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The Toadstool Millionaires:
A Social History of Patent Medicines
in America before Federal Regulation

Chapter 6: Purgation Unlimited

James Harvey Young, PhD

Globules of sarsaparilla are identical with globules of blood. Such was the astounding discovery of the distinguished German chemist, Justus von Liebig. At any rate, so asserted an advertising pamphlet issued in 1860. Great as was this achievement, the pamphleteer argued, the Teutonic scientist did not deserve sole credit. Liebig had merely proved what an English immigrant in
America had found out a century before. Peering through a microscope, Benjamin Brandreth had detected the similarity between the two kinds of globules. Brandreth now put a drawing in his pamphlet to demonstrate to the most casual observer that he and Liebig were right, that blood and sarsaparilla were the same [2].

The medical implications of such a discovery were clear. If the concrete alkaloid of this ancient American plant, which Columbus himself had first carried back to Europe, could be bound up in a pill, then that pill was certain to impart "extra vitality" to the blood of any man, woman, or child wise enough to take it. Dr. Brandreth had performed this medical miracle, and the result was his Life-Addition Pills.

Thus was a new change rung on the perennially popular sarsaparilla theme. Dr. Brandreth's devotion to the American root was fervent and long-standing, and he was likewise wholly committed to the blood. The blood's vast significance to man, indeed, was made manifest in Holy Writ, and Brandreth was fond of citing Leviticus 17:11: "The life of the flesh is in the blood." This vital fluid must at all costs be kept pure. The Life-Addition Pills could aid in this task, to be sure, but major reliance must be placed, for reasons we shall observe, upon the Vegetable Universal Pills. These were another, and an earlier, contribution of Dr. Brandreth to the therapeutics of America, although not his invention. He had learned their composition -- which included sarsaparilla -- from his paternal grandfather.

Dr. William Brandreth, a physician who practiced in Liverpool, had devoted thirty years in the mid-18th century to perfect-ing this combination of herbs. His own son was not interested in matters medical; as a young man he gained renown as a musi-cian, but conversion to the Society of Friends caused him to abandon music for a mercantile career. It was the merchant's sixth and youngest son, Benjamin, born about 1808, who followed in the footsteps of his grandfather. As a lad at Dr. William's knee, Benjamin began to learn his medical secrets. Soon he was compounding the vegetable pills and, according to family record, distributing them gratuitously among the poor. Upon the death of his grandfather, Benjamin, a young man in his late teens, inherited the formula and began to market the pills over a wider area. Perhaps he applied merchandising talents observed in his father. Things went rather well, but English opportunities presented the ambitious Brandreth with an inadequate challenge. In 1835 he came to America and rented a house on Hudson Street in the city of New York. "Brandreth," opined a critic, "could never have succeeded in his own country; but he saw that the people of the United States, like young birds in their nest, were holding their mouths wide open for something new." [3]

Brandreth was nearing twenty-five when he crossed the ocean. He brought with him, besides his grandfather's formula, a wife, three children, and a modest amount of capital. The first American production of the Vegetable Universal Pills was a family venture. The father mixed the ingredients; the mother pasted the labels on the boxes; the eldest son counted out the pills. The cost of raw materials and advertising drained the family purse. As a granddaughter recounted the tale, Benjamin Brandreth nailed his last three gold pieces to the counter before any money came back across it in payment for pills [4].

The lean years, however, were less than seven. Prosperity, indeed, came with a rush. The very next year after his arrival, Brandreth was forced to add two sales outlets to the house on Hudson Street, and this dwelling no longer doubled as the family residence. In 1837 still another sales office was opened, and the pill doctor took the major step of moving his manufacturing operations away from the city to a village up the Hudson River. Its name was Sing Sing. There Brandreth found a large tract of land containing a grain mill, which he bought and refashioned to his purposes. While the pills poured out in an ever-increasing flood, Brandreth began to build a larger factory. Across its door-way, according to a later chronicler, the entrepreneur placed a Latin motto, "Cavando Tutus," meaning, said the chronicler, "Tested and Not Found Wanting." A better rendering, since it might serve as a tribute peculiarly appropriate to the active principle of Brandreth's popular product, would be "Safe in Evacuating." For he had made a panacea of a purgative [5].

