Dr. Elisha Perkins, Sr.

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Dr. Elisha Perkins, Sr.

Birthdate: (58)
Birthplace: Norwich, New London County, Province of Connecticut
Death: September 6, 1799 (58)
New York County, New York, United States (Yellow Fever)
Place of Burial: Plainfield, Windham County, Connecticut, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Dr. Joseph Perkins, Jr. and Mary Perkins
Husband of Sarah Perkins
Father of Elizabeth "Betsey" (Perkins) Putnam; Olive M. McClellan; Susan Arnold-Marsh (Perkins); Sarah Grosvenor; John Douglas Perkins and 1 other
Brother of Joseph Perkins; Mary Perkins; Simon Perkins, Lt.; Andrew Perkins; Solomon Perkins and 1 other
Half brother of Lydia Kirkland

Occupation: doctor
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Dr. Elisha Perkins, Sr.

Served in the Revolutionary War for Connecticut in Col. Douglass Rgt with the rank of PHYSICIAN OR SURGEON. DAR Ancestor # A088749


REFN: 2090

"ELISHA PERKINS, MD, The well known inventor of the "metallic tractors".

He was of strong and vigorous constitution, and of very active habits,

being many years accustomed to ride on horseback and average of sixty

miles a day, in pursuing his practice. He never used stimulating or

spirituous drinks; and three or foour hours sleep daily sufficed him.

The "tractors" were two small pointed instruments or pencils, one of

steel and one of brass, and were used to relieve nervous affections,

sprains, by being drawn over the part, the points lightly touching it.

Dr. Perkins was expelled from the Connecticut Medical Society in 1797 on

account of his invention; and afterwards died of yellow fever, caught

while experimenting with the tractors on that disease in New York,

whither he had gone to prove them in it. He lived in Plainfield, Conn.,

and married 28 Sept. 1762, Sarah Douglas, of Plainfield, sister of his

brother Simon's wife. She died of consumption, 10 Aug 1795"

"Genealogies of Connecticut Families", Vol. III, Perkins Family of


Elisha Perkins (January 16, 1741 – September 6, 1799) was a United States physician who created his own therapy, Perkins Patent Tractors.


Elisha Perkins was born 1741 in Norwich, Connecticut. He was educated by his father Joseph Perkins in Plainfield, Connecticut, where he later practiced medicine with success. Around 1795–96 Perkins invented his "Tractors", for which he took out a 14-year patent on February 19, 1796. The tractors consisted of two 3-inch metal rods with a point at the end. Although they were made of steel and brass, Perkins claimed that they were made of unusual metal alloys. Perkins used his rods to cure inflammation, rheumatism and pain in the head and the face. He applied the points on the aching body part and passed them over the part for about 20 minutes. Perkins claimed they could "draw off the noxious electrical fluid that lay at the root of suffering".

The Connecticut Medical Society condemned the tractors as "delusive quackery", and expelled Perkins from membership on the grounds that he was "a patentee and user of nostrums". Perkins nevertheless managed to convince three US medical faculties that his method worked. In Copenhagen, Denmark, twelve surgeons at the Royal Frederick Hospital also began to support the method. Even George Washington bought a set. Other physicians' criticisms were met with charges of elitism and professional arrogance. Perkins boasted of 5,000 cured cases. The cures were certified to by eight professors, forty physicians, and thirty clergymen. Of the purchase made by Washington, Perkins' son, Benjamin Perkins, said that the "President of the United States, convinced of the importance of the discovery from experiments in his own family, availed himself of its advantages by purchasing a set of the Tractors for their use".

Benjamin Perkins was a bookseller and introduced the tractors to London. There a Perkinsian Institution for the benefit of the poor was founded under the presidency of Lord Rivers. In 1798, Benjamin published The Influence of Metallic Tractors on the Human Body. In October 1799, an advertisement in The Times said that "The tractors, with every necessary direction for using them in Families, may be had for 5 guineas the set, of Mr. Perkins, of Leicester Square; or of Mr. Frederic Smith, Chemist & Druggist, in the Haymarket".

Aylmer Bourke Lambert, a British botanist, is on record as having written in January 1800 to Richard Pulteney of Blandford (now Blandford Forum), in the English county of Dorset, as follows:

I breakfasted with Sir Joseph [Banks] on Monday morning who is recovered from the Gout and in high Spirits. We had a good deal of laughing about the Tractors. Perkins has published several Cases communicated by my Father, and presented me with a copy of his Book.

Shortly before his death Elisha Perkins also invented antiseptic medicine and used it for dysentery and sore throat. In 1799 he went to New York to try his methods during a yellow fever epidemic but died of the disease himself four weeks later.

After Perkins' death, British physicians began to have doubts about his tractors. In 1799, Dr. John Haygarth conducted a test in which he treated five rheumatic patients with wooden tractors that were made to resemble the metallic ones. Four of them reported that the pain was relieved. The next day the patients were treated with metallic tractors with the same results. Dr. Haygarth reported on his findings in a publication entitled On the Imagination as a Cause & as a Cure of Disorders of the Body. Attempts to use the tractors to cure animals proved futile.

By this time, Perkins had numerous influential supporters and the sale of the tractors continued. In 1803, Thomas G. Fessenden published his poem “Terrible Tractoration” in favor of Perkins and as a satire on other physicians.

Benjamin Perkins died in 1810. Only after that did the popularity of the tractors began to wane.


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Dr. Elisha Perkins, Sr.'s Timeline

January 16, 1741
Norwich, New London County, Province of Connecticut
October 9, 1776
Age 35
Plainfield, Windham County, Connecticut, United States
November 6, 1778
Age 37
September 6, 1799
Age 58
New York County, New York, United States
Age 57
Plainfield, Windham County, Connecticut, United States