Are you Tired? Aching? In Constant Pain?
I can sell you this bottle of something-or-other for Twenty-Five Cents.
It Never Fails to Bring Perfect Recovery To Those Suffering From Scrofula, Rhuematism, Cancers, Diabetes, Paralysis,
St. Vitus's Dance, Scrotal Varicocele, Syphilis, All Diseases of the Urinary Organs, All Feminine
Indispositions including Uterine Aches, plus Constipation, Cholera,
Consumption and all Pneumonias, Diarrhoea, Blood Poison, and Every
Neurological Disorder, &c, &c.
And if you think that was an exaggeration, well, you obviously haven't read these ads.
Before there was strong federal regulation of products sold for medicinal purposes, companies
could make just about any claims about their wares without fear of punishment. They
weren't required to disclose the actual ingredients, and they weren't required to provide
any studies carried out by an impartial third party showing that their potions actually did anything
like what they claimed.
Besides the flim-flam artists, there are some actually legitimate health and medical products advertised
here. I'll leave it to you to sort out which are which - after all, that's
what an actual consumer at the turn of the century had to put up with (in about tenfold) whenever they
were looking for anything effective for anything at their druggist's.
- Swaim's Panacea, Daily Graphic (New York, NY) 5 May 1873
"Fifty Years the Standard Remedy for Scrofula".
Bethesda Spring Water, Daily Graphic (New York, NY) 5 May 1873
"Acknowledged by the most eminent Physicians to be the ONLY CURE for Bright's Disease,
Diabetes, Dropsy, Gravel, Stone, Indigestion, Constipation, Disease of the Liver and
Campo's Infallible Specific, Daily Graphic (New York, NY) 5 May 1873
"For Rheumatism, Epilepsy, St. Vitus's Dance, Paralysis, Gout... and every
disease affecting the nervous system."
Cuticura Remedies, New York World (New York, NY) 15 August 1888
"SCRATCHED 28 YEARS. A SCALY, ITCHING, SKIN DISEASE WITH
ENDLESS SUFFERING CURED BY CUTICURA REMEDIES.... every species
of Itching, Burning, Scaly Pimply Humours of the Skin and Scalp
and Blood, with Loss of Hair, are positively cured by CUTICURA....
FREE! FREE FROM PAIN!... The first and only pain killing Plaster."
Dr. Pierce's Golden Medical Discovery, Chicago Tribune, 5 September 1891
"Two doctors of an Eastern town, / To learning much inclined, /
Were called to see a gentleman, / Whose health was undermined. / .... /
These wise men argued loud and long, / Yet the patient owes recovery /
(Not to these doctors, but to - / Pierce's Golden Medical Discovery)."
Pond's Extract, Chicago Tribune, 5 September 1891
"REFUSE SUBSTITUTES probably worthless Accept POND'S EXTRACT only."
Kirk's Shandon Bells Toilet Soap, Chicago Tribune, 5 September 1891
"NO OTHER Leaves a Delicate and Lasting Odor After Usage."
Santa Claus Soap, Chicago Tribune, 5 September 1891
"Don't let your dealer give you some other kind, if he hasn't Santa Claus,
but insist on having only SANTA CLAUS SOAP."
Cuticura Remedies, Chicago Tribune, 5 September 1891
"BAD SKIN ERUPTION"! More Cuticura crap. Making advertisements that look like
newspaper articles is not only a recent practice!
Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup, The Morning Herald (Baltimore, MD), 3 October 1894
Hey, let's sedate our infants to keep them from crying! Just so you know, it also
"relieves wind, regulates the bowels, and is the best known remedy for diarrhoea".
International Serum Toxin Co., Pittsburg Dispatch, 20 September 1903
"BLOOD POISON. In the XXth Century men and women stricken WITH THIS AWFUL DISEASE
Are being cured by the International Serum Toxin Co. ...CURED - AND FOREVER."
Dr. M. B. McLaughlin, Pittsburg Dispatch, 23 September 1903
"Do you feel yourself growing feeble and old too soon? I can guarantee you a cure
if you use DR. MCLAUGHLIN'S ELECTRIC BELT." Our mascot here at the Archive of Archaic Advertisements - how could he not be? He
has an Electric Belt that will give you a new lease on life!