Within five years the vigorous Englishman became the ne plus ultra of American nostrum-making. Coins came back across his counter so rapidly that in 1839 his wealth was estimated at $200,000. The next year a rival paid him this grudging tribute: "Dr. Brandreth figures larger in the scale of quackery, and hoists a more presuming flag, than all the rest of the fraternity combined." [6]

Brandreth had indeed chosen a most propitious time to hoist his flag. The dietary dark ages still prevailed when the English pill man came to America. Well into the 19th century the belief was popular that all foods contained one "universal element" which kept life going. Overeating was a national scandal, as foreign visitors to the nation kept repeating, an evil compounded by a diet stressing starchy dishes, salt-cured meats, fat-fried foods and lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables. Americans also ate too fast. The national motto, one European traveler said, was "gobble, gulp, and go." [7]

Many of these conditions had prevailed for generations, but a rural mode of life, replete with fresh air, sunshine, and vigorous physical labor, had tended to mitigate the consequences. Now, in town and city, people lived at a faster pace and under more pres-sure, often without proper exercise. "We are fast becoming . . . a nation of invalids," an author charged in Harpet's Monthly during 1856. "Foreigners already effect to see in us a degenerate offspring of a nobler race, and with them a skeleton frame, a yellow-dyed bilious face, an uncomfortable dyspeptic expression, an uneasy spasmodic motion, and a general ghost-like charnel-house aspect, serve to make up a type of the species Yankee." Such physical traits were embodied in the symbolical Uncle Sam [8].

Purges of various potencies were a popular prescription by regular physicians. The quacks too, as a New York doctor pointed out, had fastened on the "almost universal prevalence of indigestion." But no one who read the advertisements had to be told. There were scores of remedies on the market "whose chief mission," as a pharmacist saw it, "appear[ed] to be to open men's purses by opening their bowels." It was no wonder that one nostrum which failed when promoted as a cold cure should achieve success as a stomach remedy [9].

In these years, however, laxatives were not content to perform a simple role. Their service to mankind must be glorified and elevated. The ways in which nostrum makers sought to make indigestion and constipation the source of all illness were explicit and ingenious. Benjamin Brandreth was merely the most success-ful of a numerous tribe. His Universal Vegetable Pills, besides sarsaparilla, seem to have contained aloes, gamboge, and cobcynth, among the most powerful cathartic cannon in the botanical armory [10], and with the theme of purgation Brandreth seemed genuinely obsessed.

In long advertisements in newspaper and magazine, in special pamphlets, even in books, Brandreth reiterated that "purgation may be set down as the magnet, the guide, the star of safety." The logic leading to such a conclusion began with the familiar premise that all disease had but one cause. This was "an altera-tion or vitiation of the blood." Many were the evil forces that might upset the digestion and render the blood impure. It might be bad food, it might be grief, it might be overwork, anxiety, impure water, contagion, a hundred things. Especially vicious was polluted air, a result of "the artificial conditions in which society has placed the human race," which was inhaled, adding corrupt particles to the blood. Bits and pieces of worn-out muscles and nerves were another hazard. They became separated from the body solids and, unless eliminated, corroded and produced disease. Disease had various forms: pleurisies, consumptions, dropsies, rheumatisms, blotches, plagues, fevers, "great nervousness and debility, accompanied with anxiety and dread that some sad event is about to occur." [11]

The human body, indeed, was a constant battleground be-tween the forces of life and death. If the pollutions and decompo-sitions could be gotten rid of with sufficient speed through the natural outlets, life went on and man was healthy. This, alas, too seldom happened. Much too often the tide of battle turned in favor of the "death-disposing influences." "It is a remarkable and incontrovertible fact," Brandreth insisted, "that not one person in a thousand dies of old age." Nay, fewer than that. In all his life he had actually known but three. But such sad statistics need not be. "Premature death in nine hundred and ninety nine cases out of a thousand is the consequence of disease being allowed to progress unchecked in the body, whereas by timely purgation [sic] it might have been successfully nipped in the bud, and finally removed."

