Sunday, January 5, 2020

Here's to a Healthy New Year

Dr. Hartman relied heavily on bogus
"testimonials". The women in this ad
probably never used the product.
Patent medicines have been around for hundreds of years. The term refers to a "nostrum," or "remedy", obtained without a prescription. Patent medicines were heavily advertised in 19th and early 20th century newspapers, magazines, and hawked by charming, fast-talking traveling charlatans who preyed upon a sick and gullible public. Probably everyone one of us is a descendant of someone who placed his or her hopes for a cure for everything from the common cold to cancer in a magic elixir or pill. Today, some of us buy the modern-day version of a patent medicine. Do you have a bottle of Listerine in your medicine cabinet? I do.

Patent medicine inventors often called themselves "Doctor" (or at least "Professor") despite the lack of any credentials to that effect. The claims they made regarding the efficacy of their product were often ridiculous, and definitely shameful. The creation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission in the early part of the last century came about because of the need to stop the deceptive advertising, the fraudulent claims, and the occasional deaths by unintentional poisoning.

The most successful patent medicine ever marketed was made 45 miles west of Zanesville, in Columbus, Ohio. Dr. Samuel Hartman (and he really was a medical doctor) created Peruna which he claimed would cure "catarrh", a word with which our ancestors were quite familiar. Catarrh is a word we hardly hear now, but it is a real thing: the build-up of mucus, usually affecting the nose and throat. We all have suffered from this condition at some time or other. Dr. Hartman, however, told people that almost every human ailment could be attributed to catarrh. So no matter what you suffered from, Dr. Hartman, backed by hundreds of celebrity (paid) endorsements, recommended you chug down some Peruna. If you did feel better, it was probably because each bottle of Peruna was nearly one-third alcohol. And if you didn't feel better, after all that alcohol, you probably didn't care.

Some Patent Meds Our Great-Grandparents Might Have Used

"Dr." Earl Sloan successfully marketed to humans a product developed by his father to treat leg pain 
in horses. Still sold today, it's primary ingredient is chili pepper. Sloan claimed it would cure
"rhuematism and all aches & pains" and was even good for mosquito bites.

      The founders of the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company,  John E. Healey and "Dr." E. H. Flagg, 
      were New England hucksters who preyed on the public's belief that Native American medicines
      offered cure-alls that  western medicine could not. Healey and Flagg, devotees of P. T. Barnum, 
      put on the most successful "Indian medicine" shows of any patent medicine company, employing
      Native Americans (but no Kickapoos) to, literally, whoop it up and stage (fake) Indian "rituals" 
      for the gullible audiences. Buffalo Bill Cody hawked the stuff with false claims about how Sagwa
      was valued by Indians more than their horses. However, Kickapoo Sagwa wasn't even known to 
      Native Americans until Healey and Flagg invented it. Sagwa was touted as a concoction of roots, 
      berries, herbs and bark. A rival claimed it was just stale beer and aloe,which, it turned out, was closer
      to the truth. Like Peruna, Sagwa contained a lot of alcohol.
If you suffered from kidney or bladder problems, you reached for the bottle of Dr. Kilmer's
Swamp Root medicine. Developed by Dr. Sylvester Andras Kilmer, Swamp Root, at least
toward the end of its life in the 1930's when the Pure Food and Drug Act required ingredients
to be listed, contained golden seal root, skullcap leaves, larch gum,peppermint, cinnamon,
valerian root, and sassafras. It was also 10% alcohol. Of course, we have no idea what Dr.
Kilmer put in his original concoction, although it's safe to say alcohol was a constant.

 "Mug-wump Specific" is the one patent medicine I could find nothing about. 
According to the label, this was the bottle you reached for if you'd contracted
something rather nasty and embarrassing. Not only would it cure your situation,
it was a preventative to future problems. It was manufactured by Mug-wump 
Manufacturing Co. of New Albany, Indiana. There's no information on the company.

        Lydia Estes Pinkham was a Lynn, Massachusetts wife and mother whose locally popular
        herbal for "women's complaints" became a booming family business. Pinkham's kindly 
        face on the label was definitely part of the company's successful advertising, but more so 
        was the invitation from Lydia to write to her for advice about menstruation, menopause, 
        and "facts of life" generally. Each letter received a personal answer (even years after Lydia's 
        death!), and for many women writing to Lydia Pinkham was the only way to talk openly about
        delicate matters. A version of Pinkham's "vegetable compound" is sold today at CVS. Most
        of the ingredients in the original formulation are used in the modern version, notably black 
        cohosh which is regarded as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy. Pinkham's herbs
        floated in an alcoholic-based liquid. The modern version lacks that little kick.

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