"The advertising quack . . . is the black wolf, aye, the Bengal tiger of the profession .... He is full of shrewdness and cunning, and knows poor, weak human nature like a book.
-- Dr. Willis P. King, 188 2
The next stage in the narrative of patent medicines in America concerns an expanding criticism that leads to restrictive laws. Before turning to these events, let us pause for some analysis. The psychology of patent medicine advertising is important because of both its priority and its variety.
Nostrum manufacturers turned to ingenious advertising before other manufacturers did because they had to. So long as the demand for a product exceeded the supply, as David Potter has pointed out, the role of advertising could be simple and unso-phisticated . Retailers could insert into newspapers the simple message: "Here it is. Come and get it." Customers would hurry to the store. Manufacturers, disposing of their output easily, had no need to go to the expense of advertising and of differentiating their products from those of other producers making the same things. Not until the amazing development of manufacturing capacity brought supply abreast of demand, in the decades following the Civil War, were most American producers really confronted with the problem of competitive selling in an economy of abundance. Then those who processed food and made soap and manufactured bicycles began to take lessons from the remedy vendor.
The medicine man had something to teach because he had operated in an economy of abundance almost from the start. Since sickness was well-nigh universal, the demand for his wares was potentially inexhaustible. But then, so also was the supply. At least from the days of the four Lees and Thomas Dyott, American production of proprietary remedies was off to a fast start. There was no end to the variety and quantity of ingredients available, and there were soon more pills and potions than Americans could swallow conveniently. The medicine man's key task quickly became not production but sales, the job of persuading ailing citizens to buy his particular brand from among the hun-dreds offered. Whether unscrupulous or self-deluded, nostrum makers set about this task with cleverness and zeal.
Another reason for pioneering by patent medicine promoters in the psychology of advertising lay in the goal of the customers. They wanted to regain or to preserve their health. Problems relating to disease are complex, and the thinking about them in the 19th century was extremely confused. There was more to the matter than whether a hat fit or an axe cut. These circumstances gave the remedy maker plenty of elbow room for subtlety.
Many examples of the remedy promoter's ingenuity have been cited in the preceding pages. Here the purpose is to present in a systematic way the pattern of appeals made to would-be customers, as that pattern emerges from a study of the nostrum advertising of more than a century. There were fads and vogues in the presentation of packaged remedies to the public, as earlier chapters reveal, yet these were often changes rung on basic themes. Certain fundamental appeals appeared over and over again.
The first requirement for success in a competitive world, as Dyott and Swaim, Brandreth and Helmbold, were quick to realize, was: Be known. Unless the identity of the product was firmly fixed in the minds of those who might buy, there was no hope. This called for lavish advertising. Patent medicine men confronted the American citizen as he read his mail, as he perused the paper, as he strolled the streets, as he traversed the countryside. They devised schemes to slip up on him unaware -- the plain envelope, the fake news story. They struck not only slyly but often. One pill was advertised thirty-seven times in the same issue of a paper. Dr. Donald Kennedy's Medical Discovery and Dr. T. Felix Gourard's complexion cure were promoted, year in and year out, without the slightest change in copy, for over forty years .
The impact of repetition was strengthened if the product name was memorable. Some proprietors turned to alliteration, and the sick could dose themselves well-nigh through the alphabet, from Burdock Blood Bitters to Swift's Sure Specific. That the names of medicines, year after year, were printed in the same distinctive type induced a feeling of familiarity. Pictorial symbols served the same function. The trade-mark, indeed, was a fixed star in a universe of flux. The ownership of medicines might change again and again, and so might the formula. The diseases for which medicines were advertised might vary over time, and sometimes even names were altered. Trade-marks, however, protected first by common law and then by federal statute, endured forever. Radway's ministering angel and Lydia Pinkham's maternal countenance were known to generations .
The would-be purchaser of any product wants assurance that it will serve the purpose for which intended. Would a remedy cure? The proprietor answered, of course, with a resounding yes. And he often added that the cure was sure, swift, and safe. In the very names of nostrums these basic traits were underlined: Dr. Sweet's Infallible Liniment, Comstock's Dead Shot Pellets, Pronto, Warner's Safe Cure . Many lines of copy were devoted to reiterating the same assurances. Merely to state, no matter how emphatically, that a remedy could cure, was not enough. The reader was a cagey customer, and he wanted proof.
The manufacturer was called upon, in one way or another, to trot out his credentials. Flamboyance of personality could be a sales asset, as the antics of Henry T. Helmbold reveal. Yet no matter how lively the promoter or how lavish his headquarters, persuasiveness has seemed to require that he stand with at least one foot planted somewhere within the broad domain of medicine.
This remedy is worthy, countless advertisements have claimed, because its proprietor is a member of one of the healing professions, a doctor, a druggist, a nurse. Many patent medicines, in truth, were made by physicians and pharmacists -- to the despair of their colleagues -- and other proprietary formulas did not vary significantly from formulas in official volumes. By no means all, however, of the packaged remedies seeking shelter under repu-table medicine's tent have had even these slim excuses for being there. The title of doctor has been appropriated, time and time again, with no justification whatever. The name and fame of noted scientists have been stolen to give the posture of greatness to the quack. Soon after Paul Ehrlich announced the discovery of salversan for treating venereal disease, a New York charlatan marketed a blood poison cure, usurping not only the German bacteriologist's name, but even his famous formula number, "606."
