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Nostalgia July 2013

Those Old Time Health Hucksters

By Richard Bauman

The Electro Magnetic Brush had seemingly endless powers. No matter what ailed a person, the brush was offered as a “sure cure” for it. Everything from rheumatism and heart disease to deafness and “mental despondency,” could be eliminated through using that incredible brush.

Do you ever get the feeling advertisements for health- and wellness-related products sometimes exaggerate the products’ value? It happens, but compared with ads of a century or so ago, today’s sales pitches are models of integrity, restraint and good taste.

The hucksters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were outlandish in their use of false promises, enlarged claims and spurious pitches. Their motto seemed to be: anything that sells the goods — use it. And there was no one — either inside or outside the government — to protect consumers from the shills.

For example, if you had eye problems, J. Moses sold “patented electro galvanic spectacles.” If worn as prescribed, they supposedly would cure any vision condition a person might have, so the “organ of sight (will be) restored to its original strength.”

The Electro Magnetic Brush, on the other hand, promised to cure insomnia — among other things. “As lightning purifies the air, so must electricity purify the blood,” declared its inventor. This contrivance pledged not only prevented sleeplessness, it would also inhibited “softening of the brain.”

The Electro Magnetic Brush had seemingly endless powers. No matter what ailed a person, the brush was offered as a “sure cure” for it. Everything from rheumatism and heart disease to deafness and “mental despondency,” could be eliminated through using that incredible brush.

On the other hand, if the Electro Magnetic Brush didn’t do the trick, for some reason, there was the “Edson Electric Garter.” Proclaimed “as wonderful as the telephone and electric light,” peddlers of this device assured it was capable of curing basically the same afflictions as the Magnetic Brush. The name “Edson” was possibly used in hopes people would think it was from the laboratory of Thomas Edison.

Baldness is an ages-old affliction, but little more than 100 years ago Halls Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer promised to “prevent papa’s hair from turning grey and falling off…(and it) keeps the scalp healthy.”

Those who were feeling fatigued and rundown, in desperation might have turned to “Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral.” Promulgated as a potion that prolonged and saved lives, one of the ads for Ayer’s elixir bore a testimonial from William De Shaw of Port Madison, Wyoming Territory.

De Shaw claimed that at an Indian Grand Council, the Native Americans “bought every bottle of the Pectoral I had in the store.” Once they tried it, maintained De Shaw, “They knew its curative powers, and no Indian thinks his outfit complete without a bottle in it.”

Is your love life in trouble? Are you missing out on romance? Turn of the 20th century ads promised all sorts of remedies for love on the decline. There was “Dr. Joy’s Celebrated Electric Devices,” for example, which was promoted to young men who had “lost vigor and manhood.” Dr. Joy’s products were also “good for female troubles.” The ads don’t describe how they worked, but assured reader they did indeed work.

The author of the book, The Mystery of Love Making Solved, promised his text to be “full of strange things regarding love making which you never heard of before. If you are in love, and it is not reciprocated, this great book will open wide love’s barred door for you. Post paid, for 25 cents.” A small price to pay for never-ending love.

If you think women are sometimes demeaned today in advertisements, how about the promotion for a product known as Dr. Pierce’s Favorite Prescription: “My wife is a terror! She snaps and snarls and spanks her children, and finds fault continually,” supposedly wrote one desperate man. According to the advertisement, Dr. Pierce knew exactly what was wrong with her — and what would help her. “She has lost her former sweet disposition, and ill health is the cause of it all,” wrote the good doctor. And then added: “Dr. Pierce’s Favorite Prescription will make her well.” It was probably at least 40% alcohol, which would help explain its curative powers.

Need exercise? Machines and gadgets abound today to help one exercise, but few compare with “Prof. D. L. Dowd’s Health Exerciser (for brain workers and sedentary people).” It ostensibly took up only “6-in. square floor room,” yet it was capable of providing needed exercise for a healthy life. And best of all, carried the endorsement of “30,000 physicians, lawyers, clergymen, editors and others.”

Even though there are government agencies and laws to protect us today, one still has to be careful. You aren’t likely to see ads for products as fantastic as these, but the unscrupulous still abound. Just like the old saying: “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

 

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