The Great American Fraud/Chapter 5

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THE GREAT AMERICAN FRAUD: Articles on the Nostrum Evil and Quacks  (1907) 
by Samuel Hopkins Adams

Reprinted from Collier's Weekly, Jan. 13, 1906.



Incurable disease is one of the strongholds of the patent medicine business. The ideal patron, viewed in the light of profitable business, is the victim of some slow and wasting ailment in which recurrent hope inspires to repeated experiments with any "cure" that offers. In the columns of almost every newspaper you may find promises to cure consumption. Consumption is a disease absolutely incurable by any medicine, although an increasing
An example of legitimate advertising in the consumption field.
percentage of consumptives are saved by open air, diet and methodical living. This is thoroughly and definitely understood by all medical and scientific men. Nevertheless there are in the patent medicine world a set of harpies who, for their own business interests, deliberately foster in the mind of the unfortunate sufferer from tuberculosis the belief that he can be saved by the use of some absolutely fraudulent nostrum. Many of these consumption cures contain drugs which hasten the progress of the disease, such as chloroform, opium, alcohol and hasheesh. Others are comparatively harmless in themselves, but by their fervent promises of rescue they delude the sufferer into misplacing his reliance, and fortfeiting his only chance by neglecting those rigidly careful habits of life which alone can conquer the "white plague." One and all, the men who advertise medicines to cure consumption deliberately traffic in human life.

Certain members of the Proprietary Association of America (the patent medicine "combine") with whom I have talked have urged on me the claim that there are firms in the nostrum business that are above criticism, and have mentioned H. E. Bucklen & Co., of Chicago, who manufacturer a certain salve. The Bucklen salve did not particularly interest me. But when I came to take up the subject of consumption cures I ran unexpectedly on an interesting trail. In the country and small city newspapers there is now being advertised lavishly "Dr. King's New Discovery for Consumption." It is proclaimed to be the "only sure cure for consumption." Further announcement is made that "it strikes terror to the doctors." As it is a morphin and chloroform mixture, "Dr. King's New Discovery for Consumption" is well calculated to strike terror to the doctors or to any other class of profession, except, perhaps, the undertakers. It is a pretty diabolical concoction to give to anyone, and particularly to a consumptive. The chloroform temporarily allays the cough, thereby checking Nature's effort to throw off the dead matter from the lungs. The opium drugs the patient into a deceived cheerfulness. The combination is admirably designed to shorten the life of any consumptive who takes it steadily. Of course, there is nothing on the label of the bottle to warn the


The claims are baseless, the guarantee ridiculous and the remedy harmful

purchaser. That would decrease the profits. The makers of the beneficent preparation are H. E. Bucklen & Co., of Chicago.

Chloroform and Prussic Acid

Another "cure" which, for excellent reasons of its own, does not print its formula, is "Shiloh's Consumption Cure," made at Leory, N.Y., by S. C. Wells & Co. Were it to publish abroad the fact that it contains, among other ingredients, chloroform and prussic acid, the public would probably


One logical result of unlabeled poisons

exhibit some caution in taking it. Under our present lax system there is no warning on the bottle that the liquid contains one of the most deadly of poisons. The makers write me: "After you have taken the medicine for awhile, if you are not firmly convinced that you are very much better we want you to go to your druggist and get back all the money that you have paid for Shiloh." But if I were a consumptive, after I had taken "Shiloh" for awhile I should be less interested in recovering my money than in getting back my wasted chance of life. Would S. C. Wells & Co. guarantee that?

Morphin is the important ingredient of Dr. Bull's Cough Syrup. Nevertheless, the United States Postoffice Department obligingly transmits me a dose of this poison through the mails from A. C. Meyer & Co., of Baltimore, the makers. The firm writes me, in response to my letter of inquiry:

"We do not claim that Dr. Bull's Cough Syrup will cure an established case of consumption. If you have gotten this impression you most likely have misunderstood what we claim. . . . We can, however, say that Dr. Bull's Cough Syrup has cured cases said to have been consumption in its earliest stages."

Quite conservative, this. But A. C. Meyer & Co. evidently don't follow their own advertising very closely, for around my sample bottle (by courtesy of the Postoffice Department) is a booklet, and from that booklet I quote:

"There is no case of hoarseness, cough, asthma, bronchitis . . . or consumption that can not be cured speedily by the proper use of Dr. Bull's Cough Syrup."