By many ruses have quacks sought to convince the public of
their medical respectability. "The common method of supporting
barefaced imposture at the present day. . . ," wrote Oliver
Wendell Holmes in the 1840's, "consists in trumping up 'Dispensaries,'
'Colleges of Health,' and other advertising charitable clap-traps,
which use the poor as decoy-ducks for the rich." James Morison,
in selling his Vegetable Universal Medicines in America, boasted
of his British College of Health. Even if no son of Uncle Sam
could equal the London grocer who swore in court that he had taken
18,000 of Morison's pills, still the American market was flourishing.
American nostrum makers, imitating Morison, institutionalized
themselves into medical dignity. In Philadelphia William Wright
had a North American College of Health, and in Cleveland W. H.
Libby had an Indian Medical Infirmary .
Another practice widespread among quacks was the distribution of books and pamphlets giving medical advice. Since colonial days Americans had been accustomed to consult home treatment volumes compiled by doctors and sold by apothecaries. Early in the 19th century, nostrum makers began to trespass on this field. Selling the booklets cheaply, or giving them away, proprietors followed the familiar format, listing health hazards from ague to wounds. When it came to suggested therapy, of course, something besides the customary simples was prescribed. Moffat's Medical Manual and Haas' Every Man His Own Physician are examples of the art, and in 1875 came The People's Common Sense Medical Adviser in Plain English. Published by Ray Vaughn Pierce of Buffalo, a doctor who had a Favorite Prescription and was responsible for a Golden Medical Discovery, this compilation of "common sense" was to go through a hundred editions in the course of sixty years .
Nostrum makers donned the medical mantle in other ways. They larded their advertising with quotations -- or misquotations -- from medical authorities. They simulated "The Doctor's Advice" columns in the newspapers. They buried in what appeared to be straightforward counsel on health a purportedly innocent formula, although one of the ingredients, with a high-sounding pharmacopoeial name, was really a proprietary article. They stood with the angels and shouted, in tones of loftiest medical rectitude, anathemas at the devilish quacks. In 1890 the makers of Vin Mariani mailed to doctors a pamphlet entitled "The Effrontery of Proprietary Medicine Advertisers." What at first glance looked like another professional blast at the enemy turned out to be an ingenious self-bestowed blessing upon an alcoholic concoction containing coca leaves .
Yet, in their concern for medical science, the nostrum makers displayed a curious ambivalence. While seeking to ally with it, they must at the same time condemn. While borrowing the prestige of the physician, the patent medicine men must also traduce him. While appropriating the merits of medical knowledge, they need not feel responsible for its shortcomings. Quackery, as usual, could have things both ways.
Year after year nostrum advertisers told the layman about the failings of the doctors. Wherever regular physicians were weak, lo, there the nostrum maker was strong. Their therapy was brutal, his was mild. Their treatment was costly, his was cheap. Their procedures were mysterious, his were open. Their prescriptions were in Latin, his label could be read by all. Their attack on illness was temporizing, his was quick. Their approaches were cumbersome, his were simple. Their techniques led to the grave, his never failed. Most nostrums were like Louis Goelicke's Matchless Sanative, the very "Conqueror of Physicians." 
Why, if a nostrum was as sure and swift at curing as its maker kept asserting, did not regular physicians quickly adopt it? Because doctors -- at least some of them -- did not want to cure people. They got more profit from keeping the patient sick. "Most doctors prescribe BAD-EM SALZ," its manufacturer told the public, "but some of them don't. One doctor, more honest than the rest, explained it this way: 'BAD-EM SALZ? Yes, I used to prescribe it a great deal, but I stopped. 'Why? Simply because the patients didn't come back to me. If I had kept on they would all have been taking BAD-EM SALZ and getting well without my assistance!'" 
Thus many regular physicians, as the quacks would have it, were deliberately selfish in opposing patent medicines. Others were enmeshed in the tangled coils of their stodgy profession, practicing by rote what they had learned, unable to detect a new idea when they saw one. Hence they were blind to the one dazzling new discovery that was destined to end forever the pain and suffering of disease.
Over and over again, throughout the history of patent medicines, promoters have pierced through the darkness yet enshrouding illness and come up with the perfect remedy. They have done so, often, by conceiving a completely new theory of disease, a monistic theory with a one-shot therapy, and the panacea is the medicine advertised. Benjamin Brandreth had found the root of all illness in constipation, and he sought to purge mankind to health. Dr. Donald Kennedy advanced a bloodhound theory of medicine. "My Medical Discovery," he advertised, "seldom takes hold of two people alike! Why? Because no two people have the same weak spot. Beginning at the stomach, it goes searching through the body for any hidden humor .... Perhaps it's only a little sediment left on a nerve or in a gland; the Medical Discovery slides it right along, and you find quick happiness from the first bottle. Perhaps it's a big sediment or open sore, well settled somewhere, ready to fight. The Medical Discovery begins this fight, and you think it pretty hard; but soon you thank me for making something that has reached your weak spot." 