With Brandreth, as with the monistic regulars, it was one cure as well as one cause. "The doctrines of the unity of disease and of one method of cure," he said, "are but the two halves of one great truth." Purgation was not enough, of course. It must be purgation by Brandreth's Vegetable Universal Pills. The proprietor recognized that there were other cathartics on the market. The "owls and the bats of the learned faculty" had their poisonous mineral purgatives, and such dangerous drugs as mercury, arsenic, antimony, and hemlock might be found in rival advertised remedies. Brandreth scorned his competitors, and left them "to banquet on their own envy." He could not be "confounded with the promiscuous crowd of medicine venders that infest our streets." His pills were vegetable and had been used for a century without one "fatal consequence." They might be taken safely in any quantity. "A dose more of Brandreth's Pills than required, will never hurt you, but not taking a dose when required, may cost you your life." A New York female had doubtless saved hers by taking, in twenty-fours hours, no less than sixty-six. She, and all users, could be assured that the small pellets possessed "the great advantage . . . that they never make any mistakes."

"Purge then, ye wise," exhorted one of Brandreth's pamphlets, "before your sickness is too far advanced, and by the blessing of God, and Brandreth's Pills, insure your safety and your life."

Other purgatives were purveyed by similar theories, but there was a certain distinction to Brandreth's treatment which his rivals could not emulate. He had an arrogant tone, a literary flavor, an historical sweep in his advertising copy which were unique. His assertions were so pontifical, sometimes bolstered by the Latin phrase. His authorities were so respectable, including William Harvey, Benjamin Rush, and Benjamin Franklin. And his grasp of the past was so daring. Who else would think of publishing a volume of 224 pages, bearing such an imposing title as The Doctrine of Purgation, Curiosities from Ancient and Modern Literature, from Hippocrates and Other Medical Writers -- some two hundred sages were cited -- Covering a Period of Over Two Thousand Years, Proving Purgation Is the Corner-Stone of All Curatives? Who would guess that such a volume, once compiled, would pass through three editions?

Benjamin Brandreth paid not only for the solid bound volumes and the flimsy pamphlets, but for thousands of columns of newspaper space. The quantity of his advertising, as well as its peculiar quality, sets the pill maker apart and helps to explain his outstanding success.

Brandreth sent his copy into the hinterlands, where new counties and new county weeklies continued to proliferate. In Illinois and Michigan -- so he boasted in his Indiana advertising -- people rode sixty miles through the woods for Brandreth's Pills. City-dwellers did not have to go so far, and Brandreth was particularly attracted to the new sensational penny press [12].

Brandreth was a lavish advertising patron of the first-established of these papers, Benjamin Day's New York Sun, as he was of Day's even more flamboyant rival, James Gordon Bennett's Herald. Indeed, Brandreth began to produce and distribute his purgative in the same month that Bennett began to print and distribute his paper. Later stories had it that a thousand dollars of advance advertising from Brandreth was a welcome part of Bennett's initial capital, and that some months later, when a fire destroyed the plant of the new penny paper, the Brandreth account permitted Bennett to start in again. The first tale is probably false, the second more likely. There is no doubt, at any rate, that Brandreth paid thousands of dollars to the Herald for hundreds of columns of space [13].

Brandreth and Bennett were not unlike. Both were immigrants, Bennett from Scotland, Brandreth from England, and their association began as both were in the early stages of phenomenal careers. Bennett once called himself one of the "Napoleons of the press." With equal justice Brandreth might have adopted the title of Napoleon of the nostrums. Both men lived by words. Bennett's leaders and editorials were frank, saucy, spicy, often accused of being in bad taste. The same was true of Brandreth's advertisements, whether or not he wrote them himself. Both men were also successful. As the Herald grew in circulation and in the revenue it brought its proprietor, so did the pills [14].