If this is not a claim that Dr. Bull's Cough Syrup "will cure an established case of consumption," what is it? The inference from Meyer & Co's cautious letter is that they realize their responsibility for a cruel and dangerous fraud and are beginning to feel an uneasiness about it, which may be shame or may be only fear. One logical effect of permitting medicines containing a dangerous quantity of poison to be sold without the poison label is shown in the coroner's verdict reproduced on page 47. In the account of the Keck baby's death from the Dr. Bull opium mixture, which the Cincinnati papers published, there was no mention of the name of the cough syrup. Asked about this, the newspapers gave various explanations. Two of them disclosed that they had no information on the point. This is contrary to the statement of the physician in the case, and implies a reporterial laxity which is difficult to credit. When the coroner's verdict was given out, however, the name of the nostrum got into plain print. On the whole, the Cincinnati papers showed themselves gratifyingly independent.

Another case of poisoning from this same remedy occurred in Morocco, Ind., the victim being a 2-year-old child. The doctor reports:

"In an hour, when first seen, symptoms of opium poisoning were present. In about twelve hours the child had several convulsions, and spasms followed for another twelve hours at intervals. It then sank into a coma and died in the seventy-two hours with cardiac failure. The case was clearly one of death from overdose of the remedy."

The baby had swallowed a large amount of the "medicine" from a bottle left within its reach. Had the bottle been properly labeled with skull and cross-bones the mother would probably not have let it lie about.

Caution seems to have become a suddenly acquired policy of this class of medicines, in so far as their correspondence goes. Unfortunately, it does not extend to their advertising. The result is a rather painful discrepancy. G. G. Green runs hotels in California and manufactures quack medicines in Woodbury, N.J., one these being "Boschee's Germany Syrup," a "consumption cure." Mr. Green writes me (per rubber stamp):

"Consumption can sometimes be cured, but not always. Some cases are beyond cure. However, we suggest that you secure a trial bottle of German Syrup for 25," etc.

On the bottle I read: "Certain cure for all diseases of the throat and lungs." Consumption is a disease of the lungs; sometimes of the throat. If it "can sometimes be cured, but not always," then the German Syrup is not a "cerain cure for all diseases of the throat and lungs," and somebody as the ill-fated Reingelder put it, "haf lied in brint" on Mr. Green's bottle, which must be very painful to Mr. Green. Mr. Green's remedy contains morphin and some hydrocyanic acid. Therefore consumption will be much elss often curable where Boschee's German Syrup is used than where it is not.

Absolutely False Claims

A curious mixture of the cautious, semi-ethical method and the blatant claim-all patent medicine is offered in the Ozomulsion Company. Ozomulsion does not, like the "cures" mentioned above, contain active poisons. It is one of the numerous cod-liver oil preparations, and its advertising, in the medical journals at first and now in the lay press, is that of a cure for consumption. I visited the offices of the Ozomulsion Company recently and found them duly furnished with a regular physician, who was employed, so he informed me, in a purely ethical capacity. There was also present during the interview the president of the Ozomulsion Company, Mr. A. Frank Richardson, former advertising agent, former deviser of the advertising of Swamp-Root, former proprietor of Kranitonic, and present proprietor of Slocum's Consumption Cure, which is the "wicked partner" of Ozomulsion. For convenience, I will put the conversation in court report form, and, indeed, it partook somewhat of the nature of a cross-examination:

Q.-Dr. Smith, will Ozomulsion cure consumption?

A.-Ozomulsion builds up the tissues, imparts vigor, aids the natural resistance of the body, etc. (Goes into a long exploitation in the manner and style made familiar by patent medicine pamphlets.)

Q.-But will it cure consumption?

A.-Well, without saying that it is a specific, etc. (Passes to an instructive, entertaining, and valuable disquisition on the symptoms and nature of tuberculosis.)

Q.-Yes, but will Ozomulsion cure consumption?

A.-We don't claim that it will cure consumption.

Q.-Does not this advertisement state that Ozomulsion will cure consumption? (Showing advertisement.)

A.-It seems so.

Q.-Will Ozomulsion cure consumption?

