Sterling Products, Inc., Manufacturer
Chapter V.4 – Centaur Co., Manufacturer
CENTAUR CO. CANCELS
Printed Full Date
Printed Year Only Date
Blue Ink – ’98 Red Ink – ’98
Red Ink – ’99
By the early 1920s, Sterling seems to have determined to own and control virtually all of the best selling “medicines” that were gradually becoming defined as “over-the-counter” remedies: those products left unregulated by the government that the public could purchase without a doctor’s prescription. In 1923, backed by three Wall Street brokerage firms, Sterling acquired a quarter interest in the Centaur Co. through a newly formed subsidiary called Household Products, Inc., and, soon after, it purchased the remainder of the company as well. Centaur’s product was Fletcher’s Castoria, a laxative and stomach soother, not unlike Phillips Milk of Magnesia, previously chronicled. As with the Phillips Co., this company had been in business for almost fifty years. In 1922, it was estimated to be the largest proprietary medicine manufacturer in the United States, if not the world, having manufactured approximately 20,800,000 bottles of Fletcher’s Castoria that year, an 80% increase over its 1910 volume of production, and having averaged an approximately $2 million dollar profit in each of the prior five years. The acquisition price for Centaur was estimated to be $10 million, and it was predicted that Household Products, Inc. would soon be distributing dividends of three dollars per share annually.
DR. SAMUEL PITCHER
Castoria was invented by Dr. Samuel Pitcher, a Massachusetts physician, as an alternative to castor oil. Castor oil, in turn, was derived from the castor bean, one of the earliest wild plants to be domesticated and cultivated by men. Although the deadly poison ricin also can be extracted from it, the castor bean has been employed for medicinal purposes as far back as the ancient Egyptians. However, over the centuries, many found that castor oil had both a horrible taste and texture. Born in 1824, Dr. Pitcher began about 1847 to experiment with alternatives to castor oil. His endeavors continued for about twenty years until he finally patented his formula for Castoria in 1868 and set up his own factory. Marketed as Pitcher’s Castoria, it sold briskly enough to quickly attract the attention of a real patent medicine salesman, Charles Henry Fletcher.
CHARLES HENRY FLETCHER
Fletcher, born in 1838, apparently began working in the patent medicine industry at age thirteen. A contemporary account states that he began working for the New York drug manufacturer and wholesaler Demus Barnes & Co. in 1861. Alert readers will remember that Demus Barnes (1827-1888), whose name has already appeared in this column in connection with the history of John D. Park & Sons, had assembled one of the largest patent medicine distribution networks in the country prior to the Civil War through interlocking ownerships and partnerships with other individuals and companies in the patent medicine field. Because his dominance of the patent medicine field occurred at the time the federal government was first taxing patent medicine, Barnes’ exploits have been recounted by Henry Holcombe, the chronicler of the Civil War private die proprietary medicine stamps. While a story is told that Fletcher earned Barnes’ respect and trust by completing a tour of Barnes’ Southern customers and successfully collecting all their outstanding balances due Barnes at the beginning of 1861 just before the Civil War began, it must be regarded as somewhat fanciful, if Fletcher only entered employment with Barnes in 1861. There is no doubt, however, that by dint of his hard work, Fletcher became the manager of Barnes’ company when Barnes left the business in 1867 to serve for a single two year term as a New York State representative in the United States House of Representatives.
J. B. ROSE & CO. PRIVATE DIE PROPRIETARY MEDICINE STAMPS
1875c ROSE CO. COVER
When he returned from Washington, Barnes chose to step back from the day-to-day management of his patent medicine business and act as the banker for promising new patent medicine ventures. In 1872, acting as Barnes’ agent, Fletcher purchased Castoria. Barnes then placed Castoria in a new company called J. B. Rose & Co, which he was financing. Joseph B. Rose, according to Holcombe, was a clerk with one of Barnes’ competitors, the drug wholesaler Hall & Ruckel, who showed some initiative by acquiring the formula for a product called Centaur Liniment. It was an external rub for all ailments, including rheumatism, sprains, broken bones, burns and scalds, that was issued with a white label for humans and a yellow label for animals. Neither Holcombe nor anyone else offers an explanation as to why Barnes placed Fletcher’s product with the Rose Co., rather than Rose’s product with a company named after Fletcher, but Rose brought the Centaur formula to Barnes, and that act, in Barnes’s mind, may even have trumped Fletcher’s loyalty to Barnes. In 1872, when the Rose Co. commenced operations, its managing partners were Fletcher and Rose, with Barnes acting as a silent third partner. Because he was so prominent in the patent medicine business already and had already made his fortune, Barnes knew the value of publicity and could afford to print his own private die proprietary medicine stamps to advertise his products. He had them prepared as well for the Rose Co. Some of them are pictured above. Sadly, Rose is a complete enigma. In 1877, he stepped out of the picture, leaving no further historical record of his presence, and the company was reorganized as the Centaur Co.
