The Great American Fraud/Chapter 2
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Reprinted from Collier's Weekly, Oct. 28, 1905.
II. - PERUNA AND THE BRACERS
A distinguished public health official and medical writer once made this jocular suggestion to me:
"Let us buy in large quantities the cheapest Italian vermouth, poor gin and bitters. We will mix them in the proportion of three of vermouth to two of gin, with a dash of bitters, dilute and bottle them by the short quart, label them 'Smith's Reviver and Blood Purifier; dose, one wineglassful before each meal' ; advertise them to cure erysipelas, bunions, dyspepsia, heat rash, fever and agne, and consumption; and to prevent loss of hair, smallpox, old age, sunstroke and near-sightedness, and make our everlasting fortunes selling them to the temperance trade."
"That sounds to me very much like a cocktail," said I.
"So it is," he replied. "But it's just as much a medicine as Peruna, and not as bad a drink."
Peruna, or, as its owner, Dr. S. B. Hartman, of Columbus, Ohio (once a physician in good standing), prefers to write it, Pe-ru-na, is at present the most prominent proprietary nostrum in the country. It has taken the place once held by Green's Nervura and by Paine's Celery Compound, and for the same reason which made them popular. The name of that reason is alcohol.* Peruna is a stimulant pure and simple, and it is the more dangerous in that it sails under the false colors of a benign purpose.
According to an authoritative statement given out in private circulation a few years ago by its proprietors, Peruna is a compound of seven drugs with cologne spirits. The formula, they assure me, has not been materially changed. None of the seven drugs is of any great potency. Their total is less than one-half of 1 per cent. of the product. Medicinally they are too inconsiderable, in this proportion, to produce any effect. There remains to Peruna only water and cologne spirits, roughly in the proportion of three to one. Cologne spirits is the commercial term of alcohol.
What Peruna is Made of.
Any one wishing to make Peruna for home consumption may do so by mixing half a pint of cologne spirits, 190 proof, with a pint and a half of water, adding thereto a little cubebs for flavor and a little burned sugar for color. Manufactured in bulk, so a former Peruna agent estimates, its cost, including bottle and wrapper, is between fifteen and eighteen cents a bottle. Its price is $1.00. Because of this handsome margin of profit, and by way of making hay in the stolen sunshine of Peruna advertising, many imitations have sprung up to harrass the proprietors of the alcohol-and-water product. Pe-ru-vi-na, P-ru-na, Purina, Anurep (an obvious inversion); these, bottled and labeled to resemble Peruna, are self-confessed imitations. From what the Peruna people tell me, I gather that they are dangerous and damnable frauds, and that they cure nothing.
What does Peruna cure? Catarrh. That is the modest claim for it; nothing but catarrh. To be sure, a careful study of its literature will suggest its value as a tonic and a preventative of lassitude. But its reputation.
*Dr. Ashbel P. Grinnell of New York City, who has made a statistical study of patent medicines, asserts as a provable fact that more alcohol is consumed in this country in patent medicines than is dispensed in a legal way by licensed liquor venders, barring the sale of ales and beer.
rests on catarrh. What is catarrh? Whatever ails you. No matter what you've got, you will be not only enabled, but compelled, after reading Dr. Hartman's Peruna book, "The Ills of Life," to diagnose your illness as catarrh and to realize that Peruna alone will save you. Pneumonia is catarrh of the lungs; so is consumption. Dyspepsia is catarrh of the stomach. Enteritis is catarrh of the intestines. Appendicitis - surgeons, please note before operating - is catarrh of the appendix. Bright's disease is catarrh of the kidneys. Heart disease is catarrh of the heart. Canker sores are catarrh of the mouth. Measles is, perhaps, catarrh of the skin, since "a teaspoon of Peruna thrice daily or oftener is an effectual cure" ("The Ills of Life"). Similarly, malaria, one may guess, is catarrh of the mosquito that bit you. Other disease not specifically placed in the catarrhal class, but yielding to Peruna (in the book), are colic, mumps, convulsions, neuralgia, women's complaints and rheumatism. Yet "Peruna is not a cure-all," virtuously disclaims Dr. Hartman, and grasps at a golden opportunity by advertising his nostrum as a preventative against yellow fever! That alcohol and water, with a little coloring matter and one-half of 1 per cent. of mild drugs, will cure all or any of the ills listed above is too ridiculous to need refutation. Nor does Dr. Hartman himself personally make the claim for his product. He stated to me specifically and repeatedly that no drug or combination of drugs, with the possible exception of quinin for malaria, will cure disease. His claim is that the belief of the patient in Peruna, fostered as it is by the printed testimony, and aided by the "gentle stimulation," produces good results. It is well established that in certain classes of disease the opposite is true. A considerable proportion of tuberculosis cases show a history of the Peruna type of medicine taken in the early stages, with the result of diminishing the patient's resistant power, and much of the typhoid in the middle west is complicated by the victim's "keeping up" on the stimulus long after he should have been under a doctor's care. But it is not as a fraud on the sick alone that Peruna is baneful, but as the maker of drunkards also.