Hundreds of similar theories have bestrewn the pathway of American pseudo-medicine, each of them a discovery "of far more reaching importance than those obtained by Koch or Pasteur"  or whatever genuine scientist held highest public esteem at the moment of bottling. The springboard for the leap to truth has not always been located within the human body, in bowel or kidney or blood. Science is a broad domain, and the nostrum man has been quick to base his monistic concept on an exciting event occurring in any of science's provinces. He has dogged the botanist's footsteps, grabbing a new plant or seeing new virtue in an old one. Tobacco and coffee, maple sugar and pineapple, asparagus and celery, are among the bounties from nature exploited by the patent medicine man. Dr. Miles' Compound Ex-tract of Tomato, a big seller in the 1830's, made catsup a sover-eign remedy for mankind's ills .
The mineral realm, too, provided the nostrum maker with happy inspirations. "So deep was the faith in iron" during the early Industrial Revolution, Lewis Mumford has written, "that it was ... a favorite form of medicine, chosen as much for its magical association with strength as for any tangible benefits." In this spirit American males were urged to overcome sexual weakness by swallowing Aromatic Lozenges of Steel. Creosote had earlier been exploited as a cure for cancer, but as a panacea it did not rank with petroleum. In the 1840's when the dark greasy liquid began to foul his salt wells, Samuel M. Kier hauled it twenty miles to Pittsburgh, poured it into bottles, and called it "THE MOST WONDERFUL REMEDY EVER DISCOVERED!" "The lame ... were made to walk -- the blind to see." Kier soon had more oil than he could handle medicinally, and he succeeded in refining some so that it would burn and cast a light. Thus he became a pioneer in an industry much greater than he could have imagined when he issued a circular praising petroleum in verse:
Elisha Perkins' metallic tractors had many heirs. The advertis-ing pages of American history abound with Magnetic Fluids and Galvanic Belts, Electric Insoles and Electro-Magnetic Wrist-Bands, plus an infinite variety of cravats, pillows, anklets, elbow pads, necklaces, head-caps, corsets, combs, and infernal machines by which magnetic entrepreneurs have tried to transmit healing potency to the ailing human frame. The young lady suffering from sick headache who sought help in the late 19th century from the Electrikure, put the shiny silver cylinder in a crock of water, moved the switch to position six, attached coin-sized discs to her wet ankle with elastic bands, and leaned back in a chair. She did not know that the green wires carried no current, that the metal cylinder was heavy from crushed rock .
The apparatus of the chemist, with its bubbling retorts and test tubes filled with bright and foaming liquids, has brought to nostrum advertising the awesome authority of the laboratory. Not only complicated formulas of the chemist's compounding, but also simplified essences of his analysis, have poured into patent medicine bottles. The basic elements of the universe itself have gone to the aid of suffering humanity. Dr. Judge's Oxy-Hydrogenated Air cured catarrh, deafness, and consumption when sucked or sniffed through a tube from the bottle in which it was confined. The National Ozone Company prepared twenty-four different remedies ranging from an ozone specific for cholera to an ozone tonic for the uterus .
Oxygen has had its tens, but radium has had its hundreds. Quick to exploit the discovery of the Curies was Dr. Rupert Wells, and even his name was fake. He called his medicine Radol, labeled it as "radium impregnated," and advertised it as a "marvelous radiotized fluid" which would cure cancer in all forms, locations, and stages. Samuel Hopkins Adams, writing in Collier's, demurred. "Radol," he said, "contains exactly as much radium as dishwater does, and is about as efficacious in cancer or consumption." The liquid was an acid solution of quinine sulphate with alcohol added, and such a product could be expected to exhibit the bluish fluorescent glow which Wells attributed to radium. Radol was eventually put out of business. But the mysterious and potent new element continued to shed its emanations into the well-filled ranks of quackery. The radium nostrums are a case example of a broader phenomenon in quackery. "For each step forward which science makes, cautiously and limited," wrote Haven Emerson, "there is a curiously distorted shadow of pseudo-science, claiming blindly that now at last the goal is reached, warping out of all proportion the added bit of knowledge." 
Botany, chemistry, and electricity have all served their turn. Yet, to the nostrum maker, science has been an even more elastic word. It has encompassed not only the genuinely new but also the old newly rediscovered. The whole realm of the exotic has been a happy hunting ground in which the adventuresome promoter has trapped alluring lore. Millions of medicine bottles have been vended on the authority of faraway places and ancient times.
The itinerant mountebank of the 1740's who persuaded colonists to buy his Chinese Stones was the honored ancestor of a host of oriental descendants. Especially in the mid-19th century, when the European powers were opening up the ancient country, did nostrums flourish bearing such names as Dr. Lin's Celestial Balm of China, Dr. Drake's Canton Chinese Hair Cream, and Carey's Chinese Catarrh Cure. The advertising and labels caught the strangeness of it all. Dr. Lin presented an exquisite engraving of a Chinese sage sitting in an elaborate chair; one servant held a parasol over his worthy head while another brought a bottle of the Balm. Dr. Drake also pictured an oriental scene, bolstered, however, with American verse:
Our distant brothers, the Chinese,
Long fam'd for their refreshing Teas,
Produce a Cream, so rich and full,
That clothes with hair the baldest skull .
