Monday, December 8, 2014

Parker's Tonic: The Intoxicating Non-Inoxicating Stimulant

Parker's tonic patent medicine, the non-intoxicating stimulant

Parker's Tonic, established around 1890, was advertised as a "purely vegetable extract." It was recommended to cure coughs, consumption, and asthma by rejuvenating the blood. It basically claimed to stimulate and restore the body without intoxicating you. In those days, alcohol was often thought to be a stimulant.

This tonic, then, was recommended for alcoholic or 'inebriates.' However, when the Massachusetts State Board of Health checked into Parker's Tonic in 1902, they found that this stimulating, non-intoxicating nostrum contained 41.6% alcohol. That is 83 proof!

Hostetter's Stomach Bitters, renews vigor, and makes like worth living
In fact, although many of the tonics, bitters, and other remedies they checked contain a good deal of alcohol, this "purely vegetable" tonic that would not intoxicate you contained the most, and would have been the best of the lot for getting your whiskey on, second only to Richardson's Concentrated Sherry Wine Bitters at 47.5%, and Hostetter's Stomach Bitters at 44.3%. Of course, concentrated sherry wine downright screams alcohol and neither it nor Hostetter's made any claims as to intoxication.

The bitters normally contained a good deal of alcohol and there actually could have been a practical basis for this. Alcohol is a pretty good way of masking bitter flavors, just as bitter flavors could be a good way of masking the awful taste of some of the quite toxic rotguts sold during prohibition. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Old Bloodletting Devices: Lancet, Scarifactor, and Artificial Leech

Here is a great image of some antique bloodletting devices from the 17th century. It is from Historical Collections, The National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C. *

Bloodletting instruments from Historical Collections, The National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C.


The device in the foreground is the lancet. The image to the rear and left is the 'artificial leech,'  and to the right is the scarifactor.

Below is a tintype photograph of a bloodletting procedure. It is one of only three photographs of bloodletting that are known to exist.



bloodletting photograph
Public domain photo from the Burn's Archive


And here is a bloodletting bowl. It had graduation marks to measure the amount of blood that was being drawn.


bowl for bloodletting
Bloodletting bowl made by John Foster of London, c. 1740
Held in collections of Division of Cultural History
Greenwood Collection, Smithsonian Institution


Below is an advertisement for phlebotomy and cupping instruments from 1889.


Phlebotomy Instruments ad


A great source of information, with many more images, is the booklet Bloodletting Instruments in the National Museum of History and Technology, by Audrey Davis and Tobey Apell, 1979 (Project Gutenburg).

* The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology was closed in September of 2011. Many of its functions are now performed by the Joint Pathology Center.

Why Did They Use Arsenic in Patent Medicines?





Arsenic was known as both a poison and a medicine for thousands of years. We have all read famous stories of its use in poisoning, such as the Roman Emperor Nero using it to poison his stepbrother. Its use in medicine is not as well-known. In Chinese medicine, where it is called pi shuang, it has been used for medicinal purposes for almost 2500 years, for example, and was a very common ingredient in British and American patent medicines of the 1800's. Its use is not exclusive to older times, however.

The California Department of Health Services studied 260 Asian patent medicines and found arsenic in 36 of them. It was undeclared as an ingredient. The average concentration of arsenic was reported to be 14,553 parts per million. that is well over the 30 million parts per million that is recommended to be the safe level.

There have been similar studies of Ayurvedic medicine sold both in the United States and India. A large percentage of these have been found to contain arsenic, lead, mercury, or other heavy metals.

In 2008, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, along with the FDA, published a report of a search of web sites selling traditional Ayurvedic herbs, formulas, and ingredients. They found 25 web sites and identified 673 products. 273 of these were randomly selected and purchased during the months of August through October, 2005. 21 percent of them were found to contain lead, mercury, or arsenic. 


Dr. Roses Arsenic Complexion Wafers sold by Sears!
Even while arsenic was used as a medicine, quite openly, it was known to be fatal in large doses. When questioned in legal proceedings, a frequent argument was that the "dose makes the poison" and that arsenic was a poison in large doses but a medicine in small doses. This, of course, presupposed that arsenic was indeed a medicine, seriously abusing the old adage. Still, you can understand the thinking and it is true that many things that are poison at large doses are effective medicine in small enough doses. In fact, this is true of pretty much any drug you can imagine, as well as many other innocuous and every-day substances. Drugs, in particular, have a therapeutic window in which they are an effective treatment. Below this window they are useless, and above it they are potentially toxic. Arsenic should not have automatically have been though to be any different. It is kills bad germs and parasites outside the body, might it not do the same inside the body? The failure was in understanding how arsenic poisoning worked.