"It can be used any length of time without acquiring a drug habit," declares the Peruna book, and therein, I regret to say, lies specifically and directly. The lie is ingeniously back up by Dr. Hartman's argument that "nobody could get drunk on the prescribed doses of Peruna."
Perhaps this is true, though I note three wineglassfuls in forty-five minutes as a prescription, which might temporarily alter a prohibitionist's outlook on life. But what makes Peruna profitable to the maker and a curse to the community at large is the fact that the minimum dose first ceases to satisfy, then the moderate dose, and finally the maximum dose; and the unsuspecting patron, who began with it as a medicine, goes on to use it as a beverage, and finally to be enslaved by it as a habit. A well-known authority on drug addictions writes me:
"A number of physicians have called my attention to the use of Peruna, both preceding and following alcohol and drug addictions. Lydia Pinkham's Compound is another dangerous drug used largely by drinkers; Pain's Celery Compound also. I have in the last two years met four cases of persons who drank Peruna in large quantities to intoxication. This was given to them originally as a tonic. They were treated under my care as simple alcoholics."
The Government Forbids the Sale of Peruna to Indians.
Expert opinion on the non-medical side is represented in the government order to the Indian Department, reproduced on the following page, the kernel of which is this:
"In connection with this investigation, please give particular attention
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
office of indian affairs,
Washington, D.C., August 10, 1905.
To Indian Agents and School Superintendents in charge of Agencie:
The attention of the Office has been called to the fact that many licensed traders are very negligent as to the way in which their stores are kept. Some lack of order might be condoned, but it is reported that many stores are dirty even to filthiness. Such a condition of affairs need not be tolerated, and improvement in that respect must be insisted on. The office is not so inexperienced as to suppose that traders open stores among Indians from philanthropic motives. Nevertheless a trader has a great influence among the Indians with whom he has constant dealing and who are often dependent upon him, and there are not a few instances in which the trader has exerted this influence for the welfare of his customers as well as for his own profit. A well-kept store, tidy in appearance, where the goods, especially eatables, are handled in a cleanly way, with due regard to ordinary hygiene, and where exact business methods prevail is a civilizing influence among Indians, while disorder, slovenliness, slipshod ways, and dirt are demoralizing. You will please examine into the way in which the traders under your supervision conduct their stores, how their goods, particularly edible goods, are handled, stored, and given out, and see to it that in these respects, as well in respect of weights, prices, and account-keeping, the business is properly conducted. If any trader, after due notice, fails to come up to these requirements you will report him to this office. In connection with this investigation, please give particular attention to the proprietary medicines and other compounds which the traders keep in stock, with special reference to the liability of their misuse by Indians on account of the alcohol which they contain. The sale of Peruna, which is on the lists of several traders, is hereby absolutely prohibited. As a medicine, something else can be substituted; as an intoxicant, it has been found too tempting and effective. Anything of the sort under another name which is found to lead to intoxication you will please report to this Office. When a compound of that sort gets a bad name it is liable to be put on the market with some slight change of form and a new name. Jamaica ginger and flavoring extracts of vanilla, lemon, and so forth, should be kept in only small quantities and in small bottles and should not be sold to Indians, or at least only sparingly to those who it is known will use them only for legitimate purposes. Of course you will continue to give attention to the labeling of poisonous drugs with skull and cross-bones as per Office circular of January 12, 1905. Copies of this circular letter are herewith to be furnish the traders. Yours, respectfully,
- C.F. LARRABEE Acting Commissioner.
