D, J, N, P, S

Sterling Remedy Co. (III.1) – Neuralgyline Co.; J. W. James Co.; J. G. Dodson Medicine Co.; Drake Co.; Pape, Thompson & Pape Co.

Sterling Remedy Co., Manufacturer

 Chapter 3.1 – Purchase By Neuralgyline Co.
(William E. Weiss and Albert H. Diebold)


In 1909, H. L. Kramer sold his Sterling Remedy Co. to the Neuralgyline Co. of Wheeling, WV. The principals of the new owner were William E. Weiss and Albert H. Diebold.  Because of the dizzying course of corporate growth and acquisition that they pursued, many serious students of the late Twentieth Century giant Sterling Drug, Inc. actually date its inception to the founding of the Neuralgyline Co. rather than Kramer’s Sterling Remedy Co.



World-girdling institutions, such as Sterling Drug, Inc., like great nations and empires, engender founding myths.  Rome had Romulus and Remus.  Sterling Drug, Inc.’s Romulus and Remus were Weiss and Diebold. Instead of being suckled by a wolf, Weiss and Diebold grew up in Canton, OH ostensibly as childhood friends and classmates. After they graduated high school together, Weiss had matriculated at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, and, following his graduation in 1896, had gone to work in a drugstore in Sistersville, WV, a small town lying approximately 50 miles southwest of Wheeling on the Ohio River.  Diebold meanwhile joined his father’s safe and lock business. One of them happened upon an effective pain relieving medicine called Neuralgine and in 1901, they decided to form the Neuralgyline Co. to market Neuralgine in the more metropolitan Wheeling, WV.  Their oft-repeated tales continues that in two cramped and dark rooms on the second floor of a ramshackle building in Wheeling, which then constituted the offices of their fledgling company, they labored three days a week compounding their analgesic, Neuralgine, while spending another three days bouncing over rutted roads in rented buckboards hawking it to neighboring druggists. They even had to call special board meetings to authorize the expense of hiring of a stenographer, or installing a safe or telephone.  From such long days of hard work and humble beginnings did Sterling Drug ultimately soar forth.



The truth is difficult to tease out from the myth, and true stories are often embellished to make them more thrilling.  Weiss and Diebold were indeed genuine businessmen with a particular genius for purchasing and exploiting popular patent medicines.  Both were born in Canton, OH: Weiss in 1879 and Diebold in 1873. Weiss did train as a pharmacist, but different sources attribute the original ownership of Neuralgine differently, and all sources agree that there is no record presently extant that attests to Neuralgine’s original composition.  One source says that Weiss first compounded  and marketed it in the Hill drugstore where he was employed in tiny Sistersville.  Others suggest that Diebold brought the product to the partnership.  While Weiss appears to have been a truly self-made man, Diebold may have had the funding and the connections necessary to create a new business. His family was already wealthy and well-known in Canton in the safe and lock business, and today, Diebold Nixdorf Corporation, originally founded by Albert Diebold’s grandfather, Carl Diebold and still headquartered in North Canton, OH, remains prominent not only in its original areas of expertise in bank vaults and fiscal security, but also in the related fields of equipment and software for all manner of self-service sales transactions and related financial services.


What slightly muddies the tale of Weiss and Diebold toiling long hours in dark offices are ads for a patent medicine called Neuralgine dating from around 1886, some fourteen years before Weiss and Diebold appeared on the scene.  These ads were placed by a New York City based company, the Neuralgine Manufacturing Co. They followed the great patent medicine tradition of attributing the miraculous discovery of the remedy to a folk figure, such as an Indian medicine man or a wise and savvy Westerner taught firsthand by such a medicine man, who was both cognizant of the secrets of nature yet far away removed in a romanticized locale, such as the Old West, for they stated that the formula had been discovered a mere six months prior by the “celebrated physician Dr. Walter Hendricks of Montana.” Diligent Google searches reveal no such “celebrated physician” in the Old West.