That is, if you have a headache and take an NSAID like ibuprofen, the drug is able to enter the blood stream and do its work to relieve your pain. Then, the body is very capable of getting rid of it. With arsenic and other heavy metals, things are a bit different. They build up in the body, causing chronic, and eventually fatal poisoning if left unchecked. But, there was more than just a simple leap to using arsenic to kill bodily parasites in the body. There were other observations that fueled its use. In fact, these same types of superficial observations fueled the use of many agents in the patent medicine days.

Fowler's Solution


I'll give you an example before we move on. Cocaine was just as widespread as arsenic in patent medicines. What type of superficial observation might lead on to thinking cocaine was good for you? You guessed it! Cocaine made you feel good. It increased energy. It cured the 'blahs.' How can something that increased your vitality not be good for you?

Unlike cocaine, however, arsenic was also known to be a good preservative for woods and other materials. We see a clue in this preservative quality.

It may seem ridiculous, but there is something to the notion of a heavy metal like arsenic being used to treat infections, wounds, etc. The same antimicrobial action that it has on other organic materials, it can have on us. So, using arsenic to treat abscesses, or open or infected wounds is not exactly a dumb idea, it's just not good science. Bleach would also be a great antimicrobial, but it wouldn't be a good idea to pour chlorine bleach over infected wounds. The arsenic can be absorbed into the blood stream, and have harmful effects.



This "preservative" quality of arsenic was taken so far that in Victorian England, women used a preparation of arsenic, vinegar, and chalk to whiten their skin. The arsenic was there to preserve their beauty be preventing wrinkles and other signs of aging. If a tiny amount of the arsenic was able to be absorbed into the bloodstream during daily continued use, the result would be a very ill woman, if not a dead one.

There were several "Arsenic Complexion Wafer" patent medicine products, as well, such as Dr. Campbell's Arsenic Complexion Wafers and Dr. Rose's Arsenic Complexion Wafers, both marketed to women. Of course, these were claimed to do more than just improve your complexion. There was also a Fould's Standard Arsenic Wafers and a Fould's Medicated Arsenic Soap.

Arsenic was the preferred treatment for syphilis for many years. It was also thought to treat malaria, leukemia, and chorea. One type of arsenic preparation that became a popular type of patent medicine of the late 1800's on into the early 1900s' was Fowler's solution, which was sold as a treatment for syphilis as well as a general tonic. Fowler's solution was not a brand of patent medicine but rather a formula containing 1% potassium arsenate, proposed by Thomas Fowler in 1786. Arsenic was also available in many other forms, including tablets.

Many physicians of the time embraced the use of arsenic preparations to treat these diseases, often giving arsenic by hypodermic injection. It was even supposed that since large doses of arsenic by mouth produced violent gastric upset, as well as other terrible symptoms, it was "safer" to inject it subcutaneously, thus bypassing the unpleasant vomiting.

However, these unpleasant side-effects only occurred when doctors were aggressive in giving arsenic orally. When small doses were used and spread over time, mild poisoning occurred. One of the initial signs of this poisoning was a healthy seeming glow to the skin. Arsenic causes bleeding from the capillaries in the face. The result of this is a nice rosy cheek. Conclusion: arsenic increases health and vigor.


You may have found a flaw, however, in the idea that all medicines that work are harmless at typical doses. This is obviously not true. Chemotherapy is often effective, but also harmful not only to cancer cells, but healthy cells. Chemotherapy, while treating cancer, is also toxic to the body. Often, the benefit outweighs the risk. The same is true of many drugs. Those same physicians of the 1800's who were trying to figure out how to use arsenic safely weren't actually on the wrong track. They understood that for some of these deadly diseases, a toxic drug might remain toxic, but if it used in careful and controlled ways, it may still be quite effective. It is better to be temporarily poisoned by arsenic, and then recover, if possible, than to die from syphilis, malaria, etc. In these cases, other drugs have supplanted arsenic because of their lack of harmful effects. For example, penicillin shoved aside arsenic and many other medicines. But for other diseases, there is no simple miracle such as penicillin (at least not yet). With that in mind, even today arsenic is still used in chemotherapy as well as in other treatments.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Famous Specific Orange Blossom for Female Diseases

Orange Blossom patent medicine for treating "female diseases."

As patent medicines go, this is a funny one. First of all, it is famous and specific, which would seem to indicate that they were afraid of imitators. It occurred to me that a competitor might want to call their medicine Cherry Blossom...wait, no. But, anyway, when you read all the "female troubles" that this patent medicine cured, you're going to want to get some for your wife. OK, I better stop now and move on to the facts!

You gotta wonder what in the heck "female diseases" were supposed to be. Well, if you guessed the stereotypical complaints associated with that time of the month, you're right. But the claims go a bit further. It seems that womb disease was one of the things this product cured. I'll get to that. First, for the claims.