Otterbourg Electro-Medical Institute, Pittsburg Dispatch, 23 September 1903
"The Otterbourg System of Electro-Medical Treatment Never Fails to Cure
Scrotal Varicocele, Specific Blood Poison, Urethral Obstructions and All
Complications and Associate Diseases and Weaknesses of Men."
Dr. Williams, Brill and Whittier, Pittsburg Dispatch, 23 September 1903
Here are three independent physicians ads that appeared together in a column
on the sports page of this paper. Each of them proports to cure
"diseases of men" (cough, cough.) These were actually the most common
kinds of advertisements appearing on the sports pages in many large cities in the
first couple decades of the 20th century.
International Serum Toxin Co., Pittsburg Dispatch, 27 September 1903
"The Sieber Serum treatment is the only human agency through which contagious
blood poison can ever be cured."
Old Dr. Grey, New York World, 15 October 1906.
"THESE ARE POSITIVE FACTS. Old Dr. Grey IS the Oldest Specialist in DISEASES OF MEN...
PRIVATE DISEASES quickly cured."
Which is awfully strange, because there's also....
Old Dr. Grindle, New York World, 15 October 1906.
...this venerable old fellow. I don't know when being "old" counted as a qualification
to be a medical authority, but I guess nineteen-aught-six sounds about right. This fellow,
advertising on the same page as Old Dr. Grey, also lays claim to being the "OLDEST" practitioner
around. In any case, "Dr. Grindle has made diseases of men his life work, and has been located
over 25 years at his present office.... He cures ordinary private diseases in very quick time."
Dr. Finley and Dr. Weeks, New York World, 15 October 1906.
Competition in the field of Doctors of Diseases of Men was pretty tough. Here we see
poor Dr. Finley get underbid by Dr. Weeks, but never fear! After all those syphilitic
turn-of-the-century men didn't get cured by Dr. Weeks' snake-oil, I'm sure Dr. Finley
got plenty of the rebound business!
Dr. Andrew Egan, New York World, 15 October 1906.
Did you think I was kidding when I said this was a tough business? This one offers
you a "SURE, QUICK and PERMANENT CURE", but it'll cost you an entire dix.
For those of you not paying attention, that's two Dr. Weekses and one-and-a-quarter
Big G, New York World, 15 October 1906.
If you were wondering whether only men got all of the fun, well, of course not!
Here is an advertisement for a drug for both "MEN AND WOMEN". "Use Big G for
unnatural discharges, inflammations, irritations or ulcerations of mucous membranes....
Prevents contagion." Please note also the text advert under this for yet another
fellow treating "ALL PRIVATE and blood diseases of men".
Sanford's Ginger, Boston Post, 24 September 1908
"For cramps, pains, colds, chills, and a hundred everyday ills, Sanford's Ginger
is priceless. Besides it's always healthful."
Sanford's Ginger, Boston Post, 3 October 1908
"Ginger taken on retiring centre the blood at the stomach, promote digestion,
warm the extremeties and prepare the system for sound, refreshing sleep.
Besides it's always healthful. Avoid substitutes."
Drs. R & R (Rest and Relaxation?), Milwaukee Daily News, 9 October 1909
Yes, yet more specialists in Diseases of Men. They're equal-opportunity, too (meaning
they'll fleece the wealthy and the poor:) "We will give the poorest man
a chance, as well as the rich, to receive a cure from us at a small cost. THERE IS NO
MAN TOO POOR TO GET OUR BEST OPINION AND SERVICES." Hurry up! Your wee-wee's
burning, isn't it? Hand over the money!
Dr. Emmons, Milwaukee Daily News, 9 October 1909
"I am the one RELIABLE Specialist you should LOOK FOR. I, as your friend, say the
more shame for you to let WEAK LUNGS, CATARRH, HAY FEVER, ASTHMA, HEART and many
other ills that beset your body, get a GRIP ON YOU. Come now, DON'T MOPE around.
ROUSE UP and come to one that knows. I CURE OTHERS and why not you. Consultation free.