Both men were interested in profits. Responding to a criticism of the pill maker's advertising copy, the publisher replied: "Send us more advertisements than Dr. Brandreth does -- give us higher prices -- we'll cut Brandreth dead -- or at least curtail his space. Business is business -- money is money." [15]

This sort of defense has been termed the caveat emptor alibi for advertising. It was not infrequently resorted to when the press was attacked for the scandalous nature of some of the copy it accepted for pay. The same year that Bennett so tersely excused himself, the Philadelphia Public Ledger printed a more elaborate expression of the doctrine. "We admit any advertise-ment of any things or any opinions, from any person who will pay the price," the Ledger explained, "excepting what is forbidden by the laws of the land, or what, in the opinion of all, is offensive to decency and morals." Nor did the paper hold itself responsible for any ad. "In allowing Peter Pill Garlic to puff his pills, or Long-legged Legget to laud his lotion, or Oliver Overreach to be orator for his opodeldoc, we do not indorse for the disease-dispelling potency of any of these drugs." Any competitor was free to advertise, pointing out the weakness of rival remedies. "Besides," the Ledger argued, "our advertising is our revenue, and in a paper involving so many expenses as a penny paper.. . , the only source of revenue, and we get our living honestly by permitting our advertising columns to be a stage for the whole public to act upon, we excluding all actors unlicensed by the law of morals or the law of the land." [16]

What was true for the penny sheet in the city was true for the country weekly. Without nostrum advertising, an Ohio village editor pointed out, his paper would require a paid circulation of two thousand copies rather than just a few hundred. "The bones," he said, "are sold with the beef." [17]

Under these circumstances, that there was any criticism of nostrums at all in the pages of the press seems a matter for remark. The young Kaskaskia Illinois Intelligencer, in 1820, reprinted from an Eastern newspaper a denunciation of quackery in general, "from the humble villager who vends the infallible cure for agues, to the political quack who would fain persuade us that every temporizing expedient is the political panacea." A decade later the Intelligencer returned to the attack by citing from a Philadelphia journal the argument that patent medicines were antithetical both to science and philanthropy [18].

The borrowed words in this Illinois weekly indicate that the large dailies of the East were not entirely silent on the evils of quackery, but there was little consistency in the matter. In 1805, after a young girl had been killed by a patent medicine, the Post in New York denounced "the quack advertisements which . . . so much distinguish and disgrace the city." Yet not a month went by that did not witness some quack advertising in the same paper. Two decades later a similar incident occurred. When the Philadelphia Medical Society issued its criticism of Swaim's and similar panaceas, the Post printed excerpts from the report. Nonetheless, in the very same issue, the paper began to run an advertisement for one of the condemned nostrums. Such a schiz-oid policy was even stranger than the incident involving a weekly paper in Fort Wayne, Indiana. When a temporary editor wrote that "Every village newspaper from the North to the South, and from the East to the West, is filled with . . . [the nostrum maker's] trash," the regular editor, resuming control, promptly repudiated such a rash assertion [19]

In 1835 a quack dentist, peeved by some jibe at his expense in the New York Sun, challenged one of the paper's reporters to a duel. The journalist accepted and was called upon to name the weapons. Syringes, he said, filled with a nostrum of the dentist's own manufacture [20]. This symbolizes the larger duel between press and patent medicines during the first half of the 19th century. The participants ran about the same degree of risk. Certainly the newspapers, though a watchdog of the public interest, were not apt to bite with vigor the hand that fed so lavishly. So the quantity of criticism was small, the tone often mild, and the purpose frequently not so much a sincere attack on quackery as a means of lambasting a rival journal.