A.-In the early stages of the disease-

Q. (interrupting) - Does the advertisement make any qualifications as to the stage of the disease?

A.-Not that I find.

Q.-Have you ever seen that advertisement before?

A.-Not to my knowledge.

Q.-Who wrote it?

A. (by President Richardson) - I done that ad. myself.

Q.-Mr. Richardson, will Ozomulsion cure consumption?

A.-Sure; we got testimonials to prove it.

Q.-Have you ever investigated any of these testimonials?

Q. (to Dr. Smith) - Dr. Smith, in view of the direct statement of your advertising, do you believe that Ozomulsion will cure consumption?

A.-Well, I believe in a great many cases it will.

Health for Five Dollars.

That is as far as Dr. Smith would go. I wonder what he would have said as to the Dr. T. A. Slocum side of the business. Dr. Slocum puts out a "Special Cure Offer" that will snatch you from the jaws of death, on the blanket plan, for $5, and guarantees the cure (or more medicine) for $10. His scheme is so noble and broad-minded that I can not refrain from detailing it. For $5 you get

1 large bottle of Psychine,
1 large bottle of Ozomulsion
1 large bottle of Coltsfoote Expectorant,
1 large tube of Ozojell,
3 boxes of Lazy Liver Pills,
3 Hot X-Ray Porous Plasters,

"which," says the certificate, "will, in a majority of cases, effect a permanent cure of the malady from which the invalid is now suffering." Whatever ails you - that's what Dr. T.A. Slocum cures. For $10 you get almost twice the amount, plus the guarantee. Surely there is little left on earth, unless Dr. Slocum should issue a $15 offer, to include funeral expenses and a tombstone.

The Slocum Consumption Cure proper consists of a gay-hued substance known as "Psychine." Psychine is about 16 per cent. alcohol, and has a dash of strychnin to give the patient his money's worth. Its alluring color is derived from cochineal. It is "an infallible and unfailing remedy for consumption." Ozomulsion is also a sure cure, if the literature is to be believed. To cure one's self twice of the same disease savors of reckless extravagance, but as a "perfect and permanent cure will be the inevitable consequence," perhaps it's worth the money. It would not do to charge Dr. T.A. Slocum with fraud, because he is, I suppose, as dead as Lydia E. Pinkham; but Mr. A. Frank Richardson is very much alive, and I trust it will be no suprise to him to see here stated that his Ozomulsion makes claims that it can not support, that his Psychine is considerably worse, that his special cure offer is a bit of shameful quackery, and that his whole Slocum Consumption Cure is a fake and a fraud so ludicrous that its continued existence is a brilliant commentary on human credulousness.

Since the early '60's, and perhaps before, there has constantly been in the public prints one or another benefactor of the human race who wishes to bestow on suffering mankind, free of charge, a remedy which has snatched him from the brink of the grave. Such a one is Mr. W. A. Noyes, of Rochester, N.Y. To any one who writes him he sends gratis a prescription which will surely cure consumption. But take this prescription to your druggist and you fail to get it filled, for the simple reason that the ingenious Mr. Noyes has employed a pharmaceutical nomenclature peculiarly his own. If you wish to try the "Cannabis Sativa Remedy" (which is a mixture of hasheesh and other drugs) you must purchase it direct from the advertiser at a price which assures him an abnormal profit. As Mr. Noyes writes me proposing to give special treatment for my (supposed) case, depending on a diagnosis of sixty-seven questions, I fail to see why he is not liable for practicing medicine without a license.

Piso Grows Cautious.

Piso's Consumption Cure, extensively advertised a year or two ago, is apparently withdrawing from the field, so far as consumption goes, and the Piso people are now more modestly promising to cure coughs and colds. Old analyses gave as the contents of Piso's Cure for Consumption, alcohol, chloroform, opium and cannabis indica (hasheesh). In reply to an inquiry as to whether their remedy contains morphin and cannabis indica, the Piso Company replies: "Since the year 1872 Piso's Cure has contained no morphin or anything derived from opium." The question as to cannabis indica is not answered. Analysis shows that the "cure" contains chloroform, alcohol and apparently cannabis indica. It is therefore, another of the remedies which can not possible cure consumption, but on the contrary, tend by their poisonous and debilitating drugs to undermine the victim's stamina.

