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

Chapter 7: "To Arms! To Arms!" and After

James Harvey Young, PhD

To cure Secession and its ills,
Take Dr. Scott's
Cast Iron Pills;
Well mixed with Powder of Saltpetre,
Apply it to each "Fire Eater."
With Union Bitters, mix it clever,
treason is warned off forever.

-- Verse printed on a patriotic envelope in 1861 [1]

Abraham Lincoln had scarcely arrived in Washington to await his inauguration when an advertisement appeared on the front page of the New York Herald. Using the iteration copy popular at the time, the notice read:

PRESIDENT LINCOLN (re-peated three times); DID YOU SEE HIM? (repeated four times); DID YOU SEE HIS WHISKERS? (three times); RAISED IN SIX WEEKS BY THE USE OF (only once); BELLINGHAM'S ONGUENT (six times). [2]

Lincoln's new beard was fair game for the advertiser, even if Dr. C. P. Bellingham stretched the truth until it broke in claim-ing credit for it. It was nothing new, of course, for an American nostrum maker to stretch the truth, nor was there any novelty in an advertisement that linked a patent medicine with the news of the hour. Henry Raymond, the founder of the Herald's rival, the Times, had in his salad days earned fifty cents a morning by composing little squibs conjoining the day's most titillating headlines with a certain vegetable pill. The vogue had continued, and it was to be one of the Civil War's significant contributions to patent medicine promotion that it provided an abundance of dramatic incidents to tie in to nostrum advertising [3].

Sometimes, indeed, the incidents were untrue. Two years after Bellingham grew Lincoln's whiskers, Philadelphians who chanced to stroll the streets were startled-and elated-to spy bold headlines on a handbill which a newsboy was distributing. "GREAT EXCITEMENT IN South Carolina!" the massive type read, "BEAUREGARD A PRISONER!" Hurrying to get a copy, the ardent Unionist had his hopes dashed. There was, he discovered, small type hidden amid the large, and when the whole message was perused, the news was of markedly different import:

"GREAT EXCITEMENT IN South Carolina! Was being caused before the war by the wonderful cures of Bronchitis, Asthma, Sore Throat, Consumption, &c., &c., effected by Wishart's Pine Tree Tar Cordial, in and around Charleston. BEAUREGARD himself might as well be A PRISONER! as to be confined with a distressing Cough or Sore Throat and not be able to obtain Wishart's Cordial." [4]

Human nature is capricious: people might resent the deception in Wishart's fake poster and still go to the drugstore to buy his medicine.

The Civil War, such an overwhelming event in the total fabric of American life, was certain to have tremendous influence on all the separate threads. Such was the case with that slender -- albeit gaudy -- thread of medical quackery. There was a gloomy note. Northern nostrum makers did lose their Southern markets, (They were sometimes tardy in admitting it: two months after the firing on Fort Sumter, the J. C. Ayer & Co. was still citing for Union readers the high praise bestowed upon their Sarsaparilla by Confederate mayors, including the chief executive of Montgomery, the first capital of the Confederacy.) [5] Yet there was no excess of grief. The lost markets would in time return, and meanwhile there were new Northern fish to fry.

The Civil War gave nostrum makers a chance to display their patriotism. See's Army Liniment was introduced, and The Union Hair Restorative was marketed, complete with slogan, "Pro Bono Publico!" Holloway's Pills issued a poster showing a blue-clad officer hurrying a box of the remedy to a sergeant who was so that this remedy for diarrhea might be known to "those noble ministering unto a languishing private [6].

Brandreth's Pills went swiftly into battle, anxious to cure "THE PREVAILING DIFFICULTY" for "SOLDIERS, SAILORS, AND THE PUBLIC." "Sixty Voices from Army of Potomac" gladly testified that the Pills "protect from the arrows of disease, usually as fatal to Soldiers as the bullets of the foe." This was the major way in which the medicine men enlisted in the ranks, by preventing or curing the many ills that afflicted the brave men who fought the battles. The farther South the armies got, the graver were the hazards, the greater the need of protective medication. "TO ARM! TO ARMS!!-" warned Holloway in 1864, "THE CITIZEN Soldier will find a more deadly foe in the brackish, muddy water and damp night air, than in the most determined enemy." But the Pills would "so purify the blood and strengthen the stomach and bowels that the soldier" could "endure these hard-ships and still be strong and healthy." Likewise, Hostetter's Bitters were "a positive protective against the fatal maladies of the Southern swamps, and the poisonous tendency of the impure rivers and bayous." The Hostetter firm, indeed, pleaded with the Surgeon-General to give the Bitters a trial in army hospitals [7].