(The Consul General in Shanghai gave this advice some decades later to would-be American exporters of proprietary remedies: "The favorite design for calendars [advertising patent medicines] used to be an illustration of an old classic tale, but now the Chinese prefer a girl picture either in semi-Western or Chinese dress.") 
In the meantime, however, Americans continued to be fasci-nated by the remote. While excitement was high over the depreda-tions of the Barbary pirates, Ibraham Adam Ben Ali, a Turk or (as an editor thought more likely) "some crafty native, who has assumed a Turkish name" went about selling the Incomparable Algerine Medicine for the scurvy. On the heels of the Mexican War, the Mexican Mustang Liniment became a popular product. At the same time a patent medicine man discovered the exoticism of that distant spoil of war called California. In the same year that gold was discovered in Sutter's stream, Frederick Fay sought gold through marketing a proprietary version of a California plant called Canchalagua. Soon after Commodore Perry had ended Japan's feudal isolation, an American named Grindle began to sell Japanese Life Pills, a blood purifier made from a recipe discovered -- so he said -- by a common sailor who had been cast away "upon the mysterious shores of Japan" eight years before the Commodore arrived. The Japanese Emperor was shortly to be one of the recipients of ornate boxes of Cherry Pectoral especially prepared for donation to foreign sovereigns by James C. Ayer. Other dignitaries so honored included the Sultan of Turkey, the Queen of Spain, the King of Siam, the Emperor of China, the President of Peru, and the Czar of Russia. For the armies of the Czar, Ayer added several bushels of cathartic pills .
The list of alien areas with which nostrums have been christened reads like a gazeteer. The hardy soul could dose himself around the world. What combination of diseases, howsoever dire, could hold out against such an international therapeutic arsenal as Bragg's Arctic Liniment, Hayne's Arabian Balsam, Bavarian Malt Extract, Brazilian Bitters, Carpathian Bitters, Castilian Bitters, Crimean Bitters, Kennedy's East India Bitters, Hoofiand's German Tonic, Good Hope Bitters, Hoofland's Greek Oil, Buchan's Hungarian Balsam, Wyncoop's Iceland Pectoral, Osgood's Indian Cholagogue, Mecca Compound, Peruvian Syrup, Persian Balm, Roman Eye Balsam, Redding's Russian Salve, South American Fever and Ague Remedy, Jayne's Spanish Alterative, Hart's Swedish Asthma Medicine, Tobias' Venetian Liniment, and Westphalia Stomach Bitters? 
To the ordinary American looking for a remedy to cure his aches and pains, distance seemed to lend enchantment. Sometimes the magic of the faraway was buttressed by folk beliefs to which medicine men could appeal. Everyone knew about Chinese longevity, and Dr. Lin could tout his Chinese Blood Pills by asserting that "such immense ages" resulted from purification of the blood. Everyone knew, too, that Chinese hair was long and black and beautiful, and this gave Dr. Drake a cue in promoting his Canton Chinese Hair Cream. Nor did it take much perception to get the point about Turkish Wafers, advertised with the device of star and crescent and phrases like "For Men Only / Turkish Method / The Sultans / and Harems." 
The long ago also had its mysterious appeal. Yadil was an esoteric form of garlic with a history of marvelous cures running back five and a half millennia. Almost as ancient was a Druid Ointment "handed down from . . . mystic days when Stonehenge was a busy temple." Jew David's Honey Coated Pills were imbued with the sanctity of the Holy Land. Dr. M.S. Watson's Great Invincible Birgharmi Stiff Joint Panacea had been recently rediscovered along the Nile. When, in 1880, a genuine Egyptian obelisk was erected in New York's Central Park, a new interest in Egyptology made itself evident among the nostrum makers. Vaseline put out a trade card picturing the obelisk, and Ayer's Sarsaparilla issued a pamphlet describing "A Night with Rameses II" 
The glamor of the long ago and the fascination of the faraway united in the American Indian. The Indian, to be sure, had once been both here and now. The fact that he had really contributed so bountifully of his own healing lore to the white European, enriching regular medicine (even unto today) with therapeutic plants, would in itself have prompted a whole host of imitative quacks. Yet the heyday of the Indian vogue in quackery was not to come until the red man had been pushed far to the west. People who dosed themselves with patent "Indian" remedies had never or seldom seen an Indian. If not quite so distant as a Japanese Emperor or so long gone as a Pharaoh, the Indian profited from the same sort of glamor, with a fillip of patriotism -- for he was an American -- to boot. As earlier he had been for Europeans, so now he became for non-frontier Americans, the noble savage. The romanticizing process represented in the novels of James Fenimore Cooper took place, and at about the same time, on a lower literary level, in patent medicine promotion. Unspoiled creature of Nature's original domain, the Indian was strong, virile, healthy. "The Art of Healing had its origin in the Woods," opined the author of a nostrum pamphlet, "and the Forest is still the best Medical School." From it had come Wright's Indian Vegetable Pills. Upon the wrapper was engraved a symbolical scene: a majestic Indian sat against a mighty tree and gazed across a river, on which churned a side-wheeler, toward a thriving city on the opposite shore. The gift from Nature to Civilization was made explicit, for on a banner held by the Indian were the words, "Wright's Pills." Another remedy, Southern Balm, made the same point in a different way. It pic-tured an Indian handing a healing plant to Aesculapius .