STAMPS PRINTED FROM DESIGN DIE RETOOLED TO REFLECT CHANGE TO CENTAUR CO.
CENTAUR AD MIMICKING CIRCULATING BANK NOTES
While the new company still featured the mythical centaur, which Rose had brought to it, both as its symbol and in its name, its officers became Demus B. Dewey as president and Fletcher as secretary. Dewey, as his name suggests, was a relative of Demus Barnes. Although Holcombe lists him as a grandson, he was actually Barnes’s nephew. He seems to have become involved briefly with the Centaur Co. because he also ran a patent medicine company of his own, D. B. Dewey & Co., undoubtedly financed by Barnes as well, and, for a time, Barnes had both the Centaur Co. and the Dewey Co. market and advertise another product called Wei de Meyer’s Catarrh Snuff. While Dewey & Co. own advertisements stated that F. W. Wei de Meyer, another of the Nineteenth Century’s self-styled “doctors,” had invented and assigned the rights to this product to Dewey & Co, Barnes really owned it, so he could exploit it through whichever company or companies he chose. It was an expectorant that ostensibly made users cough up all the poisons infecting their bodies. Whether by design or accident, Barnes seems to have shaped a grouping of remedies in the Centaur company to make use of the body’s principal orifices to expel illness from it, the nose, mouth and anus, combining them with one used to heal the skin, the major organ that enfolds and protects the body. After the Civil War tax finally ended in 1883, Fletcher adopted a seal bearing his signature to replace the tax stamp that people had come to expect on the bottles.
POST-CIVIL WAR SEAL USED TO REPLACE TAX STAMP
1882c ADVERTISING BOOKLET FOR BOTH CENTAUR & DEWEY PRODUCTS
After a few years, Barnes apparently let Dewey take Wei de Meyer’s Catarrah Snuff back exclusively to his own company, which, although it had its own product line, continued to advertise Centaur Liniment and Castoria as well, for a few more years until Dewey and his company, like Rose, disappear completely from the historical record, and Fletcher emerged as the dominant figure in the Centaur company. Over the ensuing years, Fletcher also dropped the Centaur Liniment and concentrated his energy entirely on Castoria. The overarching achievements of his sixty year career were that he made Castoria, in combination with his name, a single household term and grew the Centaur Co. into what was described by several commentators in 1923 as the largest single proprietary medicine maker in the country.
FLETCHER’S CASTORIA PACKAGE BEARING SEAL
The saga of how Dr. Pitcher’s invention reached its greatest renown as Fletcher’s Castoria is complex. Since Dr. Pitcher had actually patented the formula for Castoria, by purchasing his rights, the Centaur Co. was guaranteed a legal monopoly on its manufacture for the length of the patent – at that time seventeen years – until 1885. Its popularity soon made Barnes and Fletcher millionaires, but when Fletcher and Cora Barnes, who inherited her father’s quarter share of the company upon his death in 1888, tried to defend the name Castoria as their own exclusively, a U.S. Court of Appeals construed the patent narrowly and – following distinctions among patents, trademarks, trade names and unfair business practices outlined by the Supreme Court shortly before in a case concerning the term “singer” as applied generically to sewing machines – ruled that the patent itself conveyed no exclusive permanent right to the name of the product, and that, just as the formula for its manufacture had passed into the public domain upon the expiration of the patent, because the public had come to identify the concoction itself as castoria, the name itself had become generic and, therefore, had also passed into the public domain when the patent expired. This ruling, in an 1898 case called Centaur Co. v. Heinsfurter, like those by similar courts, discussed in earlier articles, that milk of magnesia and aspirin were also generic terms, caused the same major degree of irritation to the Centaur Co. that those other original manufacturers experienced, and, like those other cases, led to blizzards of litigation over the following years as to whose product infringed on whose and whose product had a distinctive identity of its own.