In advertising aimed at the armies, the constant promise that various remedies could cure diarrhea and dysentery showed that the nostrum makers were in touch with the hard truth. Soldier letters and diaries, as well as official medical records, make it abundantly clear that bowel complaints were the most prevalent ailment among Billy Yanks and caused the most deaths. There was much self-treatment, and it is certain that harsh laxatives must have aggravated many a simple disorder into a health disaster. Nonetheless, many soldiers recovered from their dysenteric ailments, and some naturally assumed that the nostrums they had taken deserved the credit. Thus the patent medicine makers did not lack for military testimonials. An officer in the Shenan-doah Valley considered Hostetter's Bitters "The Soldier's Safe-guard." 'Whole battalions, one would guess, praised Brandreth's Pills. Piper's Magical Elixir gathered testimony into a pamphlet so that this remedy for diarrhea might be known to "those noble braves, so many of whom have fallen a prey to disease at the Seat of War." And so it went [8].

The war theme was used in devious ways by patent medicine promoters. Morse's Indian Root Pills were advertised on the back of facsimile Confederate currency. Drake's Plantation Bitters embossed a message on the mica covering the face of encased postage stamps which, because of the scarcity of metals, were issued in place of small change. Dr. Clarke of Chicago distributed a card containing the woeful ballad of a dying soldier, "Mother, Is the Battle Over?"; on the reverse was a pitch for the doctor's contraceptives and remedy for male weakness. There seemed no limit to which patent medicine men at the North would not go in linking their nostrums to the war [9].

Confederate patent medicine advertising was much less flam-boyant. Many papers continued to run advertisements for North-ern remedies long after the firing on Fort Sumter. By 1862 these had largely-though not entirely-disappeared, and the ads for Confederate remedies which replaced them were both less fre-quent and less patriotic. A Charleston drug concern announced that it had the Memphis-made Cherokee Remedy and other "SOUTHERN PREPARATIONS" for sale at the Sign of the Negro and the Golden Mortar. In Augusta, the makers of Broom's Anti-Hydropic Tincture used bold type to proclaim: "DROPSY CURED! NO YANKEE HUMBUG!" A Nashville-made Ambrosial Oil was marketed which could cure thirty-eight specified human ail-ments, not to mention ten equine ones. Early in 1865 an Augusta concern reflected the poignant rather than the patriotic side of war by advertising the locally made "Dennis' Compound Dog-wood Bitters a Substitute for Quinine." Many Confederate papers in the middle and last years of the war included in their shrunken advertising columns no pills or potions whatever [10].

When the fighting was over, Hostetter's Bitters -- up North -- was ready for the new day. "Peace Hath Its Victories" also, an ad announced, and one of them was the Hostetter ability to con-quer disease. Demobilization had many aspects, one of them pictured on a poster for T. M. Sharp's Positive Cure for Dyspepsia. A soldier is telling an ailing civilian that Sharp's remedy will work, and the scene is not a military camp but a comfortably furnished living room. Thousands of soldiers were returning to their homes, many of them having used under field conditions the patent medicines which they and their families would henceforth employ. Habit has always been a powerful force in medicine buying [11].

In addition to acquainting soldiers with various brands of pills and potions, the war helped the remedy manufacturers in another way. Thousands of soldiers returned to civilian life with ruined digestions, malaria, wounds, emotional disturbances, and other ailments that were to cause them trouble for the rest of their lives. Nostrum makers were not unaware of this. Thirty years after Appomattox the Dr. Williams Medicine Company, maker of Pink Pills for Pale People, aimed a pamphlet at the old boys in blue. "Out of the 1,000,000 men mustered out in '65," the message began, "only about 500,000 are now alive." Why this halving of the noble ranks? "Exposure, miasma, bad food, hardships of every description-these and not the bullets are responsible for the extremely rapid death-rate among the vet-erans." "It is not alone those who were wounded who deserve our sympathy," asserted the Pink Pill pamphleteer, "it is that great majority WHO WERE NOT, but who contracted the seeds of dis-ease in Southern swamps and prisons, and who have as a consequence lost their health before their time [12].

Not all the illnesses of aging veterans were a legacy of war, but there was enough truth in Dr. Williams' allegations to make his appeal persuasive. Many old soldiers with aches and pains helped nostrum makers maintain their volume of production. One of these was Henry Farrar, who was growing deaf. His "Beloved Bugle," which had led Union troops on many a victorious assault, he could no longer hear, and this distressed him greatly. At last he learned of a certain remedy for deafness. He tried it. His hearing was restored. In gratitude he gave the nostrum company not only a testimonial but a photograph. Farrar's bearded por-trait, replete with G.A.R. insignia, medal's, and Union army hat, adorned an advertisement that appeared in papers throughout the Northern states [13].

But what of the South? Did not aging men grow deaf there as well? From the pages of the Southern press the same Henry Farrar spoke forth. Here he was not "a Civil War veteran" but a "Veteran Musician." His "Beloved Bugle" had been transformed into a "Beloved Cornet," which, rather than leading "troops to many a victory," had merely "helped in his career." He had nonetheless grown deaf, been cured, and gratefully provided a por-trait to gaze out at ex-Confederates, still bearded, but deprived of insignia, medals, and hat.