 

Claims for Orange Blossom

A positive cure for all female diseases. Some symptoms: A tired languid feeling, low spirited and despondent, with no apparent cause. Indigestion, headache, backache, bearing down pain, pain across lower part of bowels [apparently, on occasion, I have female disease], with great soreness in region of ovaries. Tumors, bladder difficulty, frequent urination,, leucorrhea, constipation of bowels, piles,. with all these symptoms patient nervous and irritable. The Orange Blossom Treatment removes all these by a thorough process of absorption.
A LOCAL APPLICATION. Perfectly harmless, which every lady can use, herself. Medicines taken internally will never relieve the many forms of female weakness. The remedy must be applied to the parts to obtain relief.
A PLAIN TALK TO LADIES in our circular. As your druggist for one, or send two cent stamp to home office for sample box and circular.
This medicine was made by J.A. McCill, M.D., & Co. of Chicago, Illinois. It sold for $1 for a one-month supply.



If you think those claims seem both outrageous and insulting to women, wait for the "testimonials." And, yes, it was supposed to be applied to THOSE parts.

Testimonials

Gents: How much many women [sic] have to endure with female disease? It was the same with my wife; she was troubled with hardness of the womb for twenty-two years, and it was so bad that she was not able to do her own housework. I tried everything in my power for her, but all in vain. I became acquainted with your Orange Blossom and tried it, and it did her good from the first, and with the use of four boxes she was restored to perfect health, and she can do her daily housework without pain.
                                                                Yours Truly, CARL HAGEN             
My wife has been sick for many years with womb disease, and was so weak that she could not do her own housework. She used many doctor's medicines, but they did her no good until I heard your valuable Orange Blossom and tried it. It helped immediately. My wife is perfectly well now and can't praise Orange Blossom enough. She wants to let all women know about it who are troubled with womb disease.                                                  Yours truly, MARIA and CHARLES SCHUETTE


Dear Sir: I wish to add my testimony to that of many others who have found relief by the use of your wonderful Orange Blossom. I have suffered intensely with my monthly periods for nine years, and none of the physicians could relieve me. I was finally informed by them that I was incurable. I was induced by your agent, Mrs. Noriss, to give the Orange Blossom a trial. After using one box was so much relieved I felt like another person, and after using nearly two boxes was cured. I cannot express my thanks as the cure was so wonderful. Would advise all sufferers from female weakness to try the Orange Blossom.
                                                       MISS ANNA VANOSDOL

Dear Sir: I can not be thankful enough for what Orange Blossom has done for me. It has cured me of a tumor. I was induced to try the Orange Blossom by your agent, Mrs. Norris. After one month's treatment my physician told me to keep on with it. After using five month's treatment he pronounces me cured of tumor.    MRS. MARY McCARTHUR

For all Female Diseases, Orange Blossom Ad


Obviously, the testimonials were fake, and were ever so much more dangerous for it. They were not clever enough to notice that two different people would have been unlikely to have used the exact same phrases "I was induced by your agent."

People often complain that we are living in an age where people think there should be a pill for every vague discomfort they feel. Well, here is a good example of how that all began. If you blame it solely on modern pharmaceuticals, you'll be missing the role of advertising which drilled this message into our collective conscious.

Notice that the many female symptoms were common "everyday" types of symptoms but were mixed with what could be much more serious symptoms. As well, notice the hardening of the womb mentioned. That seems to refer to what we would not call endometriosis of the uterus, which is also termed adenomyosis. This condition causes a lot of the symptoms that seem to be described in the advertisement:

  • Painful periods
  • Cramps
  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
It also causes heavy periods, painful intercourse, nausea and vomiting. This can be quite debilitating. It is not likely at all, of course, that a topical treatment could cure it, or any other treatment. But, as well, these complaints could just come from excessive heavy periods with nothing to do with any pathology. Any combination of these symptoms, as a cluster, could point to hundreds of different health conditions, both benign and dangerous. Amazingly, it cured them all by a process of absorption.

Insidious is the mention of doctors in the testimonials (cured a tumor, no less!), but the encouraging of self-diagnosis in the ads. This was part and parcel of patent medicine advertising and it is exactly what quack medicine still does today. It mentions doctors when it suits the advertising agenda, but for sales purposes, the patient becomes their own doctor.

Of course, the talk of "female weakness" is its own subject!

The image above is actually the front cover of such a circular as was mentioned in the ads. The following claims of cure were listed on these booklets, along with a great deal of other text:

The Famous Orange Blossom is a positive cure for the following diseases: Inflammation, congestion and falling of the womb, antoversion, retroversion, and prolapsus. Dropsy of the womb, ulceration, polypus, tumors, leucorrhea, profuse, and diffult menstruation, ovarian tumors, fibroid tumors, inflammation and congestion of the ovaries, cancers in the earlier stages, laceration of cervix (due to child-birth) Radically cured.

You may be wondering how this wonderful cure was applied locally. Orange Blossom was a suppository.  I have been able to find one advertisement for an orange blossom suppository that was made by a company of a different name. This may have been one of the imitators they were worried about.

