The Poetry of Patent Medicine

Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills were a patent medicine first manufactured in 1854 and promoted as a cure for dyspepsia, liver trouble, women’s ailments, pimples, and a host of other maladies. They were manufactured and sold by various Comstock family businesses and their partners, and are still sold today in Australia.

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But what makes them really interesting is the marketing. The advertisement shown above is dated to somewhere between 1870 and 1900. It has a cat and a poem, which draws the attention, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with medicine. It turns out that this is a series of ads, with a much longer complete poem that tells us what happens to the cat. Continue reading to see the rest of the series.       

I was able to read a history of the company, and learned that there was never a Dr. Morse involved. The medicine was supposedly developed by a man named Moore, who lost all rights to the remedy’s name. I learned that the story of the medicine’s origins was made up of whole cloth. But I never learned what an “Indian root” was, nor what was actually in the original pills.

By the 1930s, the company was in new hands in Australia. By then, law mandated that ingredients must be revealed, and at that time, Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills contained aloe, mandrake, gamboge, jalap, and cayenne pepper. Today the pills are marketed as a laxative.

See, if you read and waited long enough, you find that the poor tomcat needed Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills to help in his recovery from the grave injuries he suffered. That’s worth writing a poem about!  

(Images sourced from the Boston Public Library)

Source: neatorama

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