Franz Anton Mesmer and the Rise and Fall of Animal Magnetism: Dramatic Cures, Controversy, and Ultimately a Triumph for the Scientific Method

  • Douglas J. Lanska
  • Joseph T. Lanska

In the late eighteenth century, Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815) promulgated “animal magnetism” as a pervasive property of nature that could be channeled as an effective therapy for a wide variety of conditions (Fig. 1). His claims of dramatic therapeutic success were supported by glowing testimonials, in some cases from socially prominent individuals. However, mainstream medical practitioners, professional societies, and political bodies rejected Mesmer and his treatment, and ultimately moved to eliminate Mesmer’s practice and that of his disciples. In retrospect it is clear that traditional physicians in the late eighteenth century had little to offer their patients therapeutically that had any real possibility of benefit, and instead, often harmed their patients with their treatments, whereas Mesmer could demonstrate cases “cured” by his treatment that had previously failed all conventional approaches. While one might be tempted to dismiss his therapeutic successes as only applicable to hysterical or imagined illness, some of his patients went on to lead quite functional lives when before they were deemed hopeless invalids, a point that even his detractors acknowledged.


Royal Society Philosophical Transaction Commission Report Royal Commission Late Eighteenth Century 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas J. Lanska
    • 1
  • Joseph T. Lanska
    • 1
  1. 1.TomahUSA

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