However, patient searches of the Neuralgine Mfg. Co. show that in Trow’s New York City Directory for 1904, its address was 24 Vandewater Street in Manhattan and its registered owner was one Henrietta Munro.  Its 1880s ads ran in the back pages of novels printed by a Norman L. Munro, whose address happened to be 24 and 26 Vandewater Street.  Norman Munro had been a publisher who became rich enough printing dime novels to afford a custom-built 48 foot luxury steam yacht (called the Henrietta) in 1886, and to replace it subsequently with an 84 foot steam yacht in 1887 and a 132 steam foot yacht in 1888. He had died at age 51 in 1894 after an emergency appendectomy undertaken within the same week after his eleven year old son had successfully survived the same operation performed by the same physician.  Henrietta Munro had continued Norman’s businesses, one of which apparently was a side line in patent medicine.



One significant distinction between Munro’s Neuralgine and Weiss and Diebold’s Neuralgine must be flagged.  The former was an external remedy, perhaps a liniment, while the Neuralgine marketed by Weiss and Diebold was a pill for internal ingestion. Also, oddly, the Neuralgine Mfg. Co. of New York City was still advertising in 1905 to the trade, four years after the Neuralgyline Co. of Wheeling, WV was founded.SterlingRemedyCo-Neuralgine-10-1


The reconciling conclusion that emerges from these somewhat puzzling contradictory facts seems to be that Weiss’s and Diebold’s Neuralgine was a new formulation applied to a remedy acquired by, rather than invented by, Weiss and Diebold.  Two small clues in the remaining readily available extant records seem to support such a conclusion.  First, when Neuralgine was trademarked in 1907 as an internal remedy by the Neuralgyline Co. of Wheeling WV, the date of 1879 was listed as the date of its first use in trade. Had either Weiss or Diebold actually invented Neuralgine the date of first use would have been much closer to 1901.  Second, in 1902 there appeared in the columns of the drug trade publications a provocative teaser news item/ad heralding a change about to take place in Neuralgine.  The statement affirmed that despite not being advertised for several years Neuralgine was a trusted “oldtime” remedy that had maintained a steady demand because of continual medical recommendations, but alerted retailers that they must now stock up their supplies because the Company was ready to “boom” it that Fall with a new and well-funded advertising campaign.  This “item” suggests that by 1902 the widow Munro was ready to jettison some of her late husband’s minor interests and the real “manufacturers” were now Weiss and Diebold.



 Whatever the truth of the origins of Neuralgine – whether they sweated in a dark room to formulate Neuralgine completely from scratch, or whether they applied their new formulation to a previously known patent medicine which they acquired -Weiss and Diebold quickly came to appreciate the value of unrelenting advertising, and scrupulously plowed their profits back into further advertising.  However, they soon realized that a wider line of products would produce even greater profits.


Certainly the modified origin story of Neuralgine proffered in this column neatly corresponds to Weiss’s and Diebold’s later pattern of building their business. To expand their product line, Weiss and Diebold early came to the conclusion that it would be easier to purchase established products rather than try to develop their own. Their first acquisition took place in 1906 when they purchased the Knowlton Danderine Co. of Chicago, a hair tonic manufacturer.  As outlined in the prior column, Sterling Remedy Co. was acquired in 1909 principally for two of its patent medicines, a laxative, Cascarets, and its product advertised to break smoking addiction, No-To-bac. To give their company additional heft, Weiss and Diebold also bought three smaller local West Virginia patent medicine companies, the J. W. James Co. which produced an entire line of patent medicines, the J. G. Dodson Medicine Co. which marketed a product called Liver Tone, and the Drake Co., which manufactured Drake’s Palmetto Compound, and at the same time, absorbed a Cincinnati-based company called Pape, Thompson & Pape Co. whose featured commodity was Diapepsin, a remedy allegedly to treat kidneys and urinary problems.   In 1912, Weiss and Diebold purchased the California Fig Syrup Co. which brought in another laxative, Syrup of Figs, to provide additional relief for the constipation that No-To-bac seemingly produced.




Relentless advertising kept all of these products before the public and producing profits.  By 1912, the company was worth $4 million. Fearing that the Neuralgyline name was too difficult for people to grasp, Weiss and Diebold decided to simplify it by adopting the Sterling name they had acquired from Kramer, and re-dubbed their company Sterling Products, Inc.  Eventually, the transactions that Weiss and Diebold masterminded catapulted them on the world stage and carried consequences with national implications, which is why they are generally regarded as the true founders of Sterling Drug, Inc.