THE CASTORIA CO.
WILLIAM S. DAGGETT
CASTORIA CO. BATTLESHIP REVENUE CANCELS
1900c CASTORIA CO. ADS
The Heinsfurter ruling came about under the following circumstances: in 1896, two mid-westerners, a businessman named Jacob Heinsfurter and a colorful character named William S. Daggett, who was otherwise employed as a Deputy United States Marshal, formed a company and opened a plant in Fargo, North Dakota to manufacture castoria under the name Castoria Co. They also published an article in a drug trade magazine, The New Idea, published by a large and well-known Detroit drug wholesaler and manufacturer, Frederick Stearns & Co. (another company to be profiled in the future) announcing to the trade their intent to manufacture castoria in accordance with Dr. Pitcher’s formula, now no longer under patent. Apparently, at least according to Fletcher, they even had the nerve to write to him asking him to sell them his bottles and labels for them to fill with their own product. Fletcher declined their bold invitation and instead sued them in Fargo claiming they were perpetrating a fraud upon the public. The local court collected exhaustive expert testimony on both sides of the question of whether the term Castoria constituted a trademark or a generic term, and also seems to have weighed and found wanting Fletcher’s claim that Cora Barnes had trademarked the word “Pitcher’s Castoria” in 1883. After losing the preliminary round in their local court, Fletcher published a circular to the industry acknowledging that their product was labeled differently from his – one of the reasons the judge gave for finding no deception by the new company – but claiming that he would be exonerated on the fundamental question of the ownership of Castoria on appeal. Fletcher also ran an industry wide ad featuring a statement by none other than the ancient Dr. Pitcher himself that Pitcher was the originator of Pitcher’s Castoria and had only authorized Fletcher to make it.
FLETCHER’S 1897 CIRCULAR TO THE TRADE
TWO OF FLETCHER’S 1897 ADS FEATURING DR. PITCHER’S AFFIDAVIT
Much to Fletcher’s dismay, however, the following year, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling. Eventually Daggett sold his interest in the company to Heinsfurter, who moved the company to Chicago. The government-issue battleship revenue stamps bearing the Castoria Co. cancel were used during this period. Although Fletcher was never able to stop the Castoria Co., its sales never rivaled those of Fletcher’s Castoria and it managed to continue in business only for a few more years.
FLETCHER’S CASTORIA SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR PRIVATE DIE PROPRIETARY STAMP
Fortunately for Fletcher, by 1898 he had began to feature his signature significantly as part of the label of his Castoria, and he eventually trademarked his signature. As noted above, Fletcher had already incorporated his signature into the seal that he placed on each package to replace the Civil War tax stamps. Courts ruled that Fletcher’s signature did constitute a valid trademark, so Centaur Co.’s brand of castoria – which, therefore, became known commonly as Fletcher’s Castoria rather than Pitcher’s Castoria – was always easy to distinguish from the others, both because of Fletcher’s trademarked signature, which always appeared on the label, and because his advertising gradually gave greater prominence to his own name more and more and Pitcher’s name less and less. Fletcher so valued his own signature as a distinguishing feature of his product that he even had it incorporated into the printed cancellation of the government revenue battleship stamps that his company applied to his product when the Spanish-American War tax period began on July 1,1898. Moreover, he was then doing such a great a volume of business that he was one of the very few proprietary medicine makers who opted to expend the extra funds to create his own private die proprietary medicine stamp, as so many of the earlier patent medicine companies had done during the much longer period that the Civil War taxes were in effect between 1862 to 1883. He was able to make the transformation easily because he simply adapted the seal he was already using. Because the period the Spanish-American War tax was in effect was so short – lasting only three years for proprietary medicines – most other proprietary medicine employers did not think the effort was worth making.
