Truth in Advertising – Somethings Never Change

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the prevailing medical belief that “the more dangerous the disease, the more painful the remedy” meant that bloodletting, purging, and blistering were often prescribed. Not surprisingly, this led to the development of a market in patent medicines promising painless cure-alls. Manufacturers used trade cards to promote a world of pleasant medical fixes with friendly graphics and reassuring claims and testimonials. The ingredients in these patent medicines might have been as harmful as the illness, but they were more tempting than the agonizing solutions offered by doctors.  What follows are some examples of trade cards from the Oskar Diethelm Library at Weill Cornell Medical College:

Mrs. Lydia E. Pinkhams Vegetable Compound
Mrs. Lydia E. Pinkhams Vegetable Compound

Lydia Pinkham’s compound was targeted at women claiming to relieve menstrual and menopausal symptoms.  Besides alcohol it contained unicorn root, life root, black cohosh, pleurisy root and fenugreek seed.  Some of these ingredients were anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic.  The alcohol acted as a pain killer and a mood changer.

Ayer's Pills
Ayer’s Pills


Dr. C. McLane's Liver Pills
Dr. C. McLane’s Liver Pills

Liver pills were promoted to cure headaches, nausea, gout and disorders of the kidneys and the liver.

Horsford's Acid Phosphate
Horsford’s Acid Phosphate

Horsford’s acid phosphate was prescribed for abuse of alcohol.  The ingredients were claimed to restore the nerves to their usual activity.  Patients were encouraged to mix the acid phosphate with water and sugar.  Besides quenching your thirst it would aid digestion, relieve exhaustion and invigorate the system and apparently killed the cholera microbe.

Tarrant's Seltzer Aperient
Tarrant’s Seltzer Aperient

According to the copy on this advertisement you need Tarrant’s Seltzer Aperient all year round.  At 20 cents it was a bargain.

Lactart Milk Acid
Lactart Milk Acid

Lactart is made from lactic acid, the acid most commonly found in yogart and buttermilk.  It has a pleasant sourness.  It is still used in the food industry today – Pringles chips use lactic acid as a flavor enhancer.

Dunkley's Kalamazoo Celerytone
Dunkley’s Kalamazoo Celerytone

using nude ladies to attract attention Kalamazoo Celerytone was promoted as a morning bracer and appetizer to counteract headaches, insomnia, impotency, nervous stomach troubles, exhaustion, etc.  You could even add it to soups and stews.

Burdock Blood Bitters
Burdock Blood Bitters

Burdock Blood Bitters claimed to be the greatest of all blood purifiers curing constipation, headache, dyspepsia (upset stomach) and biliousness (abdominal pain from excess secretion of bile).   After you have taken Burdock Blood Bitters you can get married, aspire to any high positioning the world and enjoy life!




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