The relationship between quack medicine and religion is more than casual. Early European settlers in North America brought with them the belief that God placed specific remedies for ailments in the areas where the ailments existed thus the interest in native plants and animals as cures. One documented medicine cures for asthma as being 1) sleeping on a pillow with a rabbit’s tail in it and 2) smoking a hornets nest.
I am all for natural herbs etc.. but diagnosing $600 worth of natural medicine for someone who has terminal cancer and less than a week to live reeks of quackery. I told that to the naturopath that who prescribed the herbal drugs for my late husband. No one understood me except her bank account.
At the end of the 1800s, there was a guy named Clark Stanley, who was selling a liniment that he claimed had snake oil in it,” Kang replied. “And he was saying basically it could cure everything.”
As for what was actually in it? “It had beef fat and pepper and turpentine,” said Kang. “But there was no snake oil in it. And he made a ton of money off of it.” —Mo Rocca
Dr. Lydia Kang said, “They used it for everything under the sun. So, you know, if you’re having a bad day, you would take some opium. You’re nervous? You take some opium. If you have some crying babies at home and you’re busy parents trying to go to the factory, you dose ’em up with some opium.”
Heroin, a derivative of opium, was once even sold over-the-counter by Bayer for sore throats and respiratory ailment-Dr. Lydia Kang
The cover of a 1906 issue of Collier’s Weekly, a muckraking journal that published Adams’ report on the evils of the patent medicine industry. It furthered the notion that nostrums were the cause of ultimate moral decay, death itself, and caused immense public fear and disapproval of homeopathic remedies.
Federal regulations eventually cut off this free trade of drugs, as did exposés like a 1906 issue of Collier’s that depicted the industry as “death’s laboratory” with an illustration of patent medicine being pumped out of a skull flanked by moneybags. Nevertheless, you can still find popular treatments like Sloan’s Liniment and Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound nestled in the drugstore, survivors from the golden age of quackery.
The consumption of blood is not itself an oddity, and became part of the tonic offerings in patent medicine through manufacturers like the Bovinine Company in Chicago. A truly unsettling 1890 ad for Bovinine shows a woman with her eyes closed, a small glass of red liquid beside her, and the words: “Look on me in my lassitude reclining / My nerveless body languid, pale and lean; / Now hold me up to where the light is shining / And mark the magic power of BOVININE.”
When the postcard is held up to a light, suddenly her eyes open and a ghostly steer appears outside the window with the words “My life was saved by Bovinine.” And the drug probably was quite eye opening, being a tantalizing and alcoholic mix of beef blood, glycerine, and sodium chloride (salt)
Radioactive solutions emerged in the early 20th century after radioactive decay was identified in 1896. One of the more infamous of these was Radithor, a patent medicine with distilled radium, made by self-proclaimed doctor William Bailey, who had previously sold strychnine as an aphrodisiac.
Socialite and industrialist Eben Byers took Radithor following an arm injury in 1927, and continued consuming it through the 1930s, when he slowly died a grotesque death involving snapping bones and lost teeth. Byers’s demise prompted an investigation into Radithor, and ultimately its removal from pharmacies, although poor Byers was buried in a lead coffin due to the contained radiation in his body. As a 1932 Wall Street Journal article quipped: “The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off.”