The Toadstool Millionaires: A Social History of Patent Medicines in America before Federal Regulation

The Toadstool Millionaires: A Social History of Patent Medicines in America before Federal Regulation

Copyright Date: 1961
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The Toadstool Millionaires: A Social History of Patent Medicines in America before Federal Regulation
    Book Description:

    Contents: Preface. Acknowledgments. Part One: Early Days. Part Two: Heyday. Part Three: Themes. Part Four: Legislation. Part Five: Epilogue. Index.

    Originally published in 1972.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6900-8
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    (pp. vii-ix)
    (pp. x-x)
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
    • 1 “AT THE SIGN OF GALEN’S HEAD” English patent medicines in colonial America
      (pp. 3-15)

      In theBoston News-Letterfor November 26, 1761, Charles Russell of Charlestown advised that “At his Shop at the Sign of GALEN’S HEAD opposite the Three Cranes and near the FERRY” he had for sale, imported on the latest ships from London, “Drugs, and Medicines, Chymical and Galenical,” and certain patent medicines. These last were listed: Bateman’s and Stoughton’s Drops, Lockyer’s, Hooper’s, and Anderson’s Pills, British OyI, and Daffy’s Elixir.¹

      American patent medicine history began in Britain. Its founders were certain ingenious Englishmen who combined medical lore and promotional zeal in an age when regular medicines left much to be...

    • 2 “GALVANISING TRUMPERY” American independence in the realm of pseudo-medicine
      (pp. 16-30)

      America won her independence in the realm of pseudo-medicine not with a pill or a potion, not with an elixir or a vermi-fuge, but with a pair of small metal rods called tractors. The hero of this revolution was a physician in Plainfield, Connecticut, named Elisha Perkins. The critical date was 1796, in which year the government granted Perkins the first patent to be issued for a medical device under the Constitution of the United States.

      Why did the revolution come so late? Why had not some shrewd colonial citizen, observing the steady sales of the old English patent medicines...

    • 3 VIALS AND VERMIFUGES The expansion of American nostrums during the early 19th century
      (pp. 31-43)

      Elisha Perkins was laying plans to patent his metallic tractors when, in the mid-1790’s, there arrived on American shores from England a poor druggist’s apprentice named Thomas W. Dyott. The young migrant settled in Philadelphia and began to earn his living at blacking shoes. By day Dyott applied the polish which by night he made, and he performed so conspicuously, doing his daubing in the wide window of his small shop, that he attracted attention. Soon he was manufacturing more polish than he himself could daub on other men’s boots. The surplus he sold to others. In time Dyott accumulated...

    • 4 “THE OLD WIZZARD” Thomsonianism, a democratic system of patented medication
      (pp. 44-57)

      Of all the medical patents issued in the early decades of American independence, the patent with the greatest impact on society was granted to a New Hampshire farmer named Samuel Thomson. Influenced by the same forces that boomed the sale of packaged remedies, Thomson patented a system of medical treatment that made every man his own physician, a system destined to sweep the nation.

      The road to the patent office, however, was arduous, and Thomson’s own account of it grim. He was born on the frontier in 1769. His parents were poverty-stricken. His father was stern and severe. The boy’s...

    • 5 HERCULES AND HYDRA The first significant critique of patent medicines
      (pp. 58-74)

      Conflicting versions often arise concerning the circumstances of momentous discoveries, and so it is with the Panacea of William Swaim. The inventor was a resident of New York or Philadelphia. He was a harness maker or a bookbinder. He either encountered the recipe which was to make him famous in the pages of an old volume he was repairing or had it handed him in the prescription of a doctor whom he had consulted because of an ailment.¹

      When Swaim got the formula, at any rate, he knew what to do with it. His success, particularly the techniques he employed...

    • 6 PURGATION UNLIMITED Patent medicines and the press
      (pp. 75-90)

      Globules of sarsaparilla are identical with globules of blood. Such was the astounding discovery of the distinguished German chemist, Justus von Liebig. At any rate, so asserted an advertising pamphlet issued in 1860. Great as was this achievement, the pamphleteer argued, the Teutonic scientist did not deserve sole credit. Liebig had merely proved what an English immigrant in America had found out a quarter of a century before. Peering through a microscope, Benjamin Brandreth had detected the similarity between the two kinds of globules. Brandreth now put a drawing in his pamphlet to demonstrate to the most casual observer that...

    • 7 “TO ARMS! TO ARMS!!” AND AFTER The Civil War, its aftermath, and the great boom
      (pp. 93-110)

      Abraham Lincoln had scarcely arrived in Washington to await his inauguration when an advertisement appeared on the front page of theNew York Herald.Using the iteration copy popular at the time, the notice read: PRESIDENT LINCOLN (repeated three times); DID YOU SEE HIM? (repeated four times); DID YOU SEE HIS WHISKERS? (three times); RAISED IN SIX WEEKS BY THE USE OF (only once); BELLINGHAM’S ONGUENT (six times).²

      Lincoln’s new beard was fair game for the advertiser, even if Dr. C. P. Bellingham stretched the truth until it broke in claiming credit for it. It was nothing new, of course,...

