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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Rays for Rats: 1926

Rays for Rats: 1926

January 13, 1926. "Violet Ray treatment on white rats at Agriculture Dept." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

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Under the Farkoscope

Violet Rays, Radiation, and Electricity

If you're interested in what's going on in this photo, I recommend Carolyn de la Peña's book The Body Electric. She writes about similar devices and attempts to energize the body through electricity and radium.

(I've seen violet ray hair combs for sale on eBay, BTW.)

Oh, yeah, they had a brother...

Had a brother named Man. Goofy lad, he was.


The guy holding the rat is not wearing goggles. He probably had sandy eyes when he got off shift.

[The rat isn't wearing goggles, either. - Dave]

Supposed Benefits

I think at the time, the belief was more focused on the potential benefits of new-fangled scientific electric rays.

Washington Post Jan 15, 1928

Violet Rays Make Hens, Cows More Contented

Cows love to stand in the stanchions on cold winter days and bask in the violet rays from an electrical apparatus over them.

Hens rush into the room where the rays are disseminated, ruffling up their feathers as though they were locating a nice, soft pile of dry dust.

The United States Department of Agriculture has taken notice of these facts. Dr. E.W. Allen, chief of the department's experimental stations, says that not only do cows and hens like it, but the treatment makes the quality of the milk and eggs much better and that babies fed such milk are practically immune to rickets.

The violet ray method of improving farm output is approved by the Government and is being adopted by more farms each year. Dr. Allen says: "Nobody knows why a little sunshine or its substitute, an electric ray, playing upon the backs of cows and hens, results in better milk and fertile eggs, but it is so."

I Wonder

I wonder what experiment the Dept. Of Agriculture is performing in the picture. The light source bears a warning label which indicates the use of unshielded ultraviolet light. We now know unshielded UV light is useful in treating psoriasis and vitiligo while excess exposure causes cataracts and skin cancer.

Perhaps they wanted to see if the light would drive the rodents from a food source.

Irradiating Mice

This is still done today although in a much safer manner. I used to work at a large pediatric cancer facility and the mice and rats often had this done to research the resultant tumors. However, it's done quite humanely.


I used to know a Violet Ray . . . had a sister named Gamma.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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