The suppositories were one inch long and a half inch wide, wrapped in tin foil. According to the American Journal of Clinical Medicine, published in 1907, the suppositories "smelled rank" and tasted astringent (they tasted them?). They contained zinc sulphide, alum, cocoa butter, white wax, oil of almond, and henbane.

There was another suppository product called Orange Branch, which cotained cocoa butter, wax, and jequirity, which is an old word for a toxic herb called Abrus precatorius or Crab's Eye and which could be used as an abortifacient, as well as a laxative and sedative. The journal remarked on the strange custom of using "Orange" to name suppository and pill products, which seemed to be a trend.

It may be unwise to trust the opinion of the American Journal of Clinical Medicine, however, since in on the same page a reader who queried about "maintaining strength in old age" was advised to take strychnine arsenate.

For those old age blahs that plain old arsenic won't help. Strychnine was to be found any many "tonics" of the time, which you can read more about in Putting a spring in your step with strychnine
on the Helpful Poisons blog. How convenient to cure your ails with strychnine and arsenic, the same stuff you were already using to kill rats in the barn!

Friday, November 14, 2014

What Was Musterole?

Patent Medicine ad, Musterole Mustard oil rub for pain and congestion



Musterole was a medicinal rub that was used similar to Vicks VapoRub but can also be used similar to Ben Gay and other muscle and joint pain rubs. It is often said that Musterole existed long before Vicks Vapo-Rub, but this is an erroneous assumption, as we shall see.

Musterole was first introduced in 1905, and the company was incorporated in 1907. The name comes from mustard, one of the principle ingredients. Today, Musterole is no longer made, but can sometimes be found through mail-order.



Musterole's mechanism of action was as a counter-irritant. Counter-irritants are agents such as methyl salcylate, camphor, or menthol that actually cause irritation to the skin, but in so doing provide some relief of muscle or joint pain by dilating the blood vessels in the area and increasing blood flow, leading to a feeling of warmth. This provides a sort of masking effect for pain. All the mechanisms by which the agents work are not known, but they have been used for many years. Mustard is an irritant and in the right dose can work as a counter-irritant. A mustard-poultice laid on the chest is a time-honored remedy for cold and cough symptoms, helping to relieve chest congestion. Musterole was basically a pre-made mustard preparation, but it also contained other counter-irritant agents.

Although Musterole was long used safely in the same way as Vicks or arthritis rubs, in the early days of the patent-medicine craze, its claims went much further than simply relief of minor aches or pain, or the relief of congestion. Indeed, the way in which Musterole was advertised in the early days may have made it quite dangerous.





When we apply a mustard poultice, although it may burn, and even blister the skin if left on too long, it is normally safe and somewhat effective for those of us without a serious sensitivity to mustard. However, Musterole was known to be a mixture of mustard oil, menthol, and camphor in a base of lard or some similar fat. Applied to the skin in this way, pure mustard oil is much stronger than a simple mustard poultice, and when mixed with a fat such a lard, it may not only blister the skin, but cause a serious external reaction that spreads beyond the point of application. Not only this, but systemic reactions might occur, either through inhalation or absorption through the skin.





Indeed "A Case of Poisoning by Musterole" was described in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Dr. David I. Macht, of Baltimore, in 1917. It is unknown if the patient was simply allergic to the active ingredients, or the preparation was too strong. Most likely, it was some combination of the two.


One thing that might happen if mustard oil is used injudiciously, is blistering of the skin. Cartons of Musterole in the early 1900's guaranteed that Musterole "Will Not Blister." Musterole claimed in ads that the salve "does the work of an old-fashioned mustard plaster, without the blister." This is curious since mustard oil is just as likely, if not more likely, to blister, than a plaster of mustard, depending on the concentration used. Once a mustard plaster is removed, the residue can be more easily washed off.

The Musterole Company of Cleveland, Ohio also claimed Musterole was:

Guaranteed under the Pure Food and Drugs Act June 30, 1906..For coughs and colds in the chest, pneumonia, asthma, bronchitis, croup, rheumatism, pleurisy, headache, neuralgia, sore joints, and muscles.

 Pamphlets circulated with the medicine also claimed:
There is nothing like Musterole for sore throat, tonsillitis, stiff neck, neuralgia, congestion, rheumatism, sore muscles, sprains, bronchitis, bruises, croup, asthma, headache, pleurisy, lumbago, pains and aches of the backs or joints, chillblains, frosted feet, colds of the chest (it prevents pneumonia).
It relieves pain almost instantly.

Musterole is the best and most powerful external preperation ever discovered for the relief of inflammation, congestion and all nerve pain.

Obviously, these claims were sensational, and some of the recommendations, such as using Musterole for asthma, could be dangerous. For other complaints, the preparation might make things worse. The only realistic claim that could be made is that it provided some relief for minor aches and pain, and perhaps for cold and chest congestion if used as a chest rub.