In New York especially, most of the condemnation of nostrums that was printed in the papers sounds as if it were penned for use as a weapon in the tempestuous rivalry that characterized this age of personal journalism. The great dailies were the sharp shadows of their editors, and competition was keen and bitter. Horace Greeley, soon to launch the Tribune, avowed his hatred of "the immoral and degrading Police Reports, Advertisements, and other matter which have been allowed to disgrace the columns of many of our leading Penny Papers." Several weeks after the Tribune had begun publishing, Greeley loosed a vitri-olic attack on Day's Sun and Bennett's Herald for accepting advertising from a notorious abortionist. "By constant publication and puffing in The Sun," Greeley stormed, "backed by puffing Editorials in the Herald, the dreadful trade of this wretch was made to thrive and gold flowed in streams into her den, and thence to the pockets of her newspaper accomplices. Must not this blood-money prove a curse to its receivers? . . . What demoniac practices shall be next resorted to, to glut the avarice of these vampyres?" [21]

The Tribune did not accept advertisements for abortionists or venereal cures, but it opened its columns to a horehound candy good for "spitting of blood, [and] contraction of the lungs," and Indian remedies which would cure consumption, scrofula, cancer, piles, painful menstruation, and falling of the womb. When a reader wrote Greeley objecting to the tone of some of these ads, the editor sought refuge in the caveat emptor alibi. The critic had mailed the letter to the wrong party, Greeley editorialized. "He should complain to our advertisers themselves, who are not responsible to us for the style or language (if decent) of their advertisements, nor have we any control over them." [22]

So it went. The newspapers continued to accept nostrum advertising, interpreting moral decency as the editors saw fit, and damning their rivals for devising definitions which were unspeakably odious. In 1852 Henry J. Raymond's New York Times entered the fray, castigating an unnamed antagonist, probably the Herald. A decade later the Herald returned the compliment, abusing the Times. The next year the Tribune had at the Herald again [23].

If newspapers assailed each other's advertising for ulterior motives, there were external critics who blasted the press for puffing patent medicines. In the eyes of physicians, the guilt of the newspaper editor was second only to that of the nostrum maker. "Nothing can be done without the Press --" wrote the physician-author of Quackery Unmasked, "enterprise must stop here, and the skill of the wizard be hushed in darkness, unless the Press will publish it to the world." The doctors on the Philadelphia committee rebuked newspapers not only for accept-ing Swaim's preposterous advertising, but also for refusing to print information provided them pointing out the evils of patent medicines. Such slings and arrows were frequent from outraged doctors who were persuaded that the situation amounted to nothing less than the "prostitution of the press." [24]

In the squabbles over patent medicines and the press, the voice of the nostrum maker was rarely heard, publicly, at least. One of the few such battles in the record, happily, was waged between truly noteworthy contestants, those two Napoleons, James Gordon Bennett and Benjamin Brandreth. They had begun their rise to fortune hand in hand, and were personally friendly, even though Bennett had let it be known in the Herald that the comradeship was purely a financial one. Should a rival outbid Brandreth, the publisher said, he would restrict or elimi-nate the pill maker's advertising. On March 17, 1837, Brandreth's status in Bennett's columns remained unchallenged. The champion of purgation devoted several column inches to a defense of his remedy against the "vile allusions" of jealous rivals [25].

This very day, however, according to Bennett's account, he told his clerk to "expunge" from the Herald all of Brandreth's advertising and to return him any money he may have paid in advance. The next day no Brandreth ad appeared. Three days later an editorial heralded an imminent attack on medical quack-ery "which has of late increased to such an extent in this city as to banish all science and talent from our borders." On March 23 Bennett was ready. He launched his acrimonious rhetoric with a garbled quotation from Hamlet:

I will a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Will harrow up thy soul.