WHAT THE GOVERNMENT THINKS OF PERUNA.
Note, in the fifth paragraph, these sentences: "The sale of Peruna, which is on the list of several traders, is hereby absolutely prohibited. As a medicine something else can be substituted; as an intoxicant it has been found too tempting and effective."
to the proprietary medicines and other compounds which the traders keep in stock, with special reference to the liability of their misuse by Indians on account of the alcohol which they contain. The sale of Peruna, which is on the lists of several traders, is hereby absolutely prohibited. As a medicine, something else can be substituted; as an intoxicant, it has been found too tempting and effective. Anything of the sort, under another name, which is found to lead to intoxication, you will please report to this office.
"[Signed] F. C. Larrabbee, Acting Commissioner."
Specific evidence of what Peruna can do will be found in the following report, verified by special investigation:
Pinedale, Wyo., Oct. 4. - (Special) - "Two men suffering from delirium tremens and one dead is the result of a Peruna intoxication which took place here a few days ago. C. E. Armstrong, of this place, and a party of three others started out on a camping trip to the Yellowstone country, taking with them several bottles of whiskey and ten bottles of Peruna, which one of the members of the party was taking as a tonic. The trip lasted over a week. The whiskey was exhausted and for two days the party was without liquor. At last some one suggested that they use Peruna, of which nine bottles remained. Before they stopped the whole remaining supply had been consumed and the four men were in a state of intoxication, the like of which they had never known before. Finally, one awoke with terrible cramps in his stomach and found his companions seemingly in an almost lifeless condition. Suffering terrible agony, he crawled on his hands and knees to a ranch over a mile distant, the process taking him half a day. Aid was sent to his three companions. Armstrong was dead when the rescue party arrived. The other two men, still unconscious, were brought to a town in a wagon and are still in a weak and emaciated condition. Armstrong's body was almost tied in a knot and could not be straightened for burial."
Here is the testimony from a druggist in a "no license" town:
"Peruna is bought by all the druggists in this section by the gross. I have seen persons thoroughly intoxicated from taking Peruna. The common remark in this place when a drunken party is particularly obstreperous is that he is on a 'Peruna drunk.' It is a notorious fact that a great many do use Peruna to get the alcoholic effect, and they certainly do get it good and strong. Now, there are so-called remedies used for the same purpose, namely, Gensenica, Kidney Specific, Jamaica Ginger, Hostetter's Bitters, etc."
So well recognized is this use of the nostrum that a number of the Southern newspapers advertise a cure for the "Peruna habit," which is probably worse than the habit, as it usually the case with these "cures." In southern Ohio and in the mountain districts of West Virginia the "Peruna jag" is a standard form of intoxication.
A testimonial-hunter in the employ of the Peruna company was referred by a Minnesota druggist to a prosperous farmer in the neighborhood. The farmer gave Peruna a most enthusiastic "send-off;" he had been using it for several months and could say, etc. Then he took the agent to his barn and showed him a heap of empty Peruna bottles. The agent counted them. There were seventy-four. The druggist added his testimonial. "That old boy has a'still' on all the time since he discovered Peruna," said he. "He's my star customer." The druggist's testimonial was not printed.
As the time when certain Chicago drug stores were fighting some of the leading patent medicines, and carrying only a small stock of them, a boy
These diagrams show what would be left in a bottle of patent medicine if everything was poured out except the alcohol; they also show the quantity of alcohol that would be present if the same bottle had contained whiskey, champagne, claret, or beer. It is apparent that a bottle of Peruna contains as much alcohol as five bottles of beer, or three bottles of claret or champagne - that is, bottles of the same size. It would take nearly nine bottles of beer to put as much alcohol into a thirsty man's system as a temperance advocate can get by drinking one bottle of Hostetter's Stomach Bitters. While the "doses" prescribed by the patent medicine manufacturers are only one to two teaspoonfuls several times a day, the opportunity to take more exists, and even small doses of alcohol, taken regularly, cause that craving which is the first step in the making of a drunkard or drug fiend.