Northern patent medicine merchants were glad to get their Southern markets back. They might wave the bloody shirt at home, but they were not averse to catching a Southern reader's eye with the cut of a man bearing a distinct resemblance to "Stonewall" Jackson. The year 1865 was not yet over before a Charleston druggist was shipping the roots of Southern plants to Massachusetts in payment for the various packaged remedies of J. C. Ayer. The next year a Columbia, South Carolina, editor complained that Southern publishers were giving advertising space at cut rates to "patent blood-suckers" manufactured by Yankee concerns [14].

The postwar South offered a promising market for patent medicines. Confederate troops had suffered no less than Union troops from the crippling impact of illness, and wartime depriva-tions had undermined health on the home front. Poverty was well-nigh universal, and with it diseases that come from inadequate diet. The warmer Southern climate caused a higher inci-dence of malaria and yellow fever, and half the children were afflicted with hookworm. Rural life was often drab, boring, and fraught with anxiety. Circumstances were most propitious for a Southern response to the kind of appeals stridently asserted in nostrum advertising. To be sure, people were sometimes too poor even to afford a bottle of tonic. When cotton prices were low, the volume of nostrum sales fell off. It was at the time that crops were sold and settlement made with wage laborers, white and Negro, that nostrum peddlers chose to invade rural areas [15].

For decades before the war, Northern nostrums had been advertised to slave owners through the Southern press as being especially efficacious for illnesses common to slaves. The maker of Lee's New-London Pills, for example, at the very start of his career, advised that "Owners of plantations will find them the most useful Domestic Medicine of any extant." The psychology behind an 1844 advertisement for Thomsonian medicines is obvious: "Diseased servants purchased, and a liberal price given for such as are considered incurable." Many a Negro must have carried the nostrum habit from slavery to freedom. The feeling continued that Negroes, because of their poverty and lack of education, afforded an excellent market for the quack. [16].

Ayer's Sarsaparilla continued to flow southward from the North, but the New South did try to shake off colonial subserv-ience. Cathartics are easier to produce than textiles, and num-erous nostrum plants sprang up. In Atlanta there were Tanlac, Baby Ease, and Bradfield's Female Regulator; there were S.S.S. and B.B.B.-Swift's Sure Specific and Botanic Blood Balm -- -Savannah had her P.P.P.: Prickly Ash, Poke Root, and Potas-sium. Up in Chattanooga, two Union Army veterans bought some antebellum Southern formulas and parlayed them into fortunes still on the rise: Black Draught and Wine of Cardui. Some of these remedies dosed not only the ex-Confederacy but invaded the North. Wine of Cardui fought Lydia Pinkham on her home ground. From New Orleans, Dr. Tichenor's Antiseptic Refrigerant, "for cuts, bruises, sprains, superficial burns, sun-burn and mouth wash," carried -- still carries -- on its label to Yankee drugstores the Stars and Bars [17].

The impact of the Civil War on themes for advertising and on the health of soldiers and civilians was of great importance to those who would vend remedies. Of equal significance to the medicine man was the spur which the war gave to the media by which he reached his potential customers. In journalism and advertising, the Civil War launched a revolution. The craving for news from the fighting fronts enlarged the size of daily papers and inflated their circulations. The Sunday edition was born. Pressure for newsprint hastened the discovery of wood pulp paper, introduced in the seventies. Cotton rag newsprint had cost 24 cents a pound in 1862; wood pulp newsprint cost 2 cents a pound in 1900. As the price fell, newspaper size and advertising volume expanded more and more. Wartime shortages of labor and materials affected the rural weekly too. The "patent inside" or readyprint industry was created to furnish small country newspapers with sheets of newsprint already half filled with reading matter and advertising. The war years also saw the real beginning of magazine advertising. During the year 1860, for every person in the United States, there had been issued 29.5 copies of daily, weekly, and monthly periodicals. As a result of the revolution launched by the war, the figure had grown to 107.5 by 1900. In almost every case each separate issue was larger in size [18].

More and bigger periodicals obviously offered the maker of remedies more chances to confront his potential customers. With more elbow room, he could exercise his creative talents with greater imagination. Small type cramped tightly together began to give way to larger type and more white space. Technical improvements in printing multiplied, including the introduction of photoengraving. Printing quality improved. Color work was introduced into magazines. In 1900 an expert could remark that never before had the volume of advertising pamphlets been so large and attractive. Two generations earlier, he said, "modest and ugly circulars, leaflets, and handbills" had been the rule, but now advertisers were demanding "the most beautiful products of the press." [19]

With the boom in journalism, in the war years and after, the advertising agency, an antebellum infant, passed through a stormy adolescence. Nostrums, as one executive put it, provided the "backbone" of the typical agency's business. At first the sole function of these concerns was to take advertising copy written in the office of the proprietor and place it in newspapers and magazines. Later the nostrum copy came to be drafted by the agency's own staff. In the 1890's, medical advertising "offered the ad-writer his greatest opportunity," wrote Claude Hopkins, who had been through that mill, and "the greatest advertising men of my day were schooled in the medicine field." The train-ing was rugged but indispensable, he felt. Nostrum copy provided "the supreme test" of a writer's ability, since "Medicines were worthless merchandise until a demand was created." Sometimes medicine proprietors paid a similar tribute to the magic of skillful promotion. "I can advertise dish water, and sell it, just as well as an article of merit," one of them boasted. "It is all in the advertising [20].

