Health Claims and the
Problem of Fraud
In Chapter 1, I discussed the nineteenth-century debut of the American “penny press” as an important turning point in the history of journalism. Beginning with Benjamin Day's New York Sun in 1833, and quickly emulated by James Gordon Bennett's New York Herald, the penny-press model reflected the insight that publishers would be more successful by reducing their newspapers' prices, maximizing circulation, and then seeking to earn profits through advertising revenue. Almost overnight, the Sun and Herald became the most widely circulated newspapers in the world, and the concept quickly spread to other American and European cities. But now, as Paul Harvey might say, it will be revealing to hear the rest of the story.
In 1835, just as Bennett began preparations to transform the Herald into an effective New York City competitor to Day's Sun, a young English immigrant named Benjamin Brandreth arrived in the city with his wife and three children, a small nest egg, and a “secret formula” handed down to him by his grandfather. Dr. William Brandreth, a physician in Liverpool, had spent much of his life experimenting with a combination of herbs to treat patients suffering from fatigue and a variety of specific ailments. Benjamin, inheriting the formula and an interest in medicine from his grandfather (and business acumen from