[sic]called one evening at one of the downtown shops for thirty-nine bottles of Peruna. "There's the money," he said. "The old man wants to get his before it's all gone." Investigation showed that the purchaser was the night engineer of a big downtown building and that the entire working staff had "chipped in" to get a supply of their favorite stimulant.
"But why should any one who wants to get drunk drink Peruna when he can get whisky?" argues the nostrum-maker.
There are two reasons, one of which is that in many places the "medicine" can be obtained and the liquor can not. Maine, for instance, being a prohibition state, does a big business in patent medicines. So does Kansas. So do most of the no-license counties in the South, though a few have recently thrown out the disguised "boozes." Indian Territory and Oklahoma, as we have seen, have done so because of Poor Lo's predilection toward curing himself of depression with these remedies, and for a time, at least, Peruna was shipped in in unlabeled boxes.
United States District Attorney Mellette, of the western district of Indian Territory, writes: "Vast quantities of Peruna are shipped into this country, and I have caused a number of persons to be indicted for selling the same, and a few of them have been convicted or have entered pleas of guilty. I could give you hundreds of specific cases of 'Peruna drunk' among the Indians. It is a common beverage among them, used for the purposes of intoxication."
The other reason why Peruna or some other of its class is often the agency of drunkenness instead of whisky is that the drinker of Peruna doesn't want to get drunk, at least she doesn't know that she wants to get drunk. I use the feminine pronoun advisedly, because the remedies of this class are largely supported by women. Lydia Pinkham's variety of drink depends for its popularity chiefly on its alcohol. Paine's Celery Compound relieves depression and lack of vitality on the same principle that a cocktail does, and with the same necessity for repetition. I know an estimable lady from the middle West who visited her dissipated brother in New York - dissipated from her point of view, because she was a pillar of the W.C.T.U., and he frequently took a cocktail before dinner and came back with it on his breath, whereon she would weep over him as one lost to hope. One day, in a mood of brutal exasperation, when he hadn't had his drink and was able to discern the flavor of her grief, he turned on her:
"I'll tell you what's the matter with you," he said. "You're drunk - maudlin drunk!"
She promptly and properly went into hysterics. The physician who attended diagnosed the case more politely, but to the same effect, and ascertained that she had consumed something like a half a bottle of Kilmer's Swamp-Root that afternoon. Now, Swamp-Root is a very creditable "booze," but much weaker in alcohol than most of its class. The brother was greatly amused until he discovered, to his alarm, that his drink-abhorring sister couldn't get along without her patent medicine bottle! She was in a fair way, quite innocently, of becoming a drunkard.
Another example of this "unconscious drunkenness" is recorded by the Journal of the American Medical Association: "A respected clergyman fell ill and the family physician was called. After examining the patient carefully the doctor asked for a private interview with the patient's adult son.
"'I am sorry to tell you that your father undoubtedly is suffering from chronic alcoholism,' said the physician.
"'Chronic alcoholism! Why, that's ridiculous! Father never drank a drop of liquor in his life, and we know all there is to know about his habits.'
"'Well, my boy, it's chronic alcoholism, nevertheless, and at this present moment your father is drunk. How has his health been recently? Has he been taking any medicine?;
"'Why, for some time, six months, I should say, father has often complained of feeling unusually tired. A few months ago a friend of his recommended Peruna to him, assuring him that it would build him up. Since then he has taken many bottles of it, and I am quite sure that he has taken nothing else.'"
From its very name one would naturally absolve Duffy's Malt Whiskey from fraudulent pretense. But Duffy's Malt Whiskey is a fraud, for it pretends to be a medicine and to cure all kinds of lung and throat diseases. It is especially favored by temperance folk. "A dessertspoonful four to
A SALOON WINDOW DISPLAY AT AUBURN, N.Y.
six times a day in water and a tablespoonful on going to bed" (personal prescription for consumptive), makes a fair grog allowance for an abstainer.
Medicine or Liquor?
"you must not forget," writes the doctor in charge, by way of allaying the supposed scruples of the patient, "that taking Duffy's Malt Whiskey in small or medicinal does is not like taking liquor in large quantities, or as it is usually taken. Taking it a considerable time in medicinal doses,
THREE "DISTINGUISHED TEMPERANCE WORKERS" WHO ADVOCATE THE USE OF WHISKEY.
as we direct, leads to health and happiness, while taken the other way it often leads to ruin and decay. If you follow our advice without taking it you will always be in the temperance fold, without qualm of conscience."