Another folk notion was used to bolster the Indian's prowess. Since the best cures for diseases native to a country are always to be found within its borders, and since venereal disease was discovered in America by the sailors of Columbus, then America must be the source of the sovereign remedy for syphilis. After centuries of search, proclaimed one nostrum maker, that blessed cure had now been found. He did not explain why, considering that the sailors had met the ailment in the West Indies, the cure was continental, discovered among "the remnant of the once powerful Cherokee."
From the 1820's onward for a century the Indian strode nobly through the American patent medicine wilderness. Hiawatha helped a hair restorative and Pocahontas blessed a bitters. Dr. Fall spent twelve years with the Creeks to discover why no Indian had ever perished of consumption. Edwin Eastman found a blood syrup among the Comanches, Texas Charley discovered a Kickapoo cure-all, and Frank Cushing pried the secret of a stomach renovator from the Zuni. (Frank, a famous ethnologist, had gone West on a Smithsonian expedition.) Besides these notable accretions to pharmacy, there were Modoc Oil, Seminole Cough Balsam, Nez Perce Catarrh Snuff, and scores more, all doubtless won for the use of white men by dint of great cunning and valor .
Indeed, the Indian vogue in the last half of the 19th century conformed to the traditions of the Wild West and often revealed itself in documents at first glance indistinguishable from dime novels about savages not always quite so noble as they once had been. Both bad Indians and good Indians peopled the pages of the adventure story The Rescue of Tula issued in 1859 . The hero of this paperback was Dr. Cunard. Son of a wealthy father, the physician had traveled throughout the world seeking cures for the ailments of men. He became fluent in more than thirty languages. He classified more than 10,000 plants in the Rocky Mountains alone. Living for years with various Indian tribes, Cunard met "unheard of perils and hardships, hoping only to benefit his race."
One day while among the Navajoes within the borders of Mexico, the doctor came upon a fearful spectacle. "An Indian girl, with her hair floating in the wind was bound to a stake, and around her was piled the fuel, soon to be lighted for her torture." Cunard was frozen by her beauty. "The chisel of Praxiteles never formed a lovelier shape, her face and form were of faultless beauty; but the crowning beauty was her eye; before its lightning glance, her tormentors (soon to be) stood abashed .... The chief of the captors begged her to be his squaw."
"Dog of a Navajoe," she replied, "I defy thee. I am the daughter of an Aztec Chief. The Eagle mates not with the thieving Hawk."
The sound of this proud voice awoke Cunard from his rigid trance just as the chief applied the torch. Casting aside botanical specimens, the doctor bounded down the mountainside, scattered the startled Navajoes, hurled aside the burning faggots, cut the binding thongs, and carried the princess to the lodge of the medicine man. Then he turned and confronted the astounded Indians.
"It was well that he did so." For the amazed quiet produced by his bold action had ebbed, and the chief was already fitting an arrow to his bow.
"I demand her for my squaw," Dr. Cunard cried. "The Great Spirit has said it, and I say to you, that if you dare refuse, tomorrow you shall see sudden darkness come at noon-day, and the sun shall change to blood -- nay, for a sign that I speak truly, the great sun shall be darkened tomorrow, whether you consent or not. Then keep the girl but twenty-four hours unharmed, and if it does not happen as I say, commit us both to the flames; but if it does so come about, know ye me as the 'Benisontan,' the Great Judge of the pale faces, over whom the 'Manitou' spreads his wing, and whom you cannot harm."
Cunard, of course, had perused an almanac, and when next day his prediction was borne out and his gestures seemed to restore the sun, ceremonies were held in his honor. Then Cunard and Tula set out for her home in a secluded mountain valley. Welcomed for his heroism, the doctor dwelt with the Aztecs for nearly a year. He observed that a powder dispensed by the medicine man prevented any serious sickness among members of the tribe. Begging the formula of the Sachem Tezucho as a boon for having saved his daughter, Cunard was taken in the dark of night through labyrinthine mountain passages to the aged sorceress who alone possessed the secret. Because of his courage, she yielded to his entreaties.
"[It is] a secret," the doctor cries, "that once in my possession, shall bring healing and strength upon its wings to all the world."
Deeper into the mountain must they yet go, to a gloomy cavern containing an altar bearing a golden image of the Sun. Here Cunard takes an oath never to reveal the location of the hidden valley, and here he is shown the six herbs composing the remedy and told their proper proportions. Then, bidding farewell to the last unconquered Aztecs, he departs for the East.
Cunard returns home to find his mother on her deathbed, but the miraculous herbs effect an immediate cure. The news spreads and the demand expands. The doctor cannot compound the remedy fast enough. In order that all who suffer may be healed, Cunard conveys the secret to B. L. Judson & Co., who now com-pound it as Judson's Mountain Herb Pills.
