Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The Secrets of Patent Medicines

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The Secrets of Patent Medicines

Article excerpt

Primarily in the 19th century, prepackaged medicines and remedies sold over-the-counter without a doctor's prescription became known as patent medicines.

For years, manufacturers could make any therapeutic claims about their products that they wished; some greatly exaggerated the benefits of their concoctions, often selling them as "cure-alls." Ingredients were largely secret: Labels were not required to list them, though some patent medicines--containing high levels of alcohol, opium, cocaine, or other active ingredients--were potentially addictive and dangerous.

Some labels touted a concoction's medicinal benefits--promising to cure everything from sore throats and diarrhea to dropsy and scrofula--while others emphasized ingredients found in nature, such as "extract of blackberry," "peppermint oil," or "horehound." The labels may have appealed to consumers' faith in traditional home remedies that had existed for generations. Patent medicines were unregulated and widely marketed until 1906, when President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Pure Food and Drug Act, which sought to ban adulterated and mislabeled food and drugs.

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Lee Ann Potter (lpot@loc. …

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