    • 8 THE GREAT OUTDOORS Patent medicine advertising by paint and poster
      (pp. 111-124)

      Mark Twain was but one of many Americans who, during the post-Civil War expansion of the nostrum traffic, objected to a particular type of effrontery on the part of patent medicine men. Among the “blessings” of 19th-century civilization which Twain’s Connecticut Yankee carried back to King Arthur’s England was outdoor advertising. Knights went about sandwiched between tabards emblazoned with slogans for prophylactic toothbrushes. Other knights wielded paint-pot and stencil-plate to such good effect “that there was not a cliff or a boulder or a dead wall in England but you could read on it at a mile distance” an urgent...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 9 ST. GEORGE AND THE DRAGON The patent medicine almanac
      (pp. 125-143)

      A modern-day student of history and a modern-day man of business, each interested in his own particular way in the century-old traditions of Hostetter’s Bitters, met in Pittsburgh on a spring afternoon.² They sat for a while in the Hostetter outer offices, where the paper work was done, chatting about the past. Then the businessman said: “Would you like to taste the Tonic we make today?”

      The student agreed, and the businessman led the way through a locked door to a large back room. The air was fragrant with the sweet odor of spices. A huge silvery mixing tank stood...

    • 10 “A MICROBE IS A MICROBE” Quackery and the germ theory
      (pp. 144-162)

      Many Americans got their first inkling of the germ theory of disease from patent medicine advertising. Always among the first by which the new is tried, nostrum promoters were quick to sense the dramatic implications inherent in the researches of Pasteur and Koch and their fellow-scientists. Even before most American physicians had become persuaded that bacilli could cause disease and that weakened bacilli introduced by inoculation could promote immunity,² a rash of germ-eradicating nostrums had assailed the mass market. Among the first and boldest was a pink liquid called the Microbe Killer. It was made by William Radam, a Prussian...

    • 11 THE PATTERN OF PATENT MEDICINE APPEALS An analysis of the psychology of patent medicine advertising
      (pp. 165-189)

      The next stage in the narrative of patent medicines in America concerns an expanding criticism that leads to restrictive laws. Before turning to these events, let us pause for some analysis. The psychology of patent medicine advertising is important because of both its priority and its variety.

      Nostrum manufacturers turned to ingenious advertising before other manufacturers did because they had to. So long as the demand for a product exceeded the supply, as David Potter has pointed out, the role of advertising could be simple and unsophisticated.² Retailers could insert into newspapers the simple message: “Here it is. Come and...

    • 12 MEDICINE SHOW The linking of entertainment to nostrum promotion
      (pp. 190-202)

      Nothing in God’s world is the matter with most of you but worms, worms, worms.”²

      Such a startling pronouncement, set in bold-faced type, might well give pause to any newspaper reader and urge the eye on down into the smaller print in search of whys and wherefores. How much more disturbing were the same words when heard rather than seen, delivered with pontifical assurance by the resonant voice of a commanding figure in a tall hat and cutaway coat, who gained in majesty through the flickering illumination of gasoline flares.

      Patent medicine promoters, during the same years that they pioneered...

    • 13 “THE GREAT AMERICAN FRAUD” Acceleration of the patent medicine critique
      (pp. 205-225)

      The most famous series of articles in American patent medicine history began on October 7, 1905, in the pages ofCollier’s, The National Weekly.They were written by a free-lance journalist named Samuel Hopkins Adams, and his conclusions were succinctly rendered in the title he gave to the series, “The Great American Fraud.” Adams did not say much that had not been said before in the long decades during which patent medicines had been criticized. But in theCollier’sseries he made a major campaign out of what had been an occasional skirmish, and he reached an audience not only...

    • 14 DR. WILEY’S LAW The passage of the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906
      (pp. 226-244)

      Members of the Proprietary Association of America, assembled in Boston for their annual meeting in September 1903, heard from the Committee on Legislation an ominous report. “At the recent Congress of Physicians and Surgeons held at the National Capital,” the Committee stated, “an agitation was begun by Prof. Wiley. . . .” The chief chemist of the Department of Agriculture was not content with a national food and drug bill which limited the definition of drugs to those recognized in the United StatesPharmacopoeia.He wanted to broaden the definition “to make it cover every kind of medicine for external...

    • 15 HALF A CENTURY LATER Sobering continuities in the realm of patent medicines
      (pp. 247-262)

      Prior to 1906, the only inhibition upon American patent medicine proprietors, except for an occasional critical article, was self-restraint. This did not prove an adequate force for the protection of the medicine-consuming public. In the half-century since 1906, the Pure Food and Drugs Act and subsequent legislation have provided agencies of the federal government with increasingly rigorous controls over drugs and devices for self-medication. Henry T. Helmbold and his 19th-century competitors would be astounded at the restraints placed upon the freedom of action of their successors. Yet, despite all the differences between the 1860’s and the 1960’s in the science...

    (pp. 263-270)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 271-282)