It has testimonials ranging from consumption to malaria, and indorsements of the clergy. On the preceding page we reproduce a Duffy advertisement showing the "portraits" of three "clergymen" who consider Duffy's Pure Malt Whiskey a gift from God, and on page 18 a saloon-window display of this product. For the whisky has its recognized place behind the bar, being sold by the manufacturers to the wholesale liquor trade and by them to the saloons, where it may be purchased over the counter for 85 cents a quart. This is cheap, but Duffy's Pure Malt Whiskey is not regarded as a high-class article.
Born in Vermont eight-two years ago, Mr. Dunham was graduated from the Boston Medical College and practiced medicine until about thirty years ago, when he moved west. There he became a preacher. He occupied the pulpit of the South Cheyenne, Wyoming, Congregational Church for ten years. Two years ago he retired from the pulpit and established a marriage bureau for the accommodation of couples who come over from Colorado to be married. No money was paid by the Duffy's Malt Whiskey people for Dunham's testimonial; but he received about $10 "to have his picture taken."
This is the actual likeness of the "distinguished divine" with the side whiskers in the Duffy whiskey advertisement. Mr. Houghton was for a number of years pastor of the Church of Eternal Hope, of Bradford, Pa. He retired six years ago to enter politics, and is now a deputy Internal Revenue collector. Although a member of the Universalist Church, Mr. Houghton is a spiritualist and delivered orations last summer at the Lily Dale assembly, the spiritualistic "City of Light" located near Dunkirk, N.Y. Mr. Houghton owned racehorses and was a patron of the turf.
Its status has been definitely settled in New York State, where Excise Commissioner Cullinane recently obtained a decision in the supreme court declaring it a liquor. The trial was in Rochester, where the nostrum is made. Eleven supposedly reputable physicians, four of them members of the Health Department, swore to their belief that the whiskey contained drugs which constituted it a genuine medicine. The state was able to show conclusively that if remedial drugs were present they were in such small quantities as to be indistinguishable, and, of course, utterly without value; in short, that the product was nothing more or less than sweetened whisky. Yet the United States government has long lent its sanction to the "medicine" status by exempting Duffy's Pure Malt Whiskey from the federal liquor tax. In fact, the government is primarily responsible for the formal establishment of the product as a medicine, having forced it into the patent medicine ranks at the time when the Spanish war expenses were partly raised by a special tax on nostrums. Up to that time the Duffy product, while asserting its virtues in various ills, made no direct pretense to be anything but a whiskey. Transfer to the patent medicine list cost it, in war taxes, more than $40,000. By way of getting a quid pro quo, the company began ingeniously and with some justification to exploit its liquor as "the only whiskey recognized by the government as medicine," and continues so to advertise, although the recent decision of the Internal Revenue Department, providing that all patent medicines which have no medicinal properties other than the alcohol in them must pay a rectifier's tax, relegates it to its proper place. While the decision is not a severe financial blow to the Duffy and their congeners (it means only a few hundred dollars apiece), it is important as officially establishing the "bracer" class on the same footing with whiskey and gin, where they belong. Other "drugs" there are which sell largely, perhaps chiefly, over the bar, Hostetter's Bitters and Damiana Bitters being prominent in this class.
When this series of articles was first projected Collier's received a warning from "Warner's Safe Cure," advising that a thorough investigation would be wise before "making any attack" on that preparation. I have no intention of "attacking" this company or any one else, and they would have escaped notice altogether, because of their present unimportance, but for their letter. The suggested investigation was not so thorough as to go deeply into the nature of the remedy, which is an alcoholic liquid, but it developed this interesting fact: Warner's Safe Cure, together with all the Warner remedies, is leased, managed and controlled by the New York and Kentucky Distilling Company, manufacturers of standard whiskies, which do not pretend to remedy anything but thirst. Duffy's Malt Whiskey is another subsidiary company of the New York and Kentucky concern. This statement is respectfully submitted to temperance users of the Malt Whiskey and the Warner remedies.
Some Alcohol Percentages.