It certainly would not have done anything for tonsillitis, let alone neuralgia or croup. Nor could it prevent pneumonia. The prevention of pneumonia, by the way, was a common claim for almost any patent medicine supposed to treat colds or bronchitis.


Although its origins were dubious, Musterole survived and after 1920 was distributed worldwide. It became not only a trusted preparation in the 1930's and 1940's, and even through to the '50's, for relief of aches, pains, and congestion. It was offered in three strengths, a children's mild Musterole, and a regular an extra strong for adults. It was overshadowed by Vicks VapoRub and other drugs.

Many like to claim that Vicks Vapo-Rub was an imitator, but this is far from the truth. Although the two products are similar, they were actually born at about the same time. The Vicks product had a distinct advantage over Musterole. It smelled much more pleasant. Musterole stank! Or, at least, it hit you over the head with its strong smell.



Vicks VapoRub started out in 1905 as Richardson's Croupe and Pnemonia Cure Salve. As you can see, the claims were inflated just as for Musterole. It contained menthol, camphor, and petroleum jelly. Before long, the over-long name was changed to Magic Croup Salve, then Vicks Salve, then Vicks VapoRub.

People who grew up on Musterole are sometimes not aware that Vicks VapoRub had just as loyal a following. It was quite popular, for example, during the great flu epidemic of 1918.

The alliterative name, Vicks VapoRub, probably had a lot to do with the product's continued success, as Musterole slowly faded from drugstore shelves. Musterole was bought by the Plough Company in 1956, which continued producing it, until they were merged with Schering Pharmaceutical in 1970 to become Schering-Plough, which was in 2009 absorbed by Merck and Co. At some point before this, Musterole had ceased being manufactured. It had faded into obscurity, however, to the point that nobody seems to know when it stopped being available.

If you've used Vicks VapoRub, you've probably had one container that you used for a couple of years, if not more. So too, would Musterole be used. One container went so far that by the time you were needing a new one, the product had disappeared without your having realized it.


Although Vicks VapoRub clears your sinuses and causes a little eye-watering, the effect is mostly pleasant. According the those who experienced it in their youth, Musterole, with its mustard oil, burned the eyes, caused the nose to run uncontrollably, and stank up the sheets and the house. I am glad I grew up on Vicks! Some seem to have unpleasant memories of Musterole, and would rather have gone to school sick than to stay home a receive a Musterole rub, while others have fond and nostalgic memories of the stinky salve.

Although Musterole is no longer made, it is possible to find a few jars, here and there, being offered for sale on the internet. If you do investigate the ingredients used in many of the old-time patent medicines, you may often wonder why certain ingredients were used that would seem to have no purpose. After all, some ingredients that we know to day to be either extremely harsh, or poisonous, would seem obviously to have been thought to be therapeutic. Yet, you will also find that they contained lots of sugar and more pleasant culinary herbs. This is because the medicines would have tasted awful without a lot of attention paid to masking the bitter, acidic, or pungent flavors of the preparations. Even alcohol, although it served a "medicinal" purpose, was a good way to cover up other more unpleasant flavors.

Aspironal Cold Remedy — Better Than Whiskey For Colds and Flu!



Aspironal was a purported cold remedy manufactured by Aspironal Laboratories in Atlanta, Georgia, around the period of 1919 to 1921. The name obviously played on the name of Aspirin, as the medicine, which was a liquid solution, contained a solution of sodium salicylate and other ingredients. Salicylates are compounds from which aspirin is derived.

The advertisements for the medicine claimed it was "better than whiskey" for the treatment of colds or flu. Of course, although whiskey can provide some relief from the symptoms of a cold, it is not a cure, by any means. Neither are salicylates or any of the other ingredients in the Aspironal. Although the labels claimed that the solution contained 10% alcohol, it probably contained much more.

When federal prohibition tool place in 1920, some states had already enacted their own prohibition laws. Druggists and patent medicine makers took advantage of a loophole that allowed the sale of "medicinal Whiskey." Although whiskey as medicine was the front, the intent was obviously to make money supplying the public with alcohol in the only way they could legally obtain it. Medicines like Aspironal, which mentioned whiskey, and which, as required, declared the amount of alcohol on the label, quite often contained more alcohol than declared. Under the Pure Food and Drugs act, this was considered misbranding, as were, of course, the fraudulent medical claims.

The ads for Aspironal made fairly bold claims and promises:

Delightful elixir, Called Aspironal, medicated with latest scientific remedies that are endorsed by medical authorities to cut short a cold or cough due to cold and prevent complications.

Every druggist in the U.S. instructed to refund price while you wait at counter if you don't feel relief coming in two minutes.

Delightful Taste, Immediate Relief, Quick Warm-Up.

You can imagine in what for this 'immediate relief' and 'quick warm-up' might come for a person in dire need of a drink! The dose instructions on the bottle were essentially to keep taking 1 teaspoonful until the desired effect. In other words, drink until you feel the desired buzz. Of course, they were careful to give the dose for children as drops.