Such cocksureness was all very well, but there was chance as well as calculation involved in achieving notable success in the nostrum game. The vigorous George Presbury Rowell, who pioneered many of the rules of advertising agency practice, sought to put all of his special know-how to work in the creation of a patent medicine. He did not belong to the dish-water school, wanting instead a remedy that had some therapeutic merit. Through a medical student, Rowell learned about a mixture which doctors over the years had been prescribing for upset stomachs and whenever a medicine seemed called for on general principles. Since dyspepsia continued at the forefront of American ailments, in climates cold and warm, in summer and winter, such a formula suited Rowell's purpose. The ingredients were capable of being compressed into tablets by machines recently introduced to the pharmaceutical industry, thus assuring other qualities Rowell desired in his remedy. The tablets were light and could be shipped cheaply by mail. Since no liquid was in-volved, there need be no alcohol and no possible encounter with the temperance forces. Also there was no risk of broken bottles, evaporation, or freezing [21].

Rowell canvassed a variety of possibilities in search of a name for his product, and finally decided to create one from the initial letters of the names of the ingredients. Since these were rhubarb, ipecac, peppermint, aloes, nux vomica, and soda, the result was RIPANS. Instead of terming his pellets tablets, Rowell coined an arbitrary word that was similar but distinctive. The advertising agent set about promoting Ripans Tabules. He had ample adver-tising space he had contracted for but had not been able to unload, mostly in poorer newspapers. Into this space he crowded messages remarking the merit of the first patent medicine put up in tablet form, the first patent medicine to be sold for a nickel. Row-ell's copy emphasized how Ripans Tabules would benefit dyspepsia and illnesses from a disordered stomach. He had determined, so he said, to avoid objectionable or suggestive phrases in his advertising. But he was not above exaggeration. "Wanted-," read one ad, "a case of bad health that R-I-P-A-N-S will not benefit .... No matter what's the matter, one will do you good. They banish pain, induce sleep, prolong life." [22]

Ripans did not gain the popularity on which their inventor had counted. The first year, in exchange for $125,000 worth of news-paper space, the tabules netted $976.48, not enough to cover the cost of electrotypes and the postage involved in handling the advertising. Not until the fifth year did sales amount to $2,000 in any single month. At the end of a decade, total retail sales had not yet reached $3,000,000, although 50,000 people were buying a package every day in the year and the venture could be considered a moderate success. "All of which goes to show," Rowell concluded, "that making money in the patent medicine trade is by no means as easy as 'rolling off a log.'"

Those wise in the ways of the nostrum world agreed. Com-petition was so keen, business methods so complicated in the postwar era, that it was much harder to make a nostrum fortune than it once had been. One old hand estimated that only two per cent of the remedies launched on the market in New York won any degree of success at all. A critic was convinced that not more than fifty proprietors in the last two decades of the 19th century had made fortunes exceeding $100,000, and not more than a dozen men had become millionaires. Multitudes of aspiring medicine men never got a firm grip on even the first rung of the ladder of success. Their deplorable, pathetic lot was revealed in the incoming correspondence of the Department of Agriculture in the days following the enactment of the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906. From unheard-of villages all over the nation came bewildered letters wondering what the law was all about. Some letters did not have printed letterheads, many were written awk-wardly both as to penmanship and grammar, their authors next to illiterate and yet anxious to prescribe for the most serious ailments of mankind [23].

Even among the more sophisticated patent medicine vendors, a good many bankruptcies occurred, one reason for advertising agencies' acquiring the ownership of nostrums. Indeed, the ex-pense of advertising was a fundamental reason for the failure of many aspiring entrepreneurs. The public seemed unwilling to try a new remedy until after a shrewd and protracted campaign to bring it to their attention. In the eighties, one authority said, it took $50,000 to create a demand. By the beginning of the new century it was several times more costly. The owners of one firm admitted that they had spent $250,000 in advertising charges before the income from sales even paid for the bottles and wrappers [24].

A miracle did sometimes happen. A man in St. Louis, pos-sessed of $3,000 and a tasteless malaria powder, built up a fortune of $2,000,000 in six years. A comedian with a stock company, which went broke ­ appropriately -- in Peoria, earned his way back to New York selling liver pads of his own devising. He did so well that he put all of his energies into marketing this therapeutic product, and when he next returned to show business it was to finance a dozen minstrel shows. "But, of course," said the New York nostrum king who was telling the story, "he was one of ten thousand." Rowell, whose promotion of Ripans had been a qualified triumph, agreed. "The chances of success. . ." he wrote, "are now so remote that he is either a bold or an imprudent man who ventures at the present day upon the intro-duction of a new remedy by means of advertising." [25]

For those in the big time, advertising budgets became gigantic. In prewar days, Benjamin Brandreth had awed his rivals by achieving a total annual advertising outlay of $100,000. In the closing years of the century, many major proprietors spent double, quadruple, six times this sum. To carry the messages of Scott's Emulsion and Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound to the American people required the expenditure in behalf of each remedy of about $1,000,000 a year. Many small newspaper offices possessed no cut of a woman's face except that of Lydia's maternal countenance, which occasionally was shifted from an advertising to a news column to do double duty as Queen Victoria [26].

