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The Jolt's on You: Turn-of-Last-Century Prank Machines Reveal "Shocking" Hazing Practices [Slide Show]

A new book curates pages from a series of mail-order prank catalogues published between 1896 and 1930, when American men played hair-raising jokes on initiates of their fraternal lodges



Courtesy of Penguin

Human-generated electricity was an industrial-age curiosity at the turn of the century. By 1900 alternating current (AC) electricity had been used to execute convicted murderers and to power the 1893 Chicago World's Fair displays of such time-saving inventions as an electric stove and an electric incubator for chicken eggs. Practical uses for AC power were still fast evolving, and most families did not yet have electric lights in their homes. But battery-powered electric pranks abounded. During this time, fraternal order membership was fast on the rise in the U.S., and initiation pranks using dry cells and magneto batteries became a popular feature in certain lodges. The batteries were portable and relatively safe, delivering a controllable and nonlethal (usually) shock. The most renowned manufacturer of these ingenious mechanical "shock" devices was the DeMoulin Brothers Co. of Greenville, Ill. Their prank, or "side-degree," catalogues offering these items from 1897 to 1930 were not available to the public, but sent to high-ranking lodge officers only. Many of the pranks in the DeMoulin catalogues illustrate aspects of daily life at this time.

» Click here for a slide show of 11 electric prank machines from The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions

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