Archive of Archaic Advertisements

With some commentary, although the voices of the past can speak pretty well for themselves

(...and they want to take your money.)

Dr. McLaughlin's ELECTRIC BELT.



Hello there! You're just in time to meet two of the most eminent physicians of the new century. Introduce yourself to Old Dr. Grey and Old Dr. Grindle, Specialists in Diseases of Men. Sit down, take it easy, make yourself comfortable. Strap on Dr. McLaughlin's Electric Belt, and listen to the Fresh News of Fashion from the Paris Girl. I have all sorts of MECHANICAL CURIOSITIES! to show you, but I don't want to entertain in these old, high-gussified duds I picked up from Traphagen Hunter & Co. (although they do mark their goods in Plain Figures, which I appreciate.) Please wait a minute, while I don my straw hat, my snappy fur-lined coat, and strum my Ukulele! (they were all the rage in 1915, don'tcha know.)

If you're not feeling well, there's a bottle of Pierce's Golden Medical Discovery (refuse substitutes - probably worthless!) sitting on the 'Nonpareil' billiard table over there in the corner for you to sip on. It will mantle your faded cheek with YOUTHFUL BLOOM AND BEAUTY. But if you're sure you're coming down with the Scrofula, well, hully gee, I'll just break out this bottle of Pommery champagne - the very thing for cheering up the sick - and we'll have a roaring good time with that!

Pfaff's Lager says the forecast for today is FAIR, so once we're finished with the champagne, we'll go wash up with Santa Claus Soap and we'll take a jaunt out on my 1905 Pope-Hartford and catch Billie Burke's Tango Shoes at the Orpheum. Your interest in aeroplanes is probably a good deal like mine, but remember that I SCRATCHED for 28 YEARS before I was cured - CURED - AND FOREVER - by Cuticura Remedies. Besides, it's always healthful!

Old advertisements found in newspapers or magazines can tell you quite a bit about the daily life of our forebears; how they lived, what they wore, what they ate, what sorts of entertainments or social events they attended, and so on. Here you'll find a varied selection of them, scanned from various periodicals around the United States, dating from 1870 to 1917. There are other sites dedicated to old-time advertisements, but their scope tends to be more recent than the time period covered on this page.

These run the gamut in design from elaborately engraved plates to simple text. Some of them are only interesting from the historical perspective, some of them have become unintentionally humorous over time, and some, rather soberingly, speak to us about how our modern society has progressed (or regressed, sometimes) from that of the past.

Some of these almost seem to come from another world, since society has changed so much in the years ensuing between their first publication in the city dailies to their latest publication in this cyber-journal. What is equally surprising: a few of them, on the other hand, could just as well have appeared in one of today's periodicals, and not seemed at all out of place. It's amazing to see how many advertising tactics have remained the same over the generations, also. What works, works, I guess.

In all cases, these ads and the newspapers they appeared in have long since lapsed into the public domain. Some were taken from compilations of old newspaper reprints, some were taken from library microfiche, and for some, I had the original document (what can I say? I never throw anything out.)

If you have scans of old advertisements, or know of a site I should link to that does, give me a holler at my oh-so-predictable e-mail address and I'll put the relevant informations up, posthaste.

And, finally, if you have access to a time machine (please see the Ads of the Future web page to find a dealership near you) you can use this web page as a convenient business directory if, you know, you have any Private Diseases that you need Cured Quickly, Permanently and Discreetly.


Beauty and Fashion
Food and Drink
Health, Patent Medicine, Snake Oil and Medical Flim-Flam
Household Goods and Furnishings
Other Recreatioin

Health, Patent Medicine, Snake Oil and Medical Flim-Flam

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 Urinary Organs."

  • 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 Dr. Finleys.

  • 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" anyway.

  • The Keeley Institute, Milwaukee Daily News, 9 October 1909


  • 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.)

Food and Drink

Beauty and Fashion


  • Cook's Tours, Daily Graphic (New York, NY) 5 May 1873


  • Royal Havana Lottery of Cuba, Daily Graphic (New York, NY) 5 May 1873

    "782 prizes. $450,000 will be drawn."

  • George W. Simmons & Son, Daily Graphic (New York, NY) 15 September 1873

    "ENCLOSE $2.75 in a letter, and get one of those fine MANILLA HAMMOCKS."

  • E.K. Tyron, Jr. & Co., Philadelphia Press, 1 July 1898

    "4th OF JULY REVOLVERS FROM $1.00 UP".

  • Iver Johnson's, Boston Post, 24 September 1908

    "If going into the woods you will need waterproof clothing, army blankets, rubber blankets, dufflebag and such other indispensable things for the sportsman."

  • Boston YMCA, Boston Post, 9 October 1908

    "Join the Gymnasium"! Hint to those long-since deceased: as far as your health goes, this sounds like a heck of a lot of a better use for ten dollars than a treatment by Dr. Andrew Egan, Doctor of Diseases of Men.

  • Cobs, Milwaukee Daily News, 9 October 1909

    Nine Havana cigars, for fifteen cents. This was actually an expensive brand, by the way.

  • Torture Ship, Boston Post, 10 October 1912.

    It's Boston, 1912. What could we be doing for fun? Hey, let's go visit a boat and see "the Terrible Instruments of Torture and Restraint Exhibited on it, the Whipping Posts, the Cruel Branding Irons, the Manacles, Punishment Bands, Leaden-Tipped Cat-o'-Nine Tails and ALL the Other Devilish Inventions of Man's Brutality to Man"! Rollicking good fun!

  • Du Pont Powder Co. and Petts-Vogel Co., Boston Sunday Post, 12 July 1914

    Both ads are amazing, and this juxtaposition is just perfect, so I present them as they appeared, right next to each other on the same page.

    The top ad: "Learn Trap-Shooting. For Both Sexes. It proves wonderfully attractive and beneficial to women. Our beautiful free booklet 'Diana of the Traps' should be read by all modern women. Write for it." This is amusing enough in itself.

    The bottom ad: a "Restaurant for Men". Hmm. That opens way too many questions, especially appearing on the sports page by the "We Cure Syphilis" advertisements. What does that mean? Was it just some good ol' boys club? Was it a dirty, rowdy, drunken, violent place that proper women couldn't be seen at? Did it hold burlesque shows? Did it double as a house of prostitution?

    I presume this was a lot clearer to anyone reading the sports page in Boston in 1914, but in any case, if you're spending your nights at a "Restaurant for Men" - even if all you're doing is eating some Wienerschnitzel - I submit that it's not at all prudent to teach your wife or S.O. to be a good shot.

  • Theatre column, Los Angeles Times, 4 October 1915.

    Here's what was going in vaudeville, stage and the flickers in L.A. in October 1915. Featuring the Meredith Sisters ("BEAUTIFUL GIRLS IN REAL INDIAN DANCES"), "Billie Burke's Tango Shoes", (yes, Glinda the Good Witch of the North was on vaudeville; this was soon after she married Flo Ziegfried), "The Grazers, Musical and Terpsichorean Novelty", and wire replays of the 1915 World Series (the Red Sox, yes, the Red Sox, over the Phillies, if you just tuned in.) D.W. Griffith's "The Avenging Conscience" (subtitled "Thou Shalt Not Kill") was loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart". For more.

  • Frank J. Hart Southern California Music Company, Los Angeles Morning Tribune, 10 October 1916


    Really, there is nothing else I could say to this. Oh, except that this was at the top of the front page of the newspaper, in type as big as the headline. That is all.

Household Goods and Furnishings




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