Peruna, liquozone, Duffy's Malt Whiskey, Pierce's Golden Medical Discovery and the other "blanket" cures include tuberculosis in their lists, claiming great number of well-authenticated cures. From the imposing book published by the R.V. Pierce Company, of Buffalo, I took a number of testimonials for investigation; not a large number, for I found the consumption testimonial rather scarce. From fifteen letters I got results in nine cases. Seven of the letters were returned to me marked "unclaimed," of which one was marked "Name not in the dictory," another "No such postoffice in the state" and a third "Deceased." The eighth man wrote that the Golden Medical Discovery had cured his cough and blood-spitting, adding: "It is the best lung medisan I ever used for lung trubble." The last man said he took twenty-five bottles and was cured! Two out of nine seems to me a suspiciously small percentage of traceable recoveries. Much stress has has been laid by the Proprietary Association of America through its (51)


A blanket cure from the "laboratory of Dr. T.A. Slocum."

press committee on the suit brought by R. V. Pierce against the Ladies' Home Journal, the implication being (although the suit has not yet been tried) that a reckless libeler of a noble and worthy business has been suitably punished. In the full appreciation of Dr. Pierce's attitude in the matter of libel, I wish to state that in so far as its claim of curing consumption is concerned his Golden Medical Discovery is an unqualified fraud.

One might suppose that the quacks would stop short of trying to deceive the medical profession in this matter, yet the "consumption cure" may be found disporting itself in the pages of the medical journals. For instance, I find this advertisement in several professional magazines:

"McArthur's Syrup of Hypophosphites has proved itself, time and time again, to be positively beneficial in this condition (tuberculosis) in the hands of prominent observers, clinicians and, what is more, practicing physicians, hundreds of whom have written their admiring encomiums in its behalf, and it is the enthusiastic conviction of many that its effect is truly specific." Which, translated into lay terms, means that the syrup will cure consumption. I find also in the medical press "a sure cure for dropsy," fortified with a picture worthy of Swamp-Root or Lydia Pinkham. Both of these are frauds in attempting to foster the idea that they will cure the disease, and they are none the less fraudulent for being advertised to the medical profession instead of to the laity.

Is there, then, no legitimate advertising of preparations useful in diseases such as tuberculosis? Very little, and that little mostly in the medical journals, exploiting products which tend to build up and strengthen the patient. There has recently appeared, however, one advertisement in the lay press which seems to me a legitimate attempt to push a nostrum. It is reproduced at the beginning of this article. Notice, first, the frank statement that there is no specific for consumption; second, that there is no


From Two New York Sunday Papers of a Single Date.

Every one of these advertisements represents a bunco game on the sick and suffering.

attempt to deceive the public into the belief that the emulsion will be helpful in all cases. Whether or not Scott's Emulsion is superior to other cod-liver oils is beside the present question. If all patent medicine "copy" were written in the same spirit of honesty as this, I should have been able to omit from this series all consideration of fraud, and devote my entire attention to the far less involved and difficult matter of poison. Unhappily, all of the Scott's Emulsion advertising is not up to this standard. Unhappily, all of the Scott's Emulsion advertising is not up to this standard. In another newspaper I have seen an excerpt in which the Scott & Browne Company come perilously near making, if they do not actually make, the claim that their emulsion is a cure, and furthermore make themselves ridiculous by challenging comparison with another emulsion, suggesting a chemical test and offering, if their nostrum comes out second best, to give to the institution making the experiment a supply of their oil free for a year. This is like the German druggist who invented a heart-cure and offered two cases to any one who could prove that it was injurious!

Consumption is not the only incurable disease in which there are good picking for the birds of prey. In a recent issue of the New York Sunday American-Journal I find three cancer cures, one dropsy cure, one "heart-disease soon cured," three epilepsy cures and a "case of paralysis cured." Cancer yields to but one agency - the knife. Epilepsy is either the result of pressure on the brain or some obscure cerebral disease; medicine can never cure it. Heart disease is of many kinds, and a drug that may be helpful in relieving symptoms in one case might be fatal in another. The same is true of dropsy. Medical science knows no "cure" for paralysis. As space lacks to consider individually the nature of each nostrum separately, I list briefly, for the protection of those who read, a number of the most conspicuous swindles of this kind now being foisted on the public:

Rupert Wells' Radiatized Fuid, for cancer.
Miles' Heart Disease Cure.
Miles' Grand Dropsy Cure.
Dr. Tucker's Epilepsy Cure.
Dr. Grant's Epilepsy Cure.
W.H. May's Epilepsy Cure.
Dr. Kline's Epilepsy Cure.
Dr. W.O. Bye's Cancer Cure.
Mason's Cancer Cure.
Dr. Williams' Pink Pills for Pale People, which are advertised to cure paralysis and are a compound of green vitriol, starch and sugar.

