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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Snake Oil For Sale

Miracle Cures and more....

Photo: archives.gov
Picture yourself in the Wild West of America, a family traveling across the dusty prairies to discover Frontier towns, or to perhaps settle your own farmland.  While riding in your covered wagon, you greet another wagon toting medicines and cures for sale.  This wagon is made of wood and advertising is painted on it that promotes products that promised renewed health, miracle cures, herbal concoctions, and various remedies.  

In my mind's eye -the Snake Oil Salesman
Meet the Medicine Man.  He is most certainly impeccably dressed in a dark suit, albeit wearing a dusty, but tidy white shirt, his bow-tie is neatly knotted, and on his head is a black top hat.  Perhaps he dons a Dali-esque curling mustache with a smile that you immediately distrust, but are drawn to listen to his sales pitch, for he is charismatic and sales are his business. He is a one-man circus, a snake oil salesman, a traveling apothecary and a charlatan.

This man was a master of promoting "patent medicines" which were actually the gateway to the advertising industry.  Successful salesman carried a variety of so-called medicines from the basic to the exotic.  They were also crafty, knowing some of their cure-alls were addictive because many of the remedies of that time were not only opium based, but they contained alcohol, or morphine or cocaine, which made their return trips to town not only frequent, but profitable.  They knowingly preyed upon addiction, and probably hypochondriacs. 

"Patent Medicine" is mostly associated with drug compounds which were produced and sold during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Another word for patent medicines was nostrum remedium - which means "our remedy" in Latin.  Originating from England, and later shipped to America, they were given trademarks, but never really patented!  

Nostrums were mostly like called such because they were manufactured at home, and if the remedy was successful, then it would be bottled and sold in fancier packaging.  Herbs and/or roots were boiled, or infused into vegetable oils, sugar was frequently added and most frequently,  copious amounts of alcohol.   Family recipes were kept secret and the contents of their concoctions were often kept secret. Remember during this time,the FDA did not exist, so whatever was manufactured there was often little or no regard for their toxicity.  Sometimes the remedy was lethal.  

Laudanum would be one example of this, as no prescription was necessary, and this did not change until the early 20th century. This russet colored, bitter drink first sold as a remedy to help a cough and sooth a sore throat. After which, it was commonly prescribed by well-meaning physicians, to calm nerves.  The reason for it's addiction and abuse (whether concealed or openly used) was that it's base contained a high content of morphine, and also contained codeine - all infused in alcohol.  I am not sure where I read or heard this, but I think this particular drug was one commonly used discretely by wealthier women.

Lacking affordable mass transportation and often being geographically challenged, homesteaders and families were often cared for by the mother of families.  Without having access to a town or market, many Moms had no choice but to care for illnesses at home, using their own family cures or even cookbook recipes to aid the sick.

To the delight of the new found traveling salesman, and the success of some remedies, the quack would load his wagon with medicines to prey upon those who now lived with the fear of major diseases such as typhoid, yellow fever, and cholera.   Mom's lack of skill to counter such terrible illnesses, were a direct success of the traveling salesman.  They fed upon the family's fear of disease to sell their products, and it worked.  

As patented medicines became more profitable, it was only natural that clever advertising began to appear everywhere.  Shrewd business owners bought advertisements in printed newspapers, which helped vastly with the success of sales.  Glass bottles were manufactured with the company or doctors name imprinted in the glass, or labels were affixed to them.  

Photo: liveauction.com
This introduced trademarks that sold their product under comforting, colorful titles and names. The more profitable the company, the more colorful the label. Some remedies also came in boxes which matched the inner label on the bottles. Later, remedies appeared in tins.  The manufacturing of patent medicines was born.   

Any ailment under the sun was fair game for treatment.  And anything that you can think of was used in the manufacturing of cures - and the claims of cures and remedies that were made were astonishing.  

"Chlorodyne was the name for one of the most famous patent medicines sold in the British Isles. It was invented in the 19th century by a Dr. John Collis Browne, a doctor in the British Indian Army; its original purpose was in the treatment of cholera. Browne sold his formula to the pharmacist John Thistlewood Davenport, who advertised it widely, as a treatment for cholera, diarrhea, insomnia, neuralgia, migraines, etc. As its principal ingredients were a mixture of laudanum (an alcoholic solution of opium), tincture of cannabis, and chloroform, it readily lived up to its claims of relieving pain, as a sedative, and for the treatment of diarrhea." - Source: wikipedia

"Dr. Kilmer's Swamp Root Kidney, Liver & Bladder Cure was aimed at people suffering from Bright's disease, bloating limbs,
lame back, rheumatism, diabetes, dropsy, malaria, dyspepsia, gall stone, fever, ague, gout, pimples, ulcers, syphilis, poor

appetite, bad breath, and a previously unknown disease - "internal slime fever." " ~ Source: pilgrimhallmuseum.org

For the discrete cheater....
Not much left to the imagination on this remedy (above)...