1899 CENTAUR CO. COVER
Ultimately, with respect to U. S. courts, even though other companies again and again clashed with Fletcher over whose castoria was the original and true “medicine” that most closely resembled Dr. Pitcher’s original castoria formula, they always had a reliable yardstick to measure whether legal infringement had occurred. They continually laid the Fletcher label against the other castoria company’s label and ruled on a case-by-case basis. If the reviewing court found the other company’s label looked too much like Fletcher’s, it would rule that the offending company was unfairly competing with Fletcher by trying to steal his business with a confusing label. If it found that an average customer could easily distinguish between the two labels – even when the other label said it was Dr. Pitcher’s own castoria or claimed that it was the only one that actually embodied Dr. Pitcher’s own original patented castoria formula – it would invoke the rule of buyer’s common sense to hold that since customers would not mistake the label of the other product for Fletcher’s, the other company was not infringing on Fletcher’s trade and did not have to change its label. Some examples of the labels used by other companies and the courts’ rulings upon them follow below. In this painstaking way, Fletcher’s Castoria, like milk of magnesia, worked its way into the background of “over-the-counter” medicines that Sterling vacuumed up during the 1920s.
CASTORIA MEDICINE CO.
COURT FOUND CASTORIA MEDICINE CO LABEL ON RIGHT NOT TO INFRINGE ON FLETCHER’S LABEL
CASTORIA MEDICINE CO. BOTTLE & PACKAGE ALSO SHOWING A SPANISH-AMERICAN TAX STAMP
COMPANIES WHOSE LABEL WERE FOUND TO INFRINGE FLETCHER’S LABEL
CASTORIA MANUFACTURING CO.
HUGHES BROTHERS MANUFACTURING CO.
PHENIX MEDICINE CONCERN
Curiously, in Canada, when Fletcher came to fight the battle in 1920 over his exclusive right to use the name Castoria with yet another company, this time American Druggists Syndicate (yes, yet another company to be profiled, which cancelled later proprietary stamps during the World War I imposition of a tax on proprietary articles), the Canadian court considered the various legal steps the Centaur Co. had taken to protect its trade in Canada, just as the Heinsfurter court had considered the American fact pattern, and, while it acknowledged and discussed that decision, it reached the opposite conclusion, by a 2 to 1 split decision. In Canada, Fletcher never attempted to patent Dr. Pitcher’s formula, but as early as 1879, filed a general trademark on a label with the words “Pitcher’s Castoria” together with a facsimile of Demus Dewey’s signature which was then registered again in 1898 as a specific trademark of a label for “Fletcher’s Castoria” incorporating the facsimile of Fletcher’s signature. Because there was no Canadian patent, the Canadian judges found that there never had been any attempt to block anyone in Canada from using Dr. Pitcher’s formula to create a laxative, so they could ignore the entire argument emphasized by the U.S. court that no secondary right of ownership attached to the name arising from the patent. On the other hand, they found that the term “Castoria” had no existence or meaning in English before Dr. Pitcher applied it to his medicine, and because Dr. Pitcher had made it up, that it was entirely and completely “fanciful” intended for the sole purpose of identifying and distinguishing his product from anyone else’s, and thus it was a term subject to being trademarked for his, or Fletcher’s, exclusive use, as the Centaur Co. had properly done. That the public came to regard to regard this particular laxative formula as Castoria, the court felt simply fortified the point that Fletcher had established a strong and valuable trademark. Therefore, they concluded that all in Canada who chose to could reproduce Dr. Pitcher’s patented formula to make a laxative: they just could not call it “Castoria.”
FLETCHER’S CASTORIA AD IN A 1905 RURAL CANADIAN PAPER – (NOTE SMALLER ADS PLACED AT THE ENDS OF ARTICLES IN SEVERAL OTHER COLUMNS)
In the end, whether by the route of barring unfair competition by protecting the “Fletcher’s Castoria” trademarked label, but not the word “castoria” itself, in the United States or by upholding the word “Castoria” as part of a registered trademark (which essentially amounted to the same design) in Canada, each country’s courts allowed Fletcher to protect his product. The legal arguments accepted by the two courts were diametrically opposed to each other, but the conclusion amounted to the same result. The wonders of legal reasoning are endless! One fact is certain: there were many, many more brands of castoria in the United States than in Canada.