According to the pamphlet, Dr. Cunard resumes his investigations "for the cause of science and humanity." But is it too much to hope that he has really returned to Tula, the proud Aztec princess, in her secluded mountain valley, where both of them, partaking now and again of the six magic herbs, remain even now glowing with happiness and radiant with health?
The Indian as symbol for hardihood, the Chinese as symbol for longevity, are but two of many figures from history and mythology who have been called upon to vouch for patent medicines. In word and picture, the blessed name of mother has been in-voked, nor has grandmother's proverbial wisdom been neglected. The strength of the ox, the power of the elephant, the mystic potency of the unicorn, the recuperative zeal of the phoenix -- all have served their turn. Angels great and small, though mostly female, have borne glad tidings. Ben Hur has fought for kidney vigor; Ponce de Leon has promised youth's renewal; Jack has killed the Giant Constipation. Knights have gone forth to battle, sometimes with Red Cross emblazoned on their shields .
The mighty of mythology have been invoked. There was a Minerva Pill to conquer syphilis, a Juno Cordial to banish barrenness. Mars and Jupiter were also called upon. Hercules was an impartial hero, going forth to battle in many a nostrum cause besides that of William Swaim. With equal impartiality Hygeia hovered at the elbows of numerous proprietors, and Aesculapius bestowed his blessing far and wide .
As there are symbols of strength to encourage, so are there symbols of evil to frighten. A fearsome array of creatures have slithered and crept through patent medicine advertising, serpents and dragons, fantastic misshapen imps from the nightmares of the damned, even old Beelzebub himself. The demonic might be subtly suggested with mere words. Under the headline, "Reverend Imposter!!!" an advertisement for the Matchless Sanative told of a New York minister who had been ejected from his church because of improper conduct. This devil's disciple had begun the manufacture, "with his own unholy hands," of a spurious sanative, which he was employing swindling peddlers to palm off on the public. The ex-minister, moreover, had a cloven foot .
The realm of death was replete with symbols, none more awesome
than the grim reaper. Whatever dread disease he represented, the
robed skeleton, escorting his victim toward an open grave, was
a sobering figure. Tombstones stood watch, engraved with skull
and crossbones. Yet, despite the atmosphere of almost overwhelming
disaster, there still was hope. A knight stood by with sword unsheathed,
or an angel hovered ready to reach across the grave to any mortal
willing to pay a dollar for the saving remedy .
One gloomy proprietor felt impelled to ransack the caverns of the foreboding. A man is collapsed on the ground, one hand holding his stomach, the other pressed to his despairing face. He lies at the edge of a murky stream, in which crocodiles swim and from which protrudes the skull of a steer. A snake slithers along the bank amidst noxious weeds. Vultures soar overhead, and jagged lightning rends a russet sky, clouds veiling the sun. A grinning skeleton, robed and with scythe, approaches. But, be-hold, barring his path stands a sturdy maiden, her face aglow, her left arm boldly pushing death away. She is wrapped in a diaphanous robe, but her bosom and midriff are bare, and around the latter she wears Parr's English Pad .
The symbol of evil -- simple or compounded -- was only one way of frightening a customer into buying a medicine. Nostrum makers found more direct ways of confronting the layman with the grim consequences of inattention to his symptoms. Neglect might bring embarrassment, pain, moral decay, even death itself.
"Humiliating Eruptions" or foul breath could offend friends and lead to social isolation. Baldness could shatter prestige. "How strangely," began an ad for Aldridge's Balm of Columbia, "the loss of ... [the hair] changes the countenance, and prematurely brings on the appearance of old age, which causes many to recoil at being uncovered, and sometimes even shun society to avoid the jests and sneers of their acquaintance." Maladies of this sort might hurt the purse; an anti-eczema treatment headlined one appeal: "Preacher Itched So He Had to Quit." Even romance might be jeopardized. Witness the poignant tale of Kate .
Diseased organs printed on a flat surface in black and white were frightening enough. In three dimensions and with color added they were worse. Profiting from such a morbid lure were anatomical museums, a quack venture that flourished in the dingier streets of cities. The New-York Museum of Anatomy issued a catalog in 1868 listing its 2,167 exhibits. "Here ... are presented," the proprietors announced, "the numerous lesions, contagions, and disorders which infect all parts of this beautiful mechanism -- maladies belonging to the skin, the muscles, the joints, the glands, and to all the internal viscera -- every disease deranging the functions, corrupting the blood, decomposing the tissues, deforming the structure and defacing the beauty of the human form divine." Along with exhibits of sickness went samples of sin, sadism, and sex to lure the curious to the wax-works show-the deformed foot of a man executed for murdering his wife and mother-in-law, the French general who lingered on awhile in agony though flayed alive, the female generative organs before and after copulation. But the main stress was upon grue-some renditions of all parts of the body ruined by disease, especially private parts ravaged by unmentionable maladies. Agents haunted the gallery to watch the spectators and exhort those who appeared shamed and stricken back behind scenes where the "doctor" waited with his high-priced "cures" 
The fear of death was preyed upon in numerous ways. Death-bed scenes pointed up the utter anguish of the earthly parting. Vivid cuts pictured men putting bullets through their brains -- in one case "the result of neglected nervousness." One ad showed a corpse sitting bolt upright in a coffin, with the legend "Killed by Catarrh!" And how much more maudlin was it possible to get than in this verse?