Write or call." Hey, at least he's not advertising as a Doctor of Diseases of Men -
although I don't think you'd really want "your friend" treating your "Private Diseases"
- The Keeley Institute, Milwaukee Daily News, 9 October 1909
"FOR THE CURE OF LIQUOR, DRUG AND TOBACCO HABITS AND NEURASTHENIA. NO SICKNESS -
NO CONFINEMENT. EVERY PHYSICAL AND MENTAL FACULTY STRENGTHENED. NO OTHER INSTITUTE
IN WISCONSIN USES DR. LESLIE E. KEELEY'S REMEDIES."
Hunyadi Janos, New-York Daily Tribune, 10 April 1910
"For CONSTIPATION Try Hunyadi Janos NATURAL APERIENT WATER. Avoid Unscrupulous Druggists".
Dr. E. A. Crawford, Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, FL), 17 October 1912
"I want every man in Florida to know that I CURE MEN. I give all of my
time to this special work-- the treatment of PRIVATE DISEASES."
I swear, every word of that came right from the advertisement.
And the price for this special treatment: $25. Times must be tougher for the noble Doctors
of Diseases of Men.
Dr. E. A. Crawford, Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, FL), 17 October 1912
Dr. Crawford again, continuing his quest to get every man in Florida to know that HE
CURES MEN. His magical method is formula "914", which is apparently an improved
version of "606". (Why would anyone improve on a method that no doubt CURED MEN quickly,
permanently, and completely? Discuss.) "I give my whole time to curing Syphilis and Private
Diseases. Those who need expert attention may consult me without charge." Aww, what
a sugar-plum. I would also like to point out that this ad came from the same paper as the
previous one, only a few pages further in. Truly, a more dedicated Doctor of Diseases of
Men there has never been, and I daresay there will never be.
The Neal Institute, Boston Traveler and Evening Herald, 11 October 1913
If you've had too many wine lunches - if you've imbibed too much
Pfaff's Lager or Sterling Ale or Pommery Champagne - you'd best be heading to the Neal Institute
to kick that "DRINK HABIT"! "No hyperdermics used."
Dr. Hallock's Elvita Pills, Lewiston Evening Journal, 7 October 1914
"EL-VI-TA PILLS have been, are now and always will be the paragon of remedies for Nervous
Weakness, Nervous Exhaustion, Nervous Debility, Kidney and Bladder Complaints, and
all kindred afflictions arising from indiscretions, overwork or excesses."
Yes, patent medicine quacks were still around in 1914. They just made the various
afflictions and complaints their goods supposedly cured more and more vague.
Good Tidings Food and Canning Co., Boston Post, 13 October 1914.
This is an early vegetarian advertisement. "All beef contains uric acid and is 72% waste.
Our nut foods contain more than double the nutritive value of beef steak."
While I was at university (late 90's) in Washington state, there was a big
vegan brouhaha nearby, and they distributed brochures, titled "Why You Should Be A Vegan"
or something like that, all over campus. Inside this brochure there were all sorts of
"facts" quoted, most of which were transparent malarkey, and the rest taken from dubious
sources. I mean, this was some amazing stuff - it made such ludicrous statements as "Vegans
live on average 20 years longer than the average meat-eater" and "Tell all of your friends
about the benefits of Veganism, and throw out any meat or dairy products stored in
shared refrigerators or pantries - they will appreciate it in the end." Among all of this cockamamie
tripe, there was a statement about beef being tainted with uric acid, and being "about
three-quarters matter that human digestion cannot derive nutrition from, which is simply expelled
from the body." When I later saw essentially the same statements in a 1914 newspaper (reprinted
here), I somehow wasn't surprised at all. Not one bit.
I love veggies, and I support those who decide to subsist on a veggie-only (or lacto-ovo-veggie) diet,
but for the love of everything holy, don't ever crib your material on nutrition from ninety
year old-plus sources ever again. Please.
The Neal Institute, Boston Post, 19 August 1915
Another advert from that good ol' Neal Institute. "In three days the Neal Treatment
takes away all desire for liquor by driving alcoholic poison out of the system. No
hyperdermics used." Swing on by to be free of all
alcoholic urgings (and yes, there's a guy just next door who'll cure your syphilis,
too, while you're here.)