Tuesday, November 11, 2014

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.