‘Eat! Eat! Eat!’ Those notorious tapeworm diet pills

Sanitized Tape Worms - a spurious 'vintage' ad

Peoria, Illinois, 1912: the horror begins. A society lady, encouraged by a friend’s success with an easy new weight-loss treatment, pays $25 for ‘two rather large and suspicious-looking pills.’ Her husband sends the pills to be analysed by the Washington public health service, and before long a ‘government secret official’ …

Continue reading

Goat testicles and great stories! An interview with film director Penny Lane

In Depression-era Kansas, small-town doctor J R Brinkley made a fortune from his novel method of treating impotence. It was startling, sensationally popular… and a total con. His strange career has inspired filmmaker Penny Lane (right) to create a documentary, NUTS! The Brinkley Story, which uses animation and original footage …

Continue reading

Why smoke and spit your life away?

  ADvent Calendar Day 22 Advertised with this beautiful Art Nouveau poster designed by William H Bradley, Narcoti-cure claimed to put smokers and tobacco-chewers off their habit for life. ‘Why smoke and spit your life away?’ advertisements asked. ‘Why suffer from dyspepsia, heartburn and drains on your vital force?’ The …

Continue reading

Failure of ‘606’

ADvent Calendar Day 20 This 1915 advertisement is perhaps not as wacky as some of the products I’ve featured this month, but I find it interesting because it names neither the medicine nor the disease it aims to cure! The mentions of ‘blood poison’, ‘Mercury and Potash treatment’ and ‘606’, …

Continue reading

I was a tub of fat!

ADvent Calendar Day 18 Korein claimed to contain Fucus vesiculosis (bladderwrack), which enjoyed a vogue as a weight loss supplement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. When the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Association analysed Korein in 1915, however, they reported that it was 40% sassafras oil and 60% petrolatum, …

Continue reading

Merchant’s Gargling Oil

ADvent Calendar Day 14 If people evolved from apes, why are apes still selling Gargling Oil? Ask this fellow, taking a break from evading sasquatch hunters to advise punters that Merchant’s liniment is good for both man and beast. It was mainly an external remedy for bruises, wounds, skin diseases, …

Continue reading

The sparkle of perfect health

ADvent Calendar Day 12 The Favorite Prescription was just one part of a range marketed by Dr Ray Vaughn Pierce in newspapers, almanacs, pamphlets and on the side of barns across the late 19th-century US. After his death in 1914, his profitable business continued in the hands of his son, …

Continue reading

How to grow tall

ADvent Calendar Day 11 Rochester, NY, might ring a bell for attentive followers of this calendar, as it made an appearance on Day 8 as the location of the New York Institute of Science. That it was home to another dodgy organisation is no coincidence. Thomas Adkin, the Institute’s President, …

Continue reading

The intangible power that controls human destiny

ADvent Calendar Day 8 The marvellous book on offer from the New York Institute of Science in the first decade of the twentieth century was called The Philosophy of Influence, and promised ‘The secret of power, the science of health. Life’s mysteries unveiled.’ One would have to wait a little …

Continue reading

Hunt’s Remedy

ADvent Calendar Day 7 Take THAT, Death! POW! The skeletal figure of the Grim Reaper drops his scythe and cowers before the might of a strong, healthy opponent wielding a bottle of Hunt’s Remedy. The Remedy became popular in the 1870s after it was acquired by William Clarke of Providence, Rhode …

Continue reading