TWO MORE AMERICAN NON-FLETCHER’S “PITCHER’S CASTORIA” BY PFEIFFER CHEMICAL CO. & ROYAL MFG. CO. OF DUQUESNE
Many stories are told about Charles H. Fletcher. Perhaps the most notorious one, which illustrates his monumental drive and audacity, is that Fletcher volunteered to underwrite the last $25,000 of the cost of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty (after noting that the largest donation to date had been $5,000), when the efforts of the committee of prominent New York City citizens organized to raise the funds to provide the proper base for the French gift fell short, provided only that Fletcher be allowed to place Castoria’s name on the pedestal for the first year. In this way, he wrote, “art and science, the symbol of liberty to man, and of health to his children would be more closely enshrined in the hearts of our people.” Needless to say, the committee summarily rejected the offer. Oddly enough, the quote, apparently from Fletcher’s proffer to the committee, was first reported only in a 1986 New York Times article on the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, but since then has become the principal anecdote echoed about Fletcher.
Even if he did not co-opt the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, Fletcher’s advertising was unrelenting. He published ads, together with eye-catching trade cards and almanacs in vast numbers, and painted ads on every surface that he could procure. Fletcher’s success rested on his singular concentration on Castoria. He manufactured this one product in one size, sold to a huge network of wholesalers as well as 150,000 retail outlets, virtually all drug and general stores, in lots of no less than five gross (720 bottles), and advertised it endlessly to the public without any traveling sales staff or a public mail order business. One of the most well known trade cards linked Castoria with P. T. Barnum’s famous circus elephant Jumbo, himself a great celebrity of the age. (Barnum obligingly offered his endorsement of Centaur Liniment as well, claiming that it effectively treated both his circus performers and animals.) Pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge, the great engineering triumph of its age, show Castoria ads displayed prominently to those who promenaded on its pedestrian walkway to experience its wonder. Faint traces of such painted ads still can be found all over such cities as New York. One of the shrewdest shifts in Fletcher’s advertising strategy, as recounted by his Advertising Manager after his death, was changing from his initial position of never advertising in newspapers on Sunday in order to avoid the appearance of profaning the Sabbath to investing in such Sunday advertising after he realized that the newly developed Sunday supplemental rotogravure (picture) sections were attracting children who would, in turn, urge their parents to buy Castoria. Whether Fletcher made use of a large advertising space or a small one, his notion was to keep the copy simple and, whenever possible accompany it with an illustration. Castoria was such a part of American culture that two different American bombers were named “Fletcher’s Castoria” during World War II. The driving slogan of the constant advertising was “Children Cry For Castoria.” The line became so famous and familiar that a serious American classical composer, Nicholas Slonimsky (1894-1995!), who certainly bridged the period from Fletcher’s time to the contemporary world, later set Castoria ads to music. Recordings are available on Youtube.
CASTORIA ADVERTISING SAMPLES:
As a mandarin of the Gilded Age, Fletcher was a stout defender of private enterprise. When – because of the continuing false promises of cures made by most nostrums, together with the occasional deaths from undisclosed poisons in the proprietary potions – the hue and cry began for governmental regulation of the food and drug industries, he firmly planted himself in the opposition camp. Yet, by 1890, some businesses, like the American meat industry, had actually discovered that they needed a modicum of regulation to compete effectively, since Europe had made clear that it would not import American meat not certified as healthy. Thus, in 1891, Congress enacted the first federal meat inspection requirements. In the next session, the Senate took up the Paddock Bill, a general measure enabling broad food and drug oversight and regulation, named for Republican Algernon Paddock of Nebraska, who chaired its Agriculture Committee. Asked by the Times in 1892 to comment on the bill, in an article captioned “Mischief Its Only Use … The Business View,” Fletcher opined that the patent medicine industry would be quite comfortable with the passage of such a law since the government was too small and disorganized to enforce it: “It is absurd to suppose that a bureau of the Department of Agriculture could undertake to make an analysis of all the proprietary medicines that are offered on the market.”
However, Fletcher then passed to the more serious objection that any such attempt would be unconstitutional:
I do not see what right the Government can possibly have to interfere with a line of business that is done openly and that is well established. If the business were an underhanded one, or if in the preparation of these articles injurious substances were used, or if there were anything in the nature of fraud in respect to a large proportion of the well-known proprietary articles, there might be some excuse for special legislation against the manufacturers.
