Saturday, May 30, 2015

page 35 -- "Patent Medicine", "Toadstool Millionaires", Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906

updated 4 October 2015
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The origin of these cards is a mystery. If you know anything abourt them, please comment below or email me. Thanks!

In order to understand the success of some of the trade card campaigns included in the Earl J. Arnold Advertising Card Collection, it is necessary to understand that circumstances in the late 19th century were extraordinarily difficult when it came to health problems. A couple of resources explain this well.

The explanation given by Peggy M. Baker, Director & Librarian, Pilgrim Society & Pilgrim Hall Museum on the Museum's page, "PATENT MEDICINE: Cures & Quacks" is particularly good:
"...Patent medicines are NOT medicines that have been patented. They are instead proprietary (i.e., "secret formula") and unproved remedies advertised and sold directly to the public.
 "The growth of the patent medicine industry was rooted in the medical shortcomings of the early 19th century. There were few doctors and those expensive. Prospects were not cheerful even for those who could afford professional medical care. Knowledge of human physiology and of the causes and progress of disease was extremely limited (it was not until 1861 that the theory of germs was first published by Louis Pasteur). Routine health care in the 19th century was generally provided by the mother of the family, relying on home remedies, recipes for which could often be found in cookbooks. Even the most skillful mother realized, however, that she could not combat the terrible diseases that became endemic during the course of the 19th century - typhoid, typhus, yellow fever, cholera."
Quackwatch's presentation of the Princeton University Press book, "The Toadstool Millionaires:A Social History of Patent Medicines in America before Federal Regulation-James Harvey Young PhD (1961) makes a very authoritative and thorough work on this subject available to the general public.

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 required that ingredients be listed on sales packages. Alcohol and opiates and even poisons were revealed to be part of some of these potions. Opportunities to deceive the public by concealing ingredients were, unfortunately, replaced by other opportunities and fraudulent claims. These tended to move away from medicines toward health supplements and dietary aids in the 20th century, though stories of greed at the expense of your pocketbook and health continued to crop up in the 21st century.

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