Purchasers of these nostrums not only waste their money, but in many cases they throw away their only chance by delaying proper treatment until it is too late.

Properly, a "cure" known as Bioplasm belongs in this list, but so ingenious are its methods that it deserves some special attention. In some of the New York papers a brief advertisement, reading as follows, occupies a conspicuous position:

"After suffering for ten years the torture that only an ataxic can know, Mr. E.P. Burnham, of Delmar, N.Y., has been relieved of all pain and restored to health and strength, and the ability to resume his usual pursuits, by an easily obtained and inexpensive treatment which any druggist can flourish. To any fellow-sufferer who mails him a self-addressed envelope Mr. Burnham sends free this prescription which cured him.-Adv.

Now, people who give away something for nothing, and spend money advertising for a chance to do it, are as rare in the patent medicine business as out of it, and Delmar, N.Y., is not included in any map of Altruria that I have learned of. E.P. Burnham, therefore, seemed worth writing to. The answer came back promptly, inclosing the prescription and explaining the advertiser's purpose:

"My only motive in the notice which caught your attention is to help other sufferers. You owe me nothing. I have nothing to sell. When you are benefited, however, if you feel disposed and able to send me a contribution to assist me in making this great boon to our fellow-sufferers better known it will be thankfully received and used for that purpose."

I fear that Mr. Burnham doesn't make much money out of grateful correspondents who were cured of locomotor ataxia by his prescription, because locomotor ataxia is absolutely and hopelessly incurable. Where Mr. Burnham gets his reward, I fancy, is from the Bioplasm Company, of 100 William Street, New York, whose patent medicine is prescribed for me. I should like to believe that his "only motive is to help other sufferers," but as I find, on investigation, that the advertising agents who handle the "Burnham" account are the Bioplasm Company's agents, I am regretfully compelled to believe that Mr. Burnham, instead of being of the tribe of the good Samartian, is probably an immediate relative of Ananias. The Bioplasm Company also proposes to cure consumption, and is worthy of a conspicuous place in the Fraud's Gallery of Nostrums.

Even the skin of the Ethiop is not exempt from the attention of the quacks. A colored correspondent writes, asking that I "give a paragraph to these frauds who cater to the vanity of those of my race who insult their Creator in attempting to change their color and hair," and incloses a typical advertisement of "Lustorene," which "straightens kinky, nappy, curly hair," and of "Lustorone Face Bleach," which "whitens the darkest skin" and will "bring the skin to any desired shade or color." Nothing could better illustrate to what ridiculous lengths the nostrum fraud will go. Of course, the Lustorone business is fraudulent. Some time since a Virginia concern, which advertised to turn negroes white, was suppressed by the Postoffice Department, which might well turn its attention to Lustorone Face Bleach.

There are being exploited in this country to-day more than 100 cures for diseases that are absolutely beyond the reach of drugs. They are owned by men who know them to be swindles, and who in private conversation will almost always evade the direct statement that their nostrums will "cure" consumption, epilepsy, heart disease and ailments of that nature. Many of them "guarantee" their remedies. They will return your money if you aren't satisfied. And they can afford to. They take the lightest of risks. The real risk is all on the other side. It is their few pennies per bottle against your life. Were the facile patter by which they lure to the bargain a menace to the pocketbook alone, one might regard them only as ordinary followers of light finance, might imagine them filching their gain with the confidential, half-brazen, half-ashamed leer of the thimblerigger. But the matter goes further and deeper. Every man who trades in this market, whether he pockets the profits of the maker, the purveyor of the advertiser, takes toll of blood. He may not deceive himself here, for here the patent medicine is nakedest, most cold-hearted. Relentless greed sets the trap and death is partner in the enterprise.