There is an old tale that a shepard was out in his field, tending his flock when his staff stuck to a black stone, (and because the end of his staff was made of iron, to which the rock was attracted) it was then believed that the rock possessed magic.  Time passed and scientific studies became the basis on which recoveries and cures were manufactured.  


In addition to bottled water treated with electro-magnetism, a magnitude of other products were developed such as machines that used belts; as well as producing balms, liniments, ointments, oils and so on, all claiming to have healing powers infused with electro-magnetic cures.  Of the use of electro-magnetic water, one doctor wrote, 

"Water is valuable as a medical agent, but its efficiency consists, not in the element itself, but in its subservience as a handmaid of electricity. Electricity is the queen of medicine: water merely a pool in which she bathes her feet." - Unknown

Here is a whole boat load of bizarre remedies, cures and other strange medical inventions... along with my comments....who couldn't resist? 

"Never Known to Fail"

Oh, what a delightful secret, indeed as "Rich, red blood will be sent coursing through your veins..."

Chocolate coated STRYCHNINE?

"During the turn of the century, consuming small amounts of strychnine was believed to be a good way to enhance the senses, promote saliva flow, and built a good apatite."  -poisonbottlecollecting.wordpress.com 

I love the last line - "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" - This is a warning for anyone attempting to copy Samuel Thompson's patent medicine. 

In other words, a generous, christian doctor will sell you drugs. 

From Our Toilet, to yours!  

Hey, a little booze never hurt anyone, right?  Quickly heal after having the flu - even his Holiness was brought into the racket. 


Hell, if you've got it, we'll fix it.

Men!  Like they needed any help...Just sayin'...

A little infused weed for your female woes.

This supposedly cured your heart, and make it pump better. 


I'm thinking there must have been a lot of infidelity or many trips to the local Saloon....

"and one day his woman ran off with another guy, hit young Rocky in the eye.  Rocky didn't like that 'said I'm gonna get that boy..." -The Beatles

I guess this would beat being stretched out on some mechanical Medieval devise.

Purify your blood - with Chloroform

Add caption
Aunt Martha: "For a gallon of elderberry wine, I take one teaspoon full of arsenic, then add half a teaspoon full of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide.'

Mortimer Brewster: "Hmm. Should have quite a kick."
-From the movie, "Arsenic and Old Lace", 1944

"The Star of Hope"

Cocaine induced tonic.... not sure what it did other than the obvious.

Here's something for those poor, small busted gals....

One for Old Rusty....

Just "Pull the cords"!  Though this may have worked, it would only be temporary.

I think the American Lung Association would disagree with this advertising.

Hell, ya!

I think the word they were looking for was anemic, or albino... it's a coin toss.

"Cure?"  I researched this product, and though I learned a lot about why it was touted as a cure (it's instructions stated to avoid sugar, and eventually tested urine showed that there was a lack of glucose.  Well, that was easy.)  Also, I could not find a single ingredient for this product, but I believe some type of diuretic herb was used in the making of this product.  It's ingredients are still unknown - to my knowledge.   If you have an answer, I'd love to know!  Unfortunately, we all are aware that even up to today there has been no cure for diabetes.  This product contained:

Oh, Baby....

This was not only made w/ infused electricity - "but it causes no sores like certain OTHER plasters".... Hmmm... a little competition, I suspect.

A little turpentine straight from your paint brush and on to your skin!  No wonder Van Gogh cut off his ear.
"As a FLESH PRODUCER... there can be no question that Scott's Emulsion of Pure Cod Liver Oil and Hypophosphites [of lime and soda] is without a rival.  Many have gained a pound a day by the use of it....."   Good Lord!

"Syrup of Hypophosphites was widely marketed to physicians, not consumers, as a remedy for many illnesses.  It was a commercial success, even though it contained strychnine, a potent poison, and likely made its customers sicker." -old marinartifacts.wordpress.com

WHAT did they put in the coffee?  

Sounds kind of yummy, eh?  The word Senna popped out at me - so I could figure this out pretty quickly.  Better keep the door to the outhouse opened. 

Early drugs for diet aids. 

Autumn Leaf Extract?  WHAT Autumn leaf?  Sure to cure any menstrual cramps, AND purify your blood!  I think I'd rather eat spinach, thank you.

"George Goodwin and Company"  ....Looks like my husband's family was in on the racket.  hee hee....

I don' know about you, but if the label says "JACKASS" I don't think I'd try it.   Kind of an oxymoron, all around. 

Send those tapeworms back to the ground! 

Glad?  Of course they were glad, they've shut the baby up with an opiate. 

Easy choice - smoke cigarettes or take this Oil of Tar! 

Say Aaahhh... and don't worry - the ambulance is on it's way.

Even animals were treated with manufactured home remedies!