century. We read in 1908, “Special Notice - Dr. W. Moore Thompson, the “eye man” from Chicago, will be in Wilmington again, Saturday, September 19th. Anyone needing eye glasses fitted should see him. He tests eyes free.”
    And in 1910, “Dr. Hoffman, Optician, who has been coming here for the last 14 years is now at the Stewart House. If in need of glasses call and see him. Send postal or telephone and he will call on you.”
    Home visits from a doctor! Those were the days!