This was a typical ad for patent medicine
It says: Sick Made Well, Weak Made Strong
Marvelous Elixir of Life, etc.
They usually contained some form of testimonial,
and a picture of a licensed medical practitioner
Such claims were often fabrications.
(5)(12, page 4-8)
As noted by the authors at Hagley Museum and Library:
"From the beginning, some physicians and medical societies were critical of patent medicines. They argued that the remedies did not cure illnesses, discouraged the sick from seeking legitimate treatments, and caused alcohol and drug dependency. The temperance movement of the late 19th century provided another voice of criticism, protesting the use of alcohol in the medicines. By the end of the 19th century, Americans favored laws to force manufacturers to disclose the remedies' ingredients and use more realistic language in their advertising.
"These laws met with fierce resistance from the manufacturers. The Proprietary Association, a trade association of medicine producers, was founded in 1881. The Association was aided by the press, which had grown dependent on the money received from remedy advertising. The pivotal event occurred when North Dakota passed a limited disclosure law, which included patent medicines. Proprietary Association members voted to remove their advertisements from all state newspapers. Finally, with strong support from President Theodore Roosevelt, a Pure Food and Drug Act was passed by Congress in 1906, paving the way for public health action against unlabeled or unsafe ingredients, misleading advertising, the practice of quackery, and similar rackets." (6)Perhaps no critical voice was louder than that of John Hopkins Adams, who, between 1905 and 1912 ,wrote a series of articles in Collier's Magazine showing what he considered to be the truth about patent medicine
Collier began the series on October 7, 1905, with the following:
Gullible America will spend this year some seventy-five millions of dollars in the purchase of patent medicines. In consideration of this sum it will swallow huge quantities of alcohol, an appalling amount of opiates and narcotics, a wide assortment of varied drugs ranging from powerful and dangerous heart depressants to insidious liver simulants; and, far in excess of all other ingredients, undiluted fraud. For fraud exploited by the skillfulest of advertising bunco men, is the basis of the trade. Should the newspapers, the magazines and the medical journal refuse their pages to this class of advertisements, the patent medicine business in five years would be as scandalously historic as the South eSa Bubble, and the nation would be richer not only in lives and money, but in drunkards and drug fiends saved. (12, page 3)Of the ingredients of most patent medicine, he said:
Cocaine and opium stop pain; but the narcotics are not the safest drugs to put into the hands of the ignorant, particularly when their presence is concealed in the "cough remedies," "soothing syrups," and "catarrh powders" of which they are the basis. Few outside of the rabid temperance advocates will deny a place in medical practice to alcohol. But alcohol, fed daily and in increasing doses to women and children, makes not for health, but for drunkenness. Far better whiskey or gin unequivocally labeled than the alcohol-laden "bitters," "sarsaparillas" and "tonics" which exhilarate fatuous temperance advocates to the point of enthusiastic testimonials. (12, page 4)
None of these "cures" really does cure any serious affection, although a majority of their users recover. But a majority, and a very large majority, of the sick recover, anyway. Were it not so—were one illness out of fifty fatal—this earth would soon be depopulated. (12, page 4)Adams believed that the best remedy would be for newspapers to stop allowing the advertisement of patent medicine, although this was difficult because newspapers benefited from such advertising profits. Another solution would be for the Post office to stop allowing such products to be carried by mail, although, again, the U.S. Post Office benefited from said profits. Another remedy, whose route would be the ultimate demise of patent medicine, would be for laws regulating or outlawing such practices. Some states, such as Michigan, did pass such laws, although enforcing the law was next to impossible. (12, page 3, 9-10)
It may have been Collier's articles that were the final straw that inspired a progressive Congress to act, thus debating and sending to the Senate, and finally the desk of President Theodore Roosevelt, a bill that would end patent medicine craze: the Food and Drug Act of 1906.
However, while the patent medicine craze ended, botanic medicine can still be found in stores, sold mainly as natural remedies for the various ailments that plague the world, such as insomnia, obesity, diabetes, allergies, and asthma.
For references, see "1600-1900: Botanic medicine becomes a craze, part 4."
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