Hostetter's Bitters contain, according to an official state analysis, 44 per cent of alcohol; Lydia Pinkham appeals to suffering womanhood with 20 per cent. of alcohol; Hood's Sarsaparilla cures "that tired feeling" with 18 per cent.; Burdock's Blood Bitters, with 25 per cent.; Ayer's Sarsaparilla, with 26 per cent., and Pain's Celery Compound, with 21 per cent. The fact is that any of these remedies could be interchanged with Peruna or with each other, so far as general effect goes, though the iodid of potassium in the sarsaparilla class might have some effect (as likely to be harmful as helpful), which would be lacking in the simpler mixtures.
If this class of nostrum is so harmful, asks the attentive reader of newspaper advertising columns, how explain the indorsements of so many people of prominence and reputation? "Men of prominence and reputation" in this connection means Peruna, for Peruna has made a specialty of high government officials and people in the public eye. In a self-gratulatory dissertation the Peruna Company observes in substance that, while the leading minds of the nation have hitherto shrunk from the publicity attendant on commending any patent medicine, the transcendent virtues of Peruna have overcome this amiable modesty, and one and all, they stand forth its avowed champions. This is followed by an ingenious document headed, "Fifty Members of Congress Send Letters of Indorsement to the Inventor of the Great Catarrh Remedy, Pe-ru-na," and quoting thirty-six of the letters. Analysis of these letters brings out the singular circumstance that in twenty-one of the thirty-six there is no indication that the writer has ever tasted the remedy which he so warmly praises. As a sample, and for the benefit of lovers of ingenious literature, I reprint the following from a humorous member of Congress:
"My secretary had a bad a case of catarrh as I ever saw, and since he has taken one bottle of Peruna he seems like a different man.
"Taylorville, N.C. Romulus Z. Linney."
The famous letter of Admiral Schley is a case in point. He wrote to the Peruna Company:
"I can cheerfully say that Mrs. Schley has used Peruna, and I believe with good effect. [Signed] W.S. Schley."
This indorsment went the rounds of the country in half-page blazonry, to the consternation of the family's friends. Admiral Schley seems to have appreciated that this use of his name was detrimental to his standing. He wrote to a Columbus religious journal the following letter:
"1826 I Street, Washington, D.C., Nov. 10, 1904.
"Editor Catholic Columbian: - The advertisement of the Peruna Company, inclosed, is made without any authority or approval from me. When it was brought to my attention first I wrote the company a letter, stating that the advertisement was offensive and must be discontinued. Their representative here called on me and stated he had been directed to assure me no further publication would be allowed, as it was without my sanction.
"I would say that the advertisement has been made without my knowledge or consent and is an infringement of my rights as a citizen.
"If you will kindly inform me what the name and date of the paper was in which you inclosed advertisement appeared I shall feel obliged.
"Very truly yours, W.S. Schley."
Careful study of this document will show that this is no explicit denial of the testimonial. But who gives careful study to such a letter? On the face of it, it puts the Peruna people in the position of having forged their advertisement. Ninety-nine people out of a hundred would get that impression. Yet I have seen the testimonial, signed with Admiral Schley's name and interlined in the same handwriting as the signature, and I have seen another letter, similarly signed, stating that Admiral Schley had not understood that the letter was to be used for such advertising as the recipient based on it. If these letters are forgeries the victim has his recourse in the law. They are on file at Columbus, Ohio, and the Peruna Company would doubtless produce them in defense of a suit.
What the Government Can Do.
One thing that the public has a right to demand in its attitude toward the proprietary medicines containing alcohol: that the government carry out rigidly its promised policy no longer to permit liquors to disguise themselves as patent medicines, and thereby escape the tax which is put on other (and probably better) brands of intoxicants. One other demand it should make on the purveyors of the concoctions: that they label every bottle with the percentage of alcohol it contains; then the innocent clergyman who writes testimonials to Duffy, and the W.C.T.U. member who indorses Peruna, Lydia Pinkham, Warner, and their compeers, will know when they imbibe their "tonics," "invigorators," "swamp roots," "bitters," "nerve-builders," or "spring medicines," that they are sipping by the table-spoon or wineglassful what the town tippler takes across the license-paying bar.