- Grim death has taken darling little Jerry,
- The son of Joseph and Seveva Vowels;
- Seven months he suffered with the dysentery,
- And then he perished with his little bowels.
- Perhaps was weaning little Jerry,
- His bottle seemed to hurt his stomach's tone;
- But with the angels he'll get plump and merry,
- For there's no nursing bottles where he's gone 
"Oh, what a pity," the moral is pointed, "that Mrs. Vowels did not know about CASTORIA."
"The medical ad," opined an advertising executive at the turn of the century, "which gives symptoms and tells the progressive stages of a disease, saying plainly what it will lead to if it is not checked, is the one which will produce the most effect on the ordinary mind. I believe most ailing people get a morbid satisfaction from reading vivid descriptions of the symptoms of their sickness." 
Disease may indeed lead to pain and death, but not infrequently nostrum promoters predicted these dire consequences when they were by no means the logical outcome of symptoms listed in the advertising. All back-pains did not denote kidney disease, all pimples did not signify poisoned blood, all coughs did not indicate consumption. Quacks exaggerated small symptoms and turned normal physiological phenomena into dread signs of incipient pain and death. They recognized that nearly every man is vulnerable to the power of suggestion and sought to make him sick so they could make him well. When sickness was widespread and men more than usually worried, nostrum makers worked overtime. From yellow fever epidemics in the 18th century to sieges of influenza in the 20th, promoters tied their remedies to the prevailing fear. "Scare" advertising indeed sold medicine. Now and then a healthy person, brooding over the agonized future which his symptoms foretold -- according to the quack -- turned to suicide 
It was all very well to frighten the customer, but it was also necessary to reassure him. The two moods were often combined in the before-and-after sequence, and not infrequently Miss After-Using might have luxuriant tresses whereas her alter ego, Miss Before-Using, had been bald as a billiard ball. In this field of the before-and-after, tampering with photographs was particularly rife .
Even stronger bastions for encouragement were deemed necessary. As nostrum advertisers bolstered their appeals with the magic name of science and the lure of the exotic, so they seized the symbols of patriotism. Early in the 19th century, the American eagle appeared in nostrum advertising. So too did the Stars and Stripes, until the practice was declared illegal by that same Congress whose place of meeting was represented on a bitters label. One firm printed the text of the Constitution in small type and black ink. Advertising slogans were added along the borders and run into the main body, in larger type and red ink. Thus the powers of Congress were interrupted for the message: "Pendleton's Calisaya Tonic Bitters Is used by the most delicate Females." Joined to the article on the judiciary was the counsel that the Bitters be used "for Impaired or Exhausted Vital Energy." During the Spanish-American War, a pamphlet cover displayed a sailor and a soldier flanking a man-sized bottle of Pe-Ru-Na. "The Three Safeguards of Our Country," the legend said. "The Navy protects our Country against foreign invasion, The Army protects our Country against internal Dissension, PE-RU-NA protects our Country against Catarrhal Diseases" 
Uncle Sam, after his invention, became a favorite figure in patent medicine advertising. For one proprietor he sat at a table and affixed his signature to a document which read: "This is to certify that I am using 100,000 boxes of Ex-Lax every month." 
So much for patriotism.
Religion was also a mighty fortress in which the nostrum maker took refuge. Testimonials from ministers continued to rank with those from physicians at the summit of prestige. By eating a bowl of Grape-Nuts "after my Sabbath work is done," observed one pastor, ". . . my nerves are quieted and rest and refreshing sleep are ensured me." Whether those among the clergy who had wandered farthest from the decrees of the Council of Treat were the most susceptible to quackery, as Sir William Osler postulated, might be difficult to demonstrate. Ayer's Sarsa-parilla managed to get a testimonial from the Sisters of Charity who ran St. Mary's Infant Asylum in Massachusetts. Remedies were named for St. Anne and St. Joseph, not to mention Pastor Koenig and Father John .
Failure turned to success for one proprietor when he began to tell the public that his formula had been "revealed in a provi-dential manner." Dr. Munyon, the purveyor of a kidney cure, confronted millions of Americans with his grim visage, lifted arm, and elevated finger. "If the Sign of the Cross Were to Be Destroyed," he cried, "the Next Best Sign Would Be 'The Index Finger Pointing Heavenward." Signs and symbols abounded from the religious realm. Besides angels, Eve also appeared, picking fruit in a garden. The Good Samaritan had a career that spanned the centuries. Nostrums were marketed bearing such names as Balm of Gilead, Paradise Oil, Resurrection Pills, and 666 (see Revelation 13:18). 
The Bible was often quoted. One proprietor reprinted the sermon of a noted Brooklyn divine on a text from the Proverbs (7:23): "Till a dart strike through his liver." Whenever this organ was mentioned in the sermon, Warner broke in with a plug for his Safe Cure for liver ailments .