"For many months past," ran Bennett's tale, "this city has been flooded with medical pills from a certain laboratory, which appear to have spread over the face of the earth with the rapidity and virulence of the ten plagues of Egypt At this moment the great Mokanna of Khorassan, the prophet of the silver veil, the Jannes and Jambres of medical learning, has entirely made every man, and woman, [and] child, so many living pill boxes, wandering over the streets -- so many apothecaries' shops teeming with simples and overwhelmed with compounds -- so many sickly physical laboratories crawling through human life from time to eternity."

Benjamin Brandreth was the guilty man. He had convinced "his dupes to swallow his pills as fast and as rapidly as they would their dinner." He had deluded them with "the merest twaddle of medical language that ever made the ignorant gape, or the educated cry 'bah!'"

"Since the appearance of Brandreth," the editor asserted, "more medicine has been swallowed in this community in one year than in the ten preceding."

"This is the age of Brandreth pills," Bennett charged. "No -- this has been the age of Brandreth pills; but a revolution has begun and they will sink more rapidly into oblivion than they ever rose in consequence."

It had ever been his goal, Bennett testified, to keep his paper from becoming "the daily vehicle -- the unconscious pander of imposture and humbug -- of charlatanism, of impudence of ignorance pretending to science, or of folly in the habiliments of wisdom and philosophy." Because of this lofty aim, and because of a mountain of complaints against "this prince of charlatans -- this master of the science of purging his patients of money and muscle - - of cash, comfort, and calmness," the publisher had determined to deprive Brandreth of his right to advertise in the Herald.

The prince replied the next day, using the good offices of the rival Sun. Having taken such a verbal trouncing, Brandreth, it would seem, might have directed some of the harsh words he customarily bestowed upon his rivals toward the publisher with such a purple pen. Instead he chose to be mild. His strongest epithet for Bennett in the whole countercharge was "the old bachelor." As to the facts, however, Brandreth had a variant version. Bennett had raised the price of his paper from one to two pennies, noted the pill maker, which caused the circulation to decline and limited the readership to a class who paid no heed to advertising. Hence Brandreth had told his agent to take the advertisements for the Vegetable Universal Pills to other journals. "As to Bennett's censure," mocked Brandreth, "I glory in it -- his praise I should fear."

The prince of pills had placards made and posted throughout the city teasing Bennett on his unmarried state, but otherwise he seemed not anxious to divert rhetoric from the positive purpose of promoting his nostrums. The editor, however, was loath to let the matter drop. He boasted of his benefactions to public health in exposing Brandreth, slashed at the Sun for defending him, and thought up new phrases for excoriating this "medical driveller," this "impudent quack." Bennett harped particularly on Brandreth's alleged pretensions as a writer. This was a huge joke, the editor said. Brandreth did not know how to "write or even spell correctly a sentence of common English," yet he palmed off as his own creations the productions of hired hack writers, who turned out not only advertisements, but literary articles and even a play (at $1.87 1/2 a page). The situation called to Bennett's mind the old epigram:

For physic and farces
His equal there scarce is;
His farce will be physic --
His physic a farce is.

The publisher's attack on the pill maker was a farce itself. His acid quips at Brandreth's expense and his self-congratulation for defending the public rubbed elbows with advertisements for nostrums not a whit more respectable than the Vegetable Universal Pills. Indeed, a good many of the ads Bennett accepted were downright disgusting. In the venereal category alone, the Herald reader could choose from such remedies as Hunter's Red Drop, Mothes' Capsules, Sterling's Oriental Balsamic Com- pound, Dr. Jordan's Balsam of Rakasiri, Madam Gardion's Specific for Leucorrhoea, and Dr. Goodman's American Anti-Gonorrhoea Pills. Stormy while it lasted, Bennett's feud with Brandreth, like most newspaper criticism of patent medicines, petered out. The pill maker's ads re-entered the columns of the Herald and became bigger than ever [26]. The erstwhile warriors resumed their ascent hand in hand to loftier levels of fame and fortune in their respective fields of journalism and purgation.