Ads Painted On Walls
1900c View from Brooklyn Bridge Pedestrian Walk To Manhattan
1910c View Along 3rd Avenue El Manhattan
Fletcher’s view was typical of the opinions held by proprietary medicine owners, whose products were mostly harmless and whose greatest impact was generally as a mild laxative. Nor was Fletcher out of step with his times. In an age which generally accepted the motto “caveat emptor,” and the law favored leaving people to make their own judgments about believing overblown rhetorical promises of cures and imbibing potentially dangerous concoctions containing undisclosed ingredients, government oversight was regarded simply as unwarranted and improper intrusion into people’s private affairs.
Painted Wall Ads Still Visible Recently
Queens Manhattan (cover 2003)
In a twist that is unfamiliar to today’s Congressional watchers, the Paddock Bill died not in the Senate, where it passed smoothly, but, rather, in the House, where no vote was taken. No later commentator on the Paddock Bill has offered a coherent explanation as to why the House completely ignored it. Possibly, the explanation is as simple as the split in the 52nd Congress between the Presidency and the Senate, which were Republican, and the House, which was Democratic, but it seems apparent only that, at that time, there was insufficient popular pressure to compel the House to act. Even before it interviewed Fletcher, the Times had already editorialized against it, terming the bill both a “fatuous piece of paternalism,” and “foolish and indefensible.” It stated: “[w]e do not see how the Government inspection of proprietary articles can do any appreciable good, and we do see where it can do serious harm,” giving as its reason that any nostrum that complied with the law could, and would, then be advertised as bearing a government endorsement. Regulation of the food and drug industry languished as an unrealized goal for almost another fifteen years.
JEMIMA F. III 1908
Fletcher’s one private passion was sailing, but on yachts powered by engines, rather than under sail. Such yachts were all the rage. He lived in a time when the banker J. P. Morgan was reputed to have said about those kinds of yachts that if one had to ask about their cost, one could not afford them. Over the years, Fletcher kept up with best of the yachting crowd, consistently ordering newer, larger, more powerful yachts from Charles Seabury & Co., naval architects to the rich and famous, whose shipyard was located in the Bronx section of Morris Heights on the Harlem River in New York City. In 1908, the press covered the party Fletcher threw at the company’s dock for the launch of his latest yacht, the Jemina F. III, the third he had named after his wife, which, the Times breathlessly reported, at 111 feet long was the largest motor driven yacht in the world. Apart from the lavish owner’s suite, and the quarters for the captain and for the crew, it boasted five discrete guest stateroom suites each with a private bath. A smoking room for men and a separate ladies lounge were both located on the upper level behind the bridge and the chartroom. All the rooms and service areas were connected by the latest technological advancement, the telephone. The entire interior was built of mahogany while the exterior was constructed of Burmese teak. The hull was steel.
JEMIMA F. III 1908
While Fletcher lived in Brooklyn, he made his summer home at Belmar, N. J. Over the years, virtually all of the mentions of Fletcher in the New York Times were social notes of his comings and goings from his summer home. Fletcher used his yachts to travel between his home in Brooklyn and his summer home in Belmar, N. J. In 1909, after cruising to Newport, R. I., Fletcher docked the Jemima F. III for the remainder of that summer at Red Bank, N. J., where Fletcher’s captain, after describing the ship’s embellishments, disclosed in an interview with the local newspaper that normal supplies for the ship would enrich the local economy by over $1,500 per month apart from expenditures by its crew of nine or the cost of Fletcher’s own personal orders, and that the ship would require a supply of no less than three tons of ice per week. Oddly enough, the short article just below the interview with Fletcher’s captain recounted the itinerary of the cruise another prominent New Jersey resident was taking on his 175 foot English-built yacht equipped with nine staterooms. Apparently, even by the following season, in the competitive world of motor yachts alone, Fletcher had already lost his edge.
Sample Newspaper Ads
Typical 1880s Ads
1900c 1902 Trade Ad
For fifty years, Fletcher continued to run and grow his company, blitzing the public with never ending advertising, until he finally retired in September, 1921. He died in April, 1922 at age 84. He had three daughters and each of their husbands became part of the Centaur Co. One of his sons-in-law, George Edwards, became president of the company shortly after his death. A second, Albert Bryant of Boston, who had married into the family in 1898 and come to work for Fletcher in 1899, was instrumental in arranging the sale of the company to Sterling, holding the title of vice-president of Household Products, Inc. after the sale as well as remaining in an executive position with Centaur Co. as treasurer and production manager until his retirement in 1937.
