Now this is the sort of thing that delights me. From Atlas Obscura: Would you like some heroin for your cough?
It’s 1898. You wake up on a cold morning and the full effects of a cold hit you: coughing, sneezing, and a terrible fever. Like any self-respecting American in the latter half of the 19th century, you pop on over to your local post office or hairdresser in search of a remedy. There, you buy a small vial of liquid with some fantastic name like “Dr. Seth Arnold’s Balsam” or “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup”. The packaging claims that it cures anything from a toothache to a full-blown cold just five minutes flat. What the packaging doesn’t say, of course, is that the ‘medicine,’ which is applied topically to the skin, contains opium, morphine, and alcohol.
Welcome to the world of patent medicine.
Patent medicines reached peak popularity at the turn of the 20th century. While the name implies some sort of regulation behind the creation of these compounds, nothing could be further from the truth. Patent medicines were anything that people trademarked and sold as medicine–whether or not they actually worked was beside the point. Manufacturers intentionally suppressed the true ingredients of their remedies in order to woo new customers. If it doesn’t actually cure your cold, the high dose of cocaine might trick you into thinking otherwise. [continue]
The article includes images. You’ve got to see them, my dears.