To spend sums of this magnitude cost the proprietors and their advertising agents considerable ingenuity. Much of the money went to regular newspapers and to the less high-toned weekly and monthly periodicals. There were scores of journals catering to special interests. Farm papers offered the nostrum advertiser a promising medium. So too did religious journals: nearly 1,000 were published, and comparatively few excluded patent medicine advertising. Some of the more parochial of these organs were so small and so remote that it seems amazing that the advertising agent, even with all his vaunted persistence, was able to ferret them out. Often, of course, the hunting went in the other direc-tion, with editors making advertisers aware of their existence. The results were sometimes amusing, if in a grim sort of way. The Christian Sun, selling space to a "doctor" with a "positive cure" for "Nervous Debility, Stricture, . . . diseases of women and . . . private diseases of men," was published on the campus of a North Carolina sectarian college. In the same column of the Cincinnati Lookout for Christ and the Church were notices for the sale of Stuart's Calcium Wafers, a book on the recantation of Thomas Paine, and preachers' baptismal trousers at $13.50 a pair [27].

Public attention was assaulted by hundreds of other weapons employed by the nostrum maker. There were the ubiquitous almanacs, and the omnipresent roadside signs [28]. There were joke-books, cook-books, coloring books, song-books, and dream-books. There were handbill ballads, like "Nellie and Her Lover" for Bliss Cough Syrup, and "The Musquitoe's Lament" for Perkins' Infallible Aromatic and Disinfecting Pastile. The Rob-ber's Roost; or, Last Victim, boosting Herrick's Sugar Coated Pills, was a rip-roaring paperback tale set west of the Mississippi with lots of gunfire and a gal. In issuing a Moral Story, the makers of Hood's Sarsaparilla had perhaps an even better idea, for it was very like a Sunday School paper. At the other extreme was the suggestive pamphlet with titillating title, Married at Last, circulated by a consumption cure. There were pill-filled paper weights and decorated porcelain: Mrs. Grover Cleveland appeared on a china platter advertising a kidney and liver cure. Thousands of small cards were brought out in series, and the collector had his choice of dozens of themes, sentimental, athletic, poignant, comic, historical, floral, biographical, or even combinations, like the amusing caricatures of baseball players who "played" for Merchant's Gargling Oil of Brockport, New York. (In nearby Rochester a real baseball club, the Hop Bitters, contested in the National Association. ) [29]

Nostrum literature was piled on the counters of drugstores and country general stores. It was delivered to the doorstep of the home. It was sent through the mail, sometimes to special lists of addresses secured from storekeepers and clergymen, some-times "run through the post office into every man's box." The patent medicine message might be encountered in mail order catalogs and in the back pages of new novels. Perhaps it was only in fiction that the nostrum gospel reached the end sheets and flyleaves of hotel Bibles, but one is tempted to wonder [30]

The greater abundance of promotional media in postwar America was accompanied by a greater complexity of marketing. Not only had the advertising agency grown up to specialize in one aspect of the selling function. Prewar distribution patterns also became more elaborate. During the 1850's a drugstore in Springfield, Illinois, at which Lincoln occasionally traded, bought a major share of the medicines it sold directly from the remedy manufacturers, ordering by mail or through the company drummer. There were large jobbers in Chicago and New York who sold the store nostrums of many brands, and for some patent medicines the Springfield house acted as a wholesaler for small country stores within its area. Farther west, where railroads were scarcer, some medicine makers distributed their stock in gaudy wagons, often pulled by four horses, and it was not unusual to find the agents exchanging new stock for old and then tossing the outmoded bottles in the nearest creek.'

After the war old methods did not die out completely, but the balance shifted. There was still direct selling by the "gentlemanly agents" of the big manufacturers, "with their little satchels, their regalia cigars, and a bland smile." There was still the practice of placing goods on commission, with accounts to be rendered in six months or a year. There were still instances in which makers set no retail price, letting the local merchant charge what the traffic would bear. But as the postwar years unfolded, the role of the middle man increased in importance. Retail druggists got more and more of their stock from whole-sale drug houses. The terms were more often cash. Most retail druggists, complained one of their number in 1881, had about $800 worth of nostrums in stock which they could neither return nor sell. Almost all manufacturers set the price which retailers should charge per box or bottle. The major problem for manufacturer, wholesaler, and most retail druggists seemed to become how a standard price might be safeguarded against the unscrupulous few who set out to cut it [32].

Indeed, the matter of price was a major factor spurring the drug industry to imitate other branches of the American economy in forming combinations for the protection and promotion of common interests. All three levels -- retailing, wholesaling, and manufacturing -- formed trade associations, and from the early 1880's onward for decades, the leaders of these nationwide organizations strove to perfect a plan by which prices of pro-prietary remedies could be stabilized. One scheme after another was attempted, only to fail because of inadequate methods of control or adverse court decisions [33].