When, a decade later, a select committee of the House of Representatives wanted to show the lengths to which American patent medicine proprietors would go to boost their wares, Brandreth was selected as Exhibit A. His expenditures for advertising, the Congressmen said, had reached the sum of $100,000 a year. That Brandreth's tide had turned and his pills were destined for oblivion, as the committee suggested, proved as poor prophecy as had Bennett's similar prediction thirteen years before. The energetic immigrant continued to pour money into advertising, pioneering in such media as the weekly magazine. Pills rolled from Sing Sing in ever greater numbers. While the Congressmen were studying the nostrum scene, Brandreth bought an interest in a porous plaster plant, thus enlarging his hold on the people's health. In the twenty years from 1862 to 1883, during which proprietary remedies paid a federal excise tax, Brandreth's annual average business surpassed $600,000 [27].

Life in the village on the Hudson was ever busy. Benjamin Brandreth grew into the local squire. He was a solid man, his face round, his gaze direct. His abundant hair was combed straight back; his beard was full. Amiable of manner, Brandreth was esteemed for his wealth, his lack of ostentation, his liberal acts of charity. He took a personal interest in the families of his workers, helping out when crises came. During the summer, when the production of pills was low, he kept his employees on the payroll, paying them half their weekly winter wages. Brand-reth became a banker, an Episcopal vestryman, a Knight Templar, a politician. For years he was president of the village. Often he represented his district in state and national Democratic conventions. Twice he was elected to the state Senate. Once he was beaten in a campaign for the national House [28].

Down in New York City, Brandreth was not forgotten. In 1857 he built on Broadway a massive hotel that bore his name and housed the business offices of his concern. He helped establish the New York Eclectic Medical College, served as one of its trustees, and contributed to its income. Since aloes and gamboge and colocynth played such vital roles in the Vegetable Universal Pills, it was fitting that Brandreth use some of his wealth to aid a school purveying botanical doctrines [29].

Despite these widespread interests, Brandreth's Pills remained his primary concern. As it had been on Hudson Street, the making of these pills, and now of plasters, continued largely a family affair. Mrs. Brandreth had died before the move to Sing Sing. In 1837 Brandreth had remarried, and ten more children joined the family circle. Several sons played leading roles in the business, one of them taking the pills for sale back to the country of their origin. Such a homecoming would have delighted his great-grandfather [30].

In 1880, some forty-five years after his migration to America, Benjamin Brandreth died, in his seventy-second year. He died in harness. That morning he had risen early, reaching the plant, with his eldest son, at six-thirty. He had worked an hour or so in the mixing room. Then came a stroke of apoplexy and death. Thus, at the end as at the launching of his venture in America, Brandreth was mixing the purgative in which he so fervently believed. He bequeathed his large family the factory which annually was marketing some two million boxes of pills. The family carried on [31].

In the early 20th century, the name of Sing Sing was changed to Ossining. The essential function of Brandreth's Pills remained the same, the same as it had been when Benjamin had learned their potent secret at his grandfather's knee, the same as when James Gordon Bennett had blasted Brandreth for turning people into living pill boxes crawling from time to eternity [32].

Cavando Tutus.


