With medicine and technology advancing rapidly, it is not surprising to wonder what means older generations used to treat their ailments, well before the prevalence of medicine as we know it today.
In the 17th century, the deception with herbs, water and alcohol that were presented as healing with strange stories from foreign countries so that the sellers would make money.
The Anderson’s pills they advertised themselves with false stories that said their recipe came from Venice and Anderson’s close ties to the King. They even marketed lubricants, wafers, salves and tonics claiming to cure everything. It was even said that they can cure every deficiency, hair loss, lethargy and anything else you can think of. They were even used for supposed anesthesia.
The spread of amateur medicines developed particularly at the end of the 19th centurymainly in the US, with production growing and more businesses and… ads being created.
Unscientific drugs began to be everywhere with the first advertisements appearing to persuade people to buy them. Advertisers used thin women and pictures of indigenous people to make them more desirable, showing that they came from exotic and authentic recipes of ancient cultures.
Not only did these pills fail to cure illnesses, they made things worse for the patient. Lots of pills they contained opiate substances (morphine, heroin) and cocainewhile many of them were even given to babies, despite being life-threatening alcohol percentages.
Colden’s Liquid Beef Tonic was one of the cures for alcoholism and contained 26.5% alcohol, as did Parker’s Tonic which was supposed to be a herbal product but had 41.6% alcohol.
It remains unknown how many people may have died from consuming these drugs.
The 10 most compoyantic drugs
Mrs. Winslow’s syrup: This syrup was given to children and was one of the most important causes of child deaths from 1868 until 1911 when it was banned by the American Medical Association as a “baby killer”. About 30 grams contained 65 milligrams of morphine and sold around 1.5 million bottles a year.
The pink pills for pale people: Pink Pills were created in Canada in 1886 and were sold in the UK until the 1970s.
Asthma cigarettes: They were sold with strontium as one of their ingredients. It was basically like an old inhaler. According to GuardianMarcel Proust was a fan of them.
Hunt’s Remedy: Appeared as the treatment of kidney problems towards the end of the 19th century. The packaging stands out by showing a man fighting a skeleton that is supposed to be pain. He holds a bottle of the medicine as his weapon.
Dr. Thomas’ Eclectic Oil: It was a pain reliever touted for its ability to cure everything. Of course, turpentine, alcohol and tinctures of opium were not the best choices of ingredients.
Ayer’s Ague Cure: It was presented as a herbal tonic that cured all malaria, blood diseases and liver problems. Its packaging featured two frogs handing a bottle to a crocodile in a river. What an irony. It also contained quinine although this is something the company never accepted.
Hamlin’s Wizard Oil: It was supposed to cure all pains. Its packaging showed an elephant stealing a bottle, while a man wrote on the elephant’s back: “Heals all the pains of man and beast.” It contained 50%-70% alcohol with ammonia and turpentine, which surely can only do harm.
The Pond extract: Marketed as a supposed cure in ointment form. It was one of the first medicines to contain witch hazel.
Dr. McMunn’s: It was a tonic based on quinine and opium.
Vin Mariani’s wine: It was a cocaine wine and was licensed by the Pope, Leo XIII, who supposedly managed to live to the age of 93 thanks to this healing wine. In fact, Mariani sent samples to celebrities, as influencers do today, and asked for their testimonials in order to advertise the wine.
The great change that led to their extinction
The press played a key role in the disappearance of all these preparations, with journalists such as Samuel Hopkins, to change the situation. Hopkins published a report entitled “Great American Scam” in which he described terrorism, false testimony and deadly substances that brought only negative results to patients.
In 1906 there was also a new legislation in the USA on pure foods and drugs. Also, the Medicines Act in the United Kingdom in 1908 limited the use of cocaine and morphine as key ingredients to 1%, a percentage that still applies today.
This Reader article does not provide medical advice and is in no way a substitute for a medical professional’s opinion. For any health problem you have, you should contact a health professional.