The Civil War, once again, lay behind the creation of the trade association among major manufacturers of proprietary remedies. In 1861, faced with the enormous cost of armed conflict, Congress began to consider methods of raising money. Among the host of special taxes suggested was one on patent medicines. From New York City, four leading remedy manu-facturers, headed by Frederick H. Humphreys of the Humphreys Homeopathic Medicine Company, went to Washington to protest the imminent action. Their journey was in vain. Thaddeus Stevens, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told them, as Humphreys reported it: "Gentlemen, you must respond. The country is in peril. We must have money. When this exigency is past, your showing will be considered." [34]

Twenty years later the exigency was long since past, but the four per cent tax on the retail price of all proprietary medicines still hung on. Individual protests had been made by medicine manufacturers who felt it unjust to tax the people's right of self--dosage, at least in time of peace. But these had come to nought. To a group of leading proprietors, again including Humphreys, who met informally from time to time in New York, organized pressure seemed to offer greater hope of success. During November 1881, in the office of Charles Crittenton, there was established The Proprietary Medicine Manufacturers and Dealers Association. Immediately they sent off a memorial to Congress urging repeal of the tax. In March 1883 the deed was done.

Fifteen years later another war brought another tax. Treasury officials wanted the rate set again at four per cent, as in the Civil War. The medicine manufacturers were now in a better organ-ized condition than they then had been to argue the point. Proprietary Association officers suggested that one per cent would be a fairer rate. And "it was through our efforts," the treasurer asserted, "that a compromise [of two-and-a-half per cent] was finally effected." Nor did this revenue measure hang on so long after the cessation of hostilities [35].

Right from the start the growing trade association had other duties to perform. It represented the manufacturers in the pro-tracted and vain attempts with wholesalers and retailers to stabilize nostrum prices. It vented its wrath on certain drug journals that printed formulas purporting to be those of remedies made by Association members. It sought to restrict the infringe-ment of trade-marks and the counterfeiting of labels. It lobbied against a tax on grain alcohol used in manufacturing and the arts. It took quick and decisive action whenever any measure restrictive of patent medicines was even hinted at in the corridors of state legislatures or the national Congress [36].

The assembling of the major remedy manufacturers into the Proprietary Association was one form of consolidation that achieved one kind of bigness. Another sort of bigness through consolidation was also evident in the patent medicine industry, as it was in most of the American economy, during the postwar world. Not all the nostrum fortunes made during the late 19th century were a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that began with a poor man and his recipe. Many of the leaders of the Proprietary Association had never mixed a formula. They were promoters who bought and sold medicines as other men might buy and sell mills or railroads. One of the earliest of these entrepreneurs, who also dabbled in gold mines of a more literal kind, was Demas Barnes. Among the remedies in which he was interested were Castoria and Plantation Bitters. A St. Louis entrepreneur, James Ballard, not only produced patent medicines under his own name -- including a remedy named Campho-Phenique -- but he acquired the rights to other nostrums which had established themselves in public favor under different pro-prietorship. One was that hardy veteran, Swaim's Panacea. The first president of the Proprietary Association, Charles Crittenton, in whose New York office the organization had been born, was a merchant-manufacturer of similar stamp. Indeed, he was the largest dealer in the country for a while, keeping 12,000 pro-prietary articles in stock, and constantly acquiring and launch-ing new brands of his own. It was he who had given Lydia Pinkham her first major boost [37].

In the new day of ever bigger business, the small-time operator found the going hard. Yet the would-be maker of medicines was better off than the beginner in petroleum or steel. Costs of raw products were scarcely higher than before the war, even if promotion was both more expensive and more complex. Certainly recipes were as cheap as ever. Hundreds of hopeful men and women kept coming to the market with their wares. The number of nostrums, it seemed, was almost as "formidable as were the frogs of Egypt." In 1905 a leading drug trade journal listed the names of over 28,000, and the next year a witness before a Congressional committee estimated that there were 50,000 patent medicines made and sold in the United States. If the giants were few, the pygmies still were many. Although only an infinitesimal percentage of this staggering effort to dose the American public ever got into any one drug-store, the problem was enough to make a druggist groan. As early as 1872 one apothecary felt assailed by an "epidemic" of patent medicines, and a decade later a fellow-spirit tore his hair and wailed: "Oh, for the return to the good old days of past years, when 'patent medicines' comprised less than a dozen articles." [38]

All in all, the skillful patent medicine proprietor, ever agile at turning environmental currents to his advantage, floated to a new prosperity on the great flood loosed by the war. He even managed, indeed, as we shall see, to turn contrary medical developments to his account. Wrapped in the flag -- in time, in both flags -- he catered to the troops, followed them home, and stayed for years. Lest they forget him, lest anyone forget him, the nostrum maker stepped up his advertising in the war-swollen press and turned to that new specialist, the advertising agent, to help him write and place his copy. He combined with his fellows to eliminate a hampering wartime tax and to take other crucial steps for the benefit of the trade. He opened up an export market that carried American nostrums over the seven seas and dwarfed in volume the English sales of Perkins' tractors a million-fold [39].