Aspironal, which probably contained up to 15% alcohol, much more than the highest alcohol beer, also contained the aforementioned sodium salicylate, cascara, and a small amount of mydriatic alkaloids, probably from belladonna; and some menthol. Cascara is a laxative herb. Reference is made to the "bowels moving freely" on the dosage instructions. Mydriatic alkaloids are drugs that cause the pupil of the eye to dilate. An ophthalmologist uses a small amount of these kinds of compounds, in the form of an eye drop, to cause your pupil to dilate for examination.

Atropine is such an alkaloid, which is obtained from the nightshade family. Although this is a poisonous substance, it is also a lifesaver, and was, and still is, standard supply for troops under threat of attack by nerve agent, used, along with "2-PAM Chloride" to counteract the affects of these deadly chemical agents. The presence of these alkaloids in Aspironal probably had no other significance than extracts of belladonna being common in medicine of the this time period. The menthol, of course, is something you might find in modern cough remedies. Menthol has an agreeably "mediciny" taste, and does provide some help with congestion, etc. However, there was probably only enough menthol in Aspironal to make it taste more like a medicine than a cheap liquor, which, in those days, may have been a pointless distinction.





Thursday, November 13, 2014

Karswood Creosote - Inhaling Wood-Tar Cresote will Cure Colds, Flu, and Tuberculosis!



If you have a fireplace, and have ever had to clean it out, you are familiar with creosote. As well, if you've ever taken a walk on the tracks, and noted the sticky black coating on the railroad ties, you've discovered creosote. It is a by-product of the burning of wood or coal, which leaves behind a stick black tar that can be further distilled to creosote. Rail-road ties, wooden utility poles, and wood used for marine docks have been traditionally coated with coal-tar creosote. IT is an excellent preservative, both insecticide and antimicrobial, and makes such wood last a long, long time. It can also be quite toxic if you are exposed to it in large quantities. Wood-tar creosote was used as a meat preservative.

However, since it is such a great preservative, it is no wonder that quack-medicine once saw it as an effective treatment for the symptoms of cold or flu. It was used as an expectorant and an anti-septic. It was also used an an anesthetic and even a laxative.


Medicines made from creosote were available over-the-counter for home use and once such medicine was Karswood Creosote, introduced around 1895. When it came out it was advertised as

 A new Sweetwood Creosote, for inhaling from a pocket handkerchief. If you suffer from Cold in the Head try one bottle: It will relieve you at once. A perfect cure for Cough, Bronchitis, Asthma, Whooping Cough, Croups, Nasal Catarrh [stuffy nose], Weak Lungs, and Sore Throat. Prevents the spreading of infectious diseases if a few drops be sprinkled on the pillow at night, so that it can be inhaled during sleep... - E.G. Hughes, Chemist, Victoria St., Manchester.


The advertisement for Karswood Cresote, above, is interesting for its use of an anatomical diagram and its "explanation," presumably for how the medicine works. Note that this non-explanation is similar to the type of pseudoscience you will find today. That is, it has nothing to do with whether or not inhaled creosote could treat anything. The numbers of the explanatory text correspond to the numbers in the diagram.


The Explanation


The dotted lines show the show the direction taken by the air during breathing.

1. The Nasal Cavity, always attacked by the Microbes of Influenza, Catarrh, Cold in the had, etc.
2. Passage from the Nose to the Mouth.
3. The Throat, which becomes sore from Colds, Fevers, etc.
4. The Gullet, or Passages from the Mouth to the Stomach.
5. The Wind Pipe, or Passages to the Lungs.
6. Bronchial Tubes, the seat of Bronchitis and Asthma.
7. The lower lobes of the Lungs which become congested with Pneumonia.
8. The Lungs, which are the seat of Consumption, etc.

As you can see, the explanation is simply that, "we get colds and we get the flu." The claims below the diagram, do not stop at claiming a cure for colds, flu, or bronchitis, but also claim a cure for Whooping Cough, Hay Fever, Croup, and Asthma. It also claims to be a cure for Incipient Consumption. Consumption means tuberculosis and incipient refers to its being in the beginning stages. Tuberculosis infections were at their peak in the 1800's, especially in Europe, where it caused about 25% of all deaths. There were many claims of cures for this deadly scourge, including mercury, which probably makes inhaling creosote seem quite benign.





Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Were Old-Time Patent Medicines Really Patented?

The term patent-medicine, used to refer to the unregulated quack remedies of the 1800's, such as those featured in traveling medicine shows, may be confusing. How could these medicines have been patented? Does this term refer to the United States Patent Office, or any other patent granting organization?

