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Franz Anton Mesmer

Physician

Born: 23 May 1734
Died: 15 March 1815
Birthplace: Near Lake Constance, Germany
Best known as: 18th century healer and showman
Franz Anton Mesmer was the Austrian physician after whom mesmerism was named, a famously flamboyant believer in the healing powers of an unknown physical property he dubbed "animal magnetism." He enjoyed a popular following and claimed to be able to "channel" magnetic powers in order to cure a variety of ailments, which he did for public display. Pressured by the medical establishment to leave Vienna, he found favor in Paris at the end of the 1770s. Eventually his practices came under scrutiny and a panel of scientists (including Ben Franklin) concluded in 1784 that there was no scientific basis for his theories. Discredited, he left France in 1791 and eventually settled in Switzerland, where he died in 1815. By no means completely dismissed, his theories brought on successors who claimed they could tap an unseen magnetic force within the body, and Mesmer is often credited with influencing the development of hypnotism as psychotherapy.

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