On the eve of the war, in 1859, the proprietary medicine industry had an output valued in census figures at $3,500,000. By 1904 the sum had multiplied by more than twenty times. An observer reckoned that the value of cocoa and chocolate, black-ing and bluing, flavoring extracts and axle grease, beet sugar and glue, castor oil and lard, kindling wood and cosmetics, could all be added together, and still the total sum would not bulk so large as the $74,500,000 which was the manufactured value of American patent medicines. At retail prices, the nostrum-taking American public paid many millions more [40].

Abraham Lincoln's beard had grown a long way.


  1. Prints and Photographs Div., Library of Congress.
  2. Feb. 26, 186 1.
  3. Francis Brown, Raymond of the Times (N.Y., 1951), 22.
  4. Rare Book Div., Library of Congress.
  5. Frederick [Md.] Republican Citizen, July 12, 1861. (Aug. 2, 1862), 50; Wilkes' Spirit of the Times, Oct. 29, 1864.
  6. See and Holloway posters, Prints and Photographs Div., Library of Con- I gress; Union broadside, National Library of Medicine, Washington.
  7. Harper's Wkly., 7 (1863), 270, 414, and 8 (1864), 30; Vanity Fair, 6 (Aug. 2, 1862), 50; Wilkes' Spirit of the Times, Oct. 29, 1864.
  8. Bell I. Wiley, The Life of Billy Tank (Indianapolis, 1951), 136; Harper's Wkly., 7 (1863), 414, and 8 (1864), 30; Piper's pamphlet, Rare Book Div., Library of Congress.
  9. Morse and Bicknell items, Belle C. Landauer Collection in the N.-Y. Hist. Soc.; Drake, Holcombe, "Private Die Proprietaries," Wkly. Philatelic Gossip, June 113, 1942, 391; Clarke card, Chicago Hist. Soc.
  10. Athens [Ga.] Southern Banner, Augusta [Ga.] Daily Constitutionalist, Charleston Daily Courier, 1861-1863 passim; Negro and mortar in ibid., Jan. 18, 1862; Broom's medicine and Ambrosial Oil in Augusta Daily Chronicle and Sentinel, Jan. 4, 1862; Augusta Daily Constitutionalist, Jan. 1, 1865.
  11. Harper's Wkly., 10 (1866), 415; Presbrey, The History and Development of Advertising, 291; Sharp poster, Prints arid Photographs Div., Library of Congress.
  12. Williams pamphlet owned by Gerald Carson, Millerton, N.Y.
  13. The Amer. Med. Assoc. issued three volumes on Nostrums and Quackery, all published in Chicago. The first volume appeared in 1911 with a 2nd ed. in 1912; the second volume, edited by Arthur J. Cramp, was published in 1921; the third volume, also edited by Cramp, was published in 1936 and bore the longer title, Nostrums and Quackery and Pseudo-Medicine. In references below, the 2nd ed. of the first volume is cited. The Henry Farrar material is at II, 119.
  14. Thomas D. Clark, The Southern Country Editor (Indianapolis, 1948), 70; John Bennett, Apothecaries' Hall, A Unique Exhibit at the Charleston Museum (Charleston, 1923), 16; Columbia [S.C.] Phoenix, June 27, 1866.
  15. Rupart B. Vance, Human Factors in Cotton Culture (Chapel Hill, 1929), 205-94; Harold U. Faulkner, The Quest for Social Justice (N.Y., 1931), 233; Thomas D. Clark, Pills, Petticoats, and Plows-, The Southern Country Store (Indianapolis, 1944), 222; Amer. Druggist and Pharm. Record, 24 (1900), 47.
  16. Savannah Columbian Museum, July 23, 1802, cited in Richard H. Shyrock, ed., Letters of Richard D. Arnold, M.D. (Papers of the Trinity College Hist. Soc., Double Series 18-19, Durham, N.C., 1929), 33n.; Richmond Whig, cited in Blanton, Medicine in Virginia in the Nineteenth Century, 195; Hearings before the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce of the House of Representatives on H.R. 13086 (Washington, 1906), 10.
  17. Presbrey, 297; James H. Thompson, Bitters Bottles (Watkins Glen, N.Y., 1947), 174; various Atlanta papers; Clark, Pills, 248; Tichenor bottle, indicat-ing label was registered in 1883, in author's collection, courtesy of Ben Vincent.
  18. Presbrey, 253; William S. Rossiter, "Printing and Publishing," 12th Census, Census Reports, 9 (Wash., 1902), 1,039-1,119; Elmo Scott Watson, A History of Newspaper Syndicates in the United States, 1865-1935 (Chicago, 1936); Clark, Southern Country Editor, 69; George B. Waidron, "What America Spends in Advertising," Chautauquan, 38 (Oct. 1903), 156.