In reality, the term patent used in patent-medicine had nothing to do with the modern use of the word. Patent medicine did not begin in the United States, of course, it was a carry-over from something that had gone on for centuries in England. There, like in the U.S. these products were the most advertised products existing. Certin products in England were given a "patent of royal favor." These products carried the crest of the king, and enjoyed special favor as preferred royal treatments. The term patent-medicine was a hold-over from these times, although, of course, none of the medicines sold in the U.S. enjoyed any kingly favor.





Although the formulas of the medicines were not legally patented, the trademarks and logos were filed with the patent office. As author Ann Anderson points out in Snake Oil, Hustlers and Hambones: The American Medicine Show, it would not have been in the best interest of these quack remedy purveyors to actually patent their formulas, as that would have required them to reveal the actual ingredients. As well, such patents went into the public domain after 17 years. It is doubtful that the ingredients in old time nostrums remained the same for all the years they were sold, but the trademarks and logos, after being registered with the patent office, could be used to maintain a brand identity for the product.

The word patent really was more intended to mean the same thing as "proprietary." In other words, the ingredients were secret. These secret medicines, both "cures" and "remedies" started becoming popular during the 17th to 18th centuries in Britain and her colonies, including North America. Although many of the secret ingredients were, in fact, similar to any other patent medicine, even more important to the makers was the branding, including not only the catchy names, but the fancy and often colorful containers. A similar trend occurred in many European countries, though perhaps not on the scale seen in Britain and North America.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hamlin's Wizard OIl: The Cancer Curing Liniment




Hamlin's Wizard oil, launched in 1861, was a famous patent medicine of the late 1800's and early 1900's meant to be used as a liniment. According to the ad shown here, it was a remedy of rheumatism, neuralgia, toothache, headache, diphtheria, sore throat, lame back, sprains, bruises, corns, cramps, colic, diarrhea, and all pain and inflammation. This liniment was widely distributed and imitated. Recipes for preparations approximating Wizard Oil appeared in publications of the time.

Wizard Oil, Humorous and Sentimental Songs

The liniment was claimed to contain alcohol, camphor, sassafras oil, clove oil, turpentine, ammonia, and chloroform. An analysis performed in 1915, upon pursuit of a charge against the company showed that it contained 55% alcohol, 40% essential oils, "probably camphor," as well as ammonia and unidentified alkaloid material. Likely, the actual formula was variable depending on what the makers had on hand.



The charge in question was filed by the U.S. District Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, acting on a report by the Secretary of Agriculture. The charge was one of misbranding, as pamphlets that came with packages of Hamlin's Wizard oil claimed that the liniment could cure much more serious conditions than those named above. The pamphlets claimed that the medicine could cure cancer:

"Cancer -- Hamlin's Wizard Oil will check the growth and permanently cure a Cancer if treatment is begun in the early stages of its development and faithfully continued for a long enough period of time. We have knowledge of a number of permanent cures of Cancer by the use of Hamlin's Wizard oil. [example of testimonial given, claimed to be sworn to before a Notary public] Hydrophobia -- Can be positively prevented by promptly washing out the bite with Hamlin's Wizard Oil. (See Bites) Pneumonia -- Can be positively prevented by prompt treatment the same as for Cold on Lungs. If neglected until developed, pneumonia requires the immediate attention of a physician. Tumor -- A tumor, although not as dangerous, and more easily cured than a cancer, should be removed by a surgeon. Relief can be obtained and a cure effected by using Wizard Oil the same as for cancer, if treatment is begun before tumor has had time to develop.



The company plead guilty to the charges of misbranding and paid a fine of $200, plus court costs, and forced to remove the cancer claims from its materials.

Ironically, since Hamlin's Wizard Oil contained similar ingredients as modern muscle rubs and  other topical pain treatments, it may well have provided some temporary relief to certain pain conditions, such as rheumatism, back ache, sprains and cramps. This is because essential oils such as camphor, clove, and others act as counter-irritants, which is why they are used in modern preparations.

Some other conditions it was claimed to treat, such as ulcers, would have required it to be taken internally. Given the ingredients, this would have been markedly unpleasant. It was also claimed to cure deafness and many other things.

The popularity of Hamlin's Wizard oil was probably due, in large part, to it having a traveling medicine show that was as popular an attraction as circuses. Since such shows competed not only with circuses, but also with the very popular Wild West shows, and minstrel shows, they became very elaborate and spectacular.

The famous Kickapoo Indian Oil, part of one of the biggest traveling Indian Medicine shows, was claimed to be a traditional Kickapoo medicine called sagwa, but it actually had nothing whatsoever to do with the Kickapoo and instead was a liniment containing virtually identical ingredients to Hamlin's Wizard Oil. This oil was initially called Flagg's Instant Relief.

To read more about medicine shows, see Medicine Show in Old West: Patent Medicines and Drugs During 19th Century Before TV Advertisement.