SAMPLE STERLING CASTORIA ADS
1937c JOE LEWIS AD
Sterling continued to pour money into advertising Fletcher’s Castoria prominently and kept it in the public eye with massive campaigns in magazines and newspapers as well as moving the product on to the newly emerging technologies of radio and television. They employed star power over the years, featuring a picture of world champion boxer Joe Lewis and his mother, with his Lewis affirming that his mother raised him on Fletcher’s Castoria, in a magazine ad in the late 1930s, and in late 1972, apparently lining up the mothers of three of the most current celebrities, singer Pat Boone, basketball great Wilt Chamberlain, and quarterback Bob Griese to do thirty second television commercials for it.
DR. PITCHER 1899
STERLING CASTORIA PACKAGES
CURRENT FLETCHER’S LAXATIVE PACKAGING
A few loose ends remain to the Castoria story. After reappearing in 1897 to aid Fletcher (for which service Fletcher thanked and rewarded him with a dinner service of 102 pieces of solid sterling silver), Dr. Pitcher, the originator of Castoria, continued to live a relatively quiet life on Cape Cod, MA, seemingly without regret at not becoming a millionaire like Barnes or Fletcher, until he died in 1907. Fletcher’s Castoria remained a part of various iterations of the Sterling Drug Co. until 1984 when it was sold to the Mentholatum Co., a company that had itself evolved from yet another of the 1898 revenue stamp cancelling companies (whose story will also be unfolded in the course of time), and the Mentholatum Co. was purchased, in turn, in 1988 by the Rohto Pharmaceutical Co of Osaka, Japan. Mentholatum Co., now identified as a Rohto company, holds the current trademark registration for Castoria, and still maintains its own website on which it lists a product called Fletcher’s Laxative, which it represents has been manufactured since 1871. Since Fletcher’s Castoria was an American product, Rohto itself does not seem to currently list either Fletcher’s Castoria or Fletcher’s Laxative among its products on its main Japanese website. However, on the internet, Fletcher’s Laxative can still be readily ordered and purchased from any of a number of pharmacies and pharmaceutical suppliers.
MILDRED & ROBERT WOODS BLISS
The last word belongs to the money that flowed from the Castoria empire. While Charles H. Fletcher – who admittedly lived long enough to contend with income tax as Demus Barnes did not – does not seem to have bestowed any part of his wealth upon a foundation named in his or his family’s honor, a significant tangent to the history of the Centaur Co. is the ultimate philanthropic disposition of Demus Barnes’s fortune. As noted above, his daughter from his first marriage, Cora Barnes, inherited his interest in the company. She was nineteen when he remarried, but seems to have dwelled, somewhat as an afterthought, with his new family. After his death in 1888, she continued to live with her step-mother and a half-sister, born to her father and step-mother. In 1894, her step-mother re-married, to attorney William Bliss, and, in 1908, her half-sister, Mildred, married her own step-brother, Robert Woods Bliss, William’s son by his prior marriage, who served as a career U.S. diplomat. Cora continued to reside with the Blisses until she fell out of a fourth floor French window of their New York home, ostensibly having tripped over a low sill, on her fifty-third birthday in September, 1911. Since she died on her birthday and had been recovering from a nervous breakdown suffered the prior year, some believe that she committed suicide, but it was noted that she was a “large” woman and the coroner ruled her death accidental. Almost all of Cora’s fortune went to Mildred Bliss, recombining with the share of Demus Barnes’s fortune left directly to her. It was further supplemented by the remainder of Demus’s estate inherited from her mother, Demus’s widow, who died in 1935. The younger Blisses, in turn, used this fortune to create and endow an estate in Washington, D. C. known as Dumbarton Oaks, with elaborate gardens created by a pioneering female landscape designer, Beatrix Ferrand, and buildings created by renowned architects, such as Philip Johnson. They gave it to Harvard in 1940 and continued to enhance until Robert’s death in 1962 and Mildred’s in 1969. Through the efforts of Robert Woods Bliss, Dumbarton Oaks was the site of a conference among the Allied Nations in 1944 which not only created the outline for the formation of the United Nations, but also set economic guidelines for the post-World War II world. It remains open to the public today both as a museum and gardens and as a conference center, library and research facility. By such intricate and indirect pathways, did some fraction of the enormous private wealth conferred upon at least one patent medicine manufacturer trickle back to public benefit.
© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2019