  19. Rossiter, 1,039-1,119.
  20. Ralph M. Hower, The History of an Advertising Agency: N. W. Ayer & Son at Work, 1869-1949 (revised ed., Cambridge, Mass., 1949), 44-46, 91-93; Claude C. Hopkins, My Life in Advertising (N.Y., 1927), 73; Addison Crabtre, The Funny Side of Physic (Hartford, 1874), 80.
  21. Rowell, Forty rears an Advertising Agent, 1865-1905 (N.Y., 1926), 371-80.
  22. Ibid. The quotations from ads are from the Ripans folder in the Dept. of Investigation, Amer. Med. Assoc., Chicago.
  23. Rowell, 399400; "Pushing Patent Medicine, " N.Y. Tribune, Apr. 25, 1886; H. C. Wood, "Nostrums," Jour. Amer. Med. Assoc. (hereafter, JAMA), 32 (Apr. 29, 1899), 908; Incoming Correspondence, Bureau of Chemistry, RG 97, National Archives.
  24. Hower, 91-92, 98; Druggists Circular 45 (Jan. 1901), xi.
  25. A.C. Cantley, "Some Facts about Making Patent Medicines," Chautau-quan, 27 (1898), 390; "Pushing Patent Medicine"; Rowell, 400.
  26. Presbrey, 337, 364; Hower, 91-92; Hopkins, 75-78; Scientific American, 73 (Oct. 5, 1895), 214; Jean Burton, Lydia Pinkham Is Her Name (N.Y., 1949), 230; Printer's Ink, 121 (Oct. 5, 1922), 44.
  27. Rossiter, 1,045; Presbrey, 458-61; Sun, Apr. 26, 1905, and Lookout, Jan. 24, 1903, in N.Y. Public Library.
  28. See Chapters 8 and 9.
  29. Items found in the Landauer Coil., except for the Perkins' ballad, in Rare Book Div., Library of Congress; and the Rochester baseball team, mentioned in Samuel Hopkins Adams, "That Was Rochester: To the Greater Glory of Hop Bitters," New Yorker, 28 (Aug. 23, 1952), 27-41.
  30. Clark, Pills, 106; 1899 Ayer letter to a druggist, in the Landauer Coil.; Crabtre, 86; Presbrey, 259; Boris Emmet and John E. Jeuck, Catalogues and Counters, A History of Sears, Roebuck and Company (Chicago, 1950), 102-104, 247-50; Maurice Lazar, The Late Mr. Katterby (Chicago, 1919), 42.
  31. Birchall and Owen Papers, author's collection; Cantley, 390.
  32. Amer. .Jnl. Pharm., 46 (1874), 543; Clark, Pills, 232; "Patent Panaceas," Phila. American, 2 (1881), 105-106.
  33. National Wholesale Druggists' Association From Its Organization to 1924 (N.Y., 1924); M. N. Kline, "Some Observations on the Price Cutting Problem," Amer. Druggist, 36 (1900), 188-89; Herbert B. Harding, "The History of Organization among Manufacturers and Wholesale Dealers in Proprietary Articles," ibid., 190-93. A city-level price-fixing agreement for New Haven, dated June 1, 1887, is to be found in the Yale Medical Library.
  34. Harding, 190-93; Frederick Humphreys, "Origin and History of the Associ-ation," Pharm. Era, 16 (1896), 900-905; Frank A. Blair, "The Proprietary Association, Its History Since the Founding in 1881," Standard Remedies, 19 (June 1932), 4-7, 24-26; Frederick J. Cullen, "The First Twenty-Five Years," mimeographed copy of address delivered in May 1956; interview with Dr. Cullen, then Executive Vice-President, The Proprietary Association, June, 1955. The shorter name was adopted in 1897; the Association had 84 mem-bers in 1883, 174 in 1900.
  35. Harding, 192.
  36. Amer. Druggist, 36 (1900), 306; Harding, 190-93; Standard Remedies, 1 (Feb. 1915), 3-4, and 2 (Mar. 1916), 17-18; Blair, 4-6. On the Proprietary Association and restrictive legislation, see Chapters 13 and 14.
  37. Rowell, 269, 403; Demas Barnes, From the Atlantic to the Pacific, Over-land (N.Y., 1866), 5; George H. Simmons, "Works of the Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry," Southern Med. Jnl., 8 (1915), 259-65; Swaim's bottle wrapper in author's collection; Pharm. Era, 16 (1896), 968-70; Burton, 123-25.
  38. William Brewer, "Reminiscences of an Old Pharmacist," Pharm. Record, 4 (1884), 326; Philip L. Allen, "Dosing the Public as a Business," Leslie's Monthly Mag., cited in Druggists Circular, 49 (1905), 124; Hearings before the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce . . . on H.R. 13086, 7; Amer. Jnl. Pharin., 44 (1872), 535, and 51 (1884), 651.
  39. Files of drug journals like the Amer. Druggist and Pharm. Record frequently report foreign opportunities.
  40. 13th Census, 8 (Manufactures, 1909), 452; Allen, 123.

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