Today it is fun to look back at some of the old time medicines and pills of the 1930, 40s, and 50s and laugh. Some actually worked and others brought cash for the sellers but did not help the suffering public. Do you remember any of these?
Pills and potions
Dr. Samuel Carter invented a pill with laxative qualities and called them Carter’s Little Liver Pills. Many years later, the Federal Trade Commission made them drop the word “liver” as they claimed the pills had no effect on that organ.
People still use Carter’s as a means of comparison. “He has more excuses than Carter’s got pills.”
Lydia Pinkham’s pink pills for pale people got their start in the 1880s when her husband’s fortunes tanked and she started selling pills that she made at home. They purportedly increased fertility in women as well as curing a variety of female problems.
Quaaludes made people feel great, but if you take them today, look around. The cops are waiting.
Many potions existed that used noxious substances like pine tar, turpentine, or chloroform as ingredients. It is a wonder that people survived illness at all.
People of long ago respected and feared doctors. Most people had no medical knowledge and no popular magazines with the latest information on drugs and diseases. No one Googled to find out about the disease the doctor said he had. There was no “big pharma” to convince people that they needed this new stuff at $10 a pill, four times a day.
The doctor dipped into his black bag and withdrew scary looking instruments and suspicious looking medicines. Sometimes his treatments hurt even when it was the kindly family doctor.
Woe to anyone with a throat problem. He/she got a dose of Gentian Violet, a vile purple substance that the doctor used to paint the throat, tonsils and all. For days, the patient lived with purple drool and hoped the throat never got sore again. Some children called it Venetian Violet because it came from Venus. Nothing lived in the yucky stuff so you got well, but dreamed of painting the doctor with purple paint.
He might recommend Asthma cigarettes to cure your asthma and a variety of other ailments. Unfortunately, children under six could not smoke them.
Surgery was scary. One memorable surgery was for a growth called a ganglion cyst on the wrist. The patient stretched out on the table and the nurse tied the arms down. The surgeon grabbed a thick Bible, or medical book, and slammed it as hard as possible on the growth, which burst open. The body absorbed the fluid in the cyst but left a lingering memory. People never forgot this surgery if it happened to them.
Interesting old books give recipes for making medicines. They show plants along with detailed pictures of the roots, leaves, fruit, etc. that had medical qualities. So many drops of this and that added to a pint of something else meant that you could buy the ingredients at the drug store and concoct it yourself.
Grandma (or grandma substitute) did not need recipes. Some families passed medicinal knowledge from mother to daughter. Grandma poked around in the back yard or field looking for roots, leaves, flowers. She brewed the chosen herbs into a tea and made you drink it, even if she wasn’t “your” grandma.
Using many old time drugs today earns you a trip to the slammer. There is a reason they call them drugs. Cocaine relieved pain then and now. Heroin and codeine usually relieved coughing. Cocaine drops eased dental agony. Even Bayer brought out a heroin medicine alongside the newly hatched aspirin.
Coca Cola reportedly contained cocaine laced cocoa mixed with wine until the early 1900s. It supposedly increased sexual abilities, a “potent reason” for its popularity. Later, Coke used processed coca leaves, which eliminated the cocaine and replaced the wine with seltzer water, but people all over the world still crave it everyday.
Opium cured coughing and diarrhea, an all-purpose drug. Some parents also slipped their babies a dose of laudanum, a mixture of opium and alcohol, to make them sleep. These drugs made people not care much that they were sick. Maybe life was better in the old days.
There were many more pills, potions, and notions about health and wellness, too many to mention in a single article. What are some of your favorites? Do you have more examples than Carter’s got pills?