Dr. Kilmers Swamp Root Kidney, Liver, and Bladder Cure



Dr. Kilmer's Swamp root was claimed by its makers to have been developed in 1878, by a doctor named S. Andral Kilmer of Binghampton, New York. Some bottles of this nostrum were labeled The Great Dr. Kilmer's Swamp-Root Kidney, Liver & Bladder Cure Specific. Swamp Root was, for course,  not a specific cure for anything. This is why, after the passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 the Label was changed to Dr. Kilmer's Swamp-Root, Kidney Remedy. Kilmer's Swamp root was one of the most popular and famous patent medicines of its time.


Various claims were attached to this nostrum. It was claimed, as the label indicated, to cure all kidney, liver, bladder and uric acid troubles; as well as "disorders due to weak kidneys." It was claimed also to cure catarrh of the bladder. Catarrh referred to an inflammation of the mucous membranes and caused buildup up of mucous in the nose or throat. In the 1800's catarrh of the bladder was a frequent diagnosis and probably referred to bladder stones and the accompanying symptoms, or to an inflammatory buildup in the bladder. A similar claim was that Swamp root cured gravel, which referred to kidney stones. Swamp root was also said to cure rheumatism, lumbago (lower back pain), and Bright's disease.

The makers of this nostrum gave helpful instructions on how to tell if you had kidney problems, for which Swamp-Root was needed. They distributed these instructions in circulars:

"Fill a bottle or common glass with urine and let it stand for twenty-four hours. A sediment or settling usually indicates an unhealthy condition of the kidneys.

These instructions would ensure that pretty much everyone who followed them would diagnose themselves with kidney troubles! All urine has sediment and the presence of sediment has nothing to do with unhealthy kidneys, save an actual analysis of the contents of the sediment.

Image by Joe Mabel via wikimedia


Andral S. Kilmer, according to the literature for the product, was an "eminent kidney and bladder specialist." It appears that, although Dr. Kilmer was indeed a real physician, and may have "discovered" swamp root, he may have had no involvement in the actual product. He filed suit against a Jonas M. Kilmer, and others, saying :

Image by Joe Mabel
via wikimedia

"Defendant (Kr. Kilmer and Co.] holds out and represents that plaintiff [Dr. Andral Kilmer] is the duly licensed, qualified and acting physician in charge of the medical department of said defendant; that it represents, holds out, and pretends to give medical advice and prescribe medicines for disease which it pretends to diagnose."

Not only was his name used, but his image appeared on the box, as show on the left,  that the bottles of swamp root were packaged in.

According to Jonas M. Kilmer: "Swamp root was discovered through scientific research and study by Dr. Kilmer who graduated with honors and is now actively engaged in the practice of his profession, which calling he has successfully followed for many years."

Although it is not clear whether Jonas M. Kilmer, and his son Willis Sharpe Kilmer, had, at some point, had authority to use Andral Kilmer's name and qualifications on their product. The official story was that Jonas, who was the brother of Andral Kilmer, had bought out his brother in order to promote the business himself.

Accoring to a story of the time,  published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, they were not able to prove that he was in any way actively involved in their fraud. Whether this was true, and Dr. Kilmer had other motives for bringing the suit is unknown. Certainly, Jonas and his son made a great deal of money on the Swamp Root formula that Andral Kilmer  was supposed to have developed. This certainly could have been a motive for the suit.

The product label was subsequently changed to simply read Swamp Root, Kidney, Liver and Bladder Remedy. Today, it is still available from the Oakhurst Company, under the name of Dr. Kilmer's Swamp Root Herbal Tonic. According to the company, it has been continually produced since its inception.

Read more at Old Main Artifacts.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Before There Was Bayer Aspirin There Was Bayer Heroin

Although Bayer, or Freidr. Bayer & Co. of Elberberfeld, Germany, had already created its first aspirin product by 1894, the company decided to hold off on moving forward with it in favor of another product: heroin. The company introduced their heroin product around autumn, 1898. It was a hydrochloric salt of heroin, soluble in water. It was otherwise known as Di-acetic ester of Morphia.






Ads in medical publications of the time claimed it was "an excellent substitue for Codeine. In doses of 5 milligrammes Heroin has given excellent results in cases of bronchitis, paryngitis, catarrh of the lungs, and in ashtma bronchiale. In the latter two cases the does may be increased to 1 centigramme. Heroin does not cause constiptation. Its dose is much smaller than that of morphine. Heroin can be administered to patients with a weak heart who cannot tolerate morphine. It is best given in the form of powder mixed with sugar or may be dissolved in brandy, or water acidulated by the addition of a few drops of acetic acid [vinegar]. "

Bayer heroin ad with vial


Heroin, which is derived from opium and is technically called diacetylmorphine, had been synthesized 20 years before but Bayer claimed to have originated it.

Bayer Aspirin and Bayer Heroin in the same advertisement


As hard as it is to believe, ads appeared in publications, during the late 1800's and early 1900's advertising both Bayer aspirin and Bayer heroin.

Read more about the history of Bayer heroin here.