  1. Dr. Benjamin Brandreth's Vegetable Universal Pills (N.Y.?, 1862), Rare Book Div., Library of Congress.
  2. Dr. B. Brandreth's Life-Addition Pills and Quintessence of Sarsaparilla (N.Y., 1860), Rare Book Div., Library of Congress.
  3. Ibid.; N.Y. Tribune, Feb. 20, 1880; Holcombe, "Private Die Proprietary Stamp Notes," Scott's Monthly Journal, 20 (1939), 120-21; information pro-vided by Mrs. Laurance D. Redway, Ossining Hist. Soc.; Dan King, Quackery Unmasked (Boston, 1858), 295. Sources differ on the date of Brandreth's birth, from 1807 to 1809. Rowell's American Newspaper Directory, 1870, 173, says that at the time Brandreth began making pills rumors had it that his formula had really come from an elderly man he met either on his voyage over or soon after arriving in New York.
  4. Information from Mrs. Redway; Holcombe, 121; J. Thomas Scharf, History of Westchester County, New York (Phila., 1886), ii, 359-61.
  5. Holcombe, 121-22; Longworth's American Almanac, New-York Register, and City Directory, 1835-1838.
  6. Graham Jnl. of Health and Longevity, 3 (1839), 245; William Euen, A Short Expose on Quackery (Phila., 1840), 7.
  7. Richard O. Cummings, The American and His Food (Chicago, 1941), 4, 23-24; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Paths to the Present (N.Y., 1949), 240-42.
  8. Ibid., 242; "Why We Get Sick," Harper's Monthly, 13 (1856), 643.
  9. Shafer, The American Medical Profession, 1783 to 1850, 99-100; Reese, Humbugs of New-York, 121; George D. Coggeshall, "Address . . . ," Amer. Jul. Pharm., 26 (1854), 205; Frank Presbrey, The History and Development of Advertising (Garden City, N.Y., 1929), 297.
  10. Holcombe, 120; Charles W. Oleson, Secret Nostrums and Systems of Medicine (5th ed., Chicago, 1894), 18-19.
  11. Brandreth's doctrines are taken from Dr. Brandreth's Vegetable Universal Pills; Purgation: or The Brandrethian Method (N.Y., 1840); The Doctrine of Purgation (N.Y., 1867; 3rd ed., 1873); and various advertisements.
  12. Pickard and Buley, The Midwest Pioneer, 284.
  13. N.T. Sun and Herald, 1835-1840, passim; M. R. Werner, Barnum (N.Y., 1923), 26; information provided by Mrs. Redway.
  14. Herald, Aug. 18, 1836; Oliver Carison, The Man Who Made News, James Gordon Bennett (N.Y., 1942).
  15. Herald, June 26, 1836.
  16. Ledger, Sep. 26, 1836.
  17. Pickard and Buley, 269.
  18. Sep. 16, 1820, and Sep. 11, 1830.
  19. 19 Alfred M. Lee, The Daily Newspaper in America (N.Y., 1937), 316; Willard G. Bleyer, Main Currents in the History of American Journalism (Boston, 1927), 148; Pickard and Buley, 270.
  20. Frank O'Brien, The Story of the Sun (N.Y., 1928), 35.
  21. Bleyer, 212; Tribune, Apr. 20, 1841.
  22. Ibid., Dec. 20, 1841.
  23. Times, May 28, 1852; Herald, Jan. 8, 1862; Tribune, Feb. 18, 1863.
  24. King, 249; First Report of the Committee of the Philadelphia Medical Society on Quack Medicines, 26-27; Ticknor, A Popular Treatise on Medical Philosophy, 277.
  25. Times, Feb. 20, 1880; Herald, June 26, 1836. On the squabble, see the Herald, Mar. 25 to April 24, 1836, and the Sun, Mar. 25.
  26. Herald, Jan. 18, 1840.
  27. Patent Medicines, House Report No. 52, 30 Cong., 2 ses. (1849), 31; see ads in Harper's Wkly., Feb. 19, 1859, and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Mar. 12, 1859; Holcombe, 164.
  28. Engraved portrait of Brandreth in Scharf, it, opposite 358; N.Y. Tribune and Times, Feb. 20, 1880; information provided by Mrs. Redway.
  29. Ibid.; Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, I (1887), 358; N.Y. Tribune, Feb. 20, 1880.
  30. N.Y. Tribune and Times, Feb. 20, 1880.
  31. Ibid.; Scharf, II, 361.
  32. Golden Jubilee Ossining, N.Y., 1901-1951, pamphlet in the N.-Y. Hist. Soc.; advertising leaflet in folder labeled "Advertisements of medicinal prepara-tions and devices, 1933-7," Records of the Food and Drug Adm., Record Group 88, National Archives, Washington.

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