Even the troublesome factors in religious life could be turned to account. The makers of a multi-purpose liniment called Mer-chant's Gargling Oil got out a trade card showing a grinning gorilla who boldly announced:
Drops for a full score, and Pond's Extract, "The Universal Pain Extractor," (as of 1878) for over thirty. In frontier Illinois, the purveyors of Garlegant's Balsam boasted of its success in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and New Orleans. A later proprietor issued a pamphlet suggesting an amazingly expansive therapy, Half the People in the World. This was, nonetheless, only half as encompassing as the odyssey of pain-killing circum-navigation undertaken by Perry Davis .
Potter's Vegetable Catholicon, in the 1830's, produced cures so numerous "as to preclude insertion in any newspaper." In the next decade Dr. Townsend of Sarsaparilla fame was bold enough to try. Within two years, he said, his remedy had cured over 35,000 cases of severe disease, of which at least 5,000 had been deemed incurable. Included were more than 3,000 cases of chronic rheumatism, 2,000 of dyspepsia, 5,000 of consumption, 2,000 of scrofula, 2,500 of kidney disease and dropsy, 1,500 of liver ailments, 1,000 of female complaints, 400 of general debility and want of energy, and thousands more of ulcers, erysipelas, pimples, headache, spinal afflictions, etc., etc. Countless other proprietors resorted to the overwhelming impact of huge numbers in the hope of luring individual readers to join the crowd .
Big numbers were impressive, but -- by themselves, at any rate -- they did not have the emotional impact of the individual case. The face was made to stand out in the crowd through the drama of the testimonial. President Jackson spoke well of an ointment, and Vice-President Colfax praised a throat lozenge. "Congressmen," observed a 20th-century commentator, "are notoriously easy to get, and senators by no means beyond range." Peruna managed to get out an ad naming fifty members of Congress who were voting its anti-catarrhal ticket. Doctors and ministers, authors and athletes, have testified. Yin Mariani ventured into the arts, citing compliments from Charles Gounod and Emile Zola. From the theater Edwin Booth and William Gillette, Julia Marlowe and Sarah Bernhardt -- all spoke their lines for various remedies .
Not all the testifying by the famous, to be sure, could be taken at face value. Muckraking journalists were to discover that praise might be bought, or pried from the reluctant by various shrewd ruses, some of them smacking of blackmail. Outright fakery was sometimes resorted to, with testimonials from famous men fabricated out of whole cloth. The German bacteriologist Robert Koch was one of many treated to this indignity .
The same sort of trickery was used by nostrum makers in printing praise from humble citizens. Some simply did not exist, except in the imagination of the copywriter. There was one touching tale of an old resident who had been given up by five physicians until cured by Mayr's Wonderful Remedy. This cheering narrative was sent out to newspapers all over the nation, with a headline containing a blank space in which to insert the name of the city in which the ad was run. But these extremes were not really necessary. Patent medicine men knew from the beginning that they could get all the genuine certificates of cure they needed. Testimonials could be purchased for a pittance. More often they were given free. Men and women, persuaded they had been cured, were eager to volunteer their thanks. Others among the unsung, whether or not they were quite aware of it, were looking for a boost in self-esteem, attention from the neighbors. "If your brains won't get you into the papers," advised a newspaper editor, "sign a 'patent medicine' testimonial. Maybe your kidneys will." 
Commendation from representatives of America's millions, on farm and in factory, has been much esteemed by nostrum makers. "It is generally agreed among experts," noted a newspaper writer at the beginning of the 20th century, "that nothing is more effective as a business getter than the much derided 'testimonial.' Personal statements of that kind have a tremendous influence in small communities, and those signed by plain, everyday working people are at present regarded as more valuable than the indorsement of celebrities." So it had been two centuries before with Bateman's Pectoral Drops .
With thousands of testimonials appearing in hundreds of papers, it is not surprising that now and then the same page of the same issue of the same paper should reveal both the testimonial and the obituary of the testator. More often, testimonials continued running in newspaper columns long after the satisfied users had gone to their graves .
If greater stress was placed on the authority of the other fellow in nostrum advertising, there were proprietors willing to let the reader himself be judge. Few have had courage enough to suggest so dramatic a demonstration of therapeutic merit as that proposed by the maker of Riga Balsam in 1801. "The trial of it is this," he advertised in a Savannah paper. "Take a hen, drive a nail through it's scull, brains and [t]ongue, then pour some of it into the wound it will directly stop the bleeding, cure it in 8 or 6 minutes, and it will eat as before." On the whole, advertisers wanted readers to try the medicine out not on chickens but on themselves. If the remedy did not work, money would be cheerfully refunded. As one proprietor slyly put it:
While Quacks are robbing mortal clay,
My motto is "No cure, no pay."
The money-back guarantee was a perennial pitch. Sometimes the ante was raised. The manufacturer of a hair restorer went so far as to announce that his product could grow hair on John D. Rockefeller's head or he would forfeit $1,000 .
Thus the patent medicine fraternity ran the gamut of appeals to human psychology. Critics might rant, the judicious might grieve, but the nostrum promoter pursued his wily way. "Advertisers and flourishers know perfectly well," wrote an editorialist in 1871, "that even the gravest and most cautious are to a certain extent touched by their appeals, and that even in the act of denunciation, the most careful often find themselves seduced."