The Four Smaller Companies Acquired By Weiss & Diebold In 1909

1) J. W. James Co. Cancels

1898 Revenue Stamps

JamesJWCo-2-RB21-1-1898-2R(SterlingProductsIncSucessor)     JamesJWCo-2-RB21-1-1899-1R(SterlingProductsIncSucessor)


JamesJWCo-2-RB23-1-1900-1R(SterlingProductsIncSucessor)     JamesJWCo-2-RB23-1-1901-1R(SterlingProductsIncSucessor)


JamesJWCo-2-RB21-2-1899-12-31-2R     JamesJWCo-2-RB23-2-1899-04-14-1R(SterlingProductsIncSucessor)


1898 Cover and Trade Advertising Material




1904 Invoice










2) J. G. Dodson Medicine Co.

1915c Cover


1920 Ad






1914 Doctor’ Complaint Re Druggist’s Sale Of Dodson’s Liver To Retail Customers




3) Drake Co.

1910 Ad





4) Pape, Thompson & Pape Co.

1910 Trade Ad/News Story Promising Ad Blitz (just like 1902 Neuralgine Ad)


1910 Additional Trade Ads





Knowlton Danderine Co. and the California Fig Syrup Co. each possess histories prior to their acquisition by Weiss and Diebold that echo this story of the Neuralgyline Co. Perhaps that is why Weiss and Diebold were attracted to them.  They will subsequently each receive their own separate treatment in this column.

©  Malcolm A. Goldstein 2018







Nervease Co.



nerveaseco-2-rb23a     nerveaseco-2-rb23bvc


Nervease was one of the earliest patent medicines specifically advertised as a headache and fever remedy. The principal ingredient of virtually all of these pioneer products, classified in medical terms as analgesics (pain relievers) or antipyretics (fever reducers), was acetanilide. Most of those who used Nervease, and the many other proprietary medicines like it, never realized that acetanilide was a poison that could cause their death. However, acetanilide’s potentially poisonous nature became a major flash point during the Pure Food and Drug Act wars. Since proprietary medicine manufacturers regarded their formulae as private, they did not disclose their ingredients. From the end of the Civil War, when proprietary medicines became readily available, to 1906, they successfully blocked governmental efforts at all levels to force such disclosure. Even after the original 1906 federal legislation mandated listing contents on the packaging, product advertising remained completely unregulated. Not only did manufacturers who complied with the law by listing acetanilide in small print not warn of its potential harm, some even affirmatively averred in much larger print that their products contained no poison, or even in the accompanying literature denied its presence. The fight to banish acetanilide as medicine was one of the longest and most difficult waged by the Food and Drug Administration, continuing for a full generation after 1906.


1894 AD

Yet, acetanilide was regarded as a miracle drug when it was first found to be an antipyretic at the end of the Nineteenth Century. Actually, that entire century was an age of astounding chemical discoveries. As coal became an important source of fuel, the entire field of organic chemistry took shape, for the clever use of coal’s waste products, most notably coal tar, led to the discovery and exploitation of a multitude of useful chemical compounds. The earliest significant coal tar derivative was aniline discovered in 1826. It soon became the basis of synthetic dyes, giving rise to an entirely new industry. Acetanilide, discovered a few years later, also found use in the dyeing industry, but, by mid-century, had proved to be of only minor importance.


1894 AD

Suddenly, when acetanilide’s ability to reduce fevers was discovered in 1886, it was heralded as the newest wonder of the age. As with many such amazing drugs, the discovery was purely serendipitous. Arnold Cahn and Paul Hepp, two young assistants in the department of medicine at the University of Strassburg in Germany were assigned by the superior, Adolf Kussmaul, to investigate cures for intestinal worms by dosing patients with naphthalene, itself another coal tar derivative, which had already proved useful as an internal antiseptic in certain limited circumstances. However, the test results proved problematic. Cahn and Hepp found that the drug they were administering did not reduce worm infestations, but did reduce the fevers of patients, an effect never previously observed when treating subjects with naphthalene. Since naphthalene had never been shown to influence body temperature, Cahn and Hepp ultimately reasoned that they must have actually administered another substance to their patients. When they requested their chemical supplier, Kopp’s Pharmacy of Strassburg, to re-check its records, they discovered that Kopp’s had, in fact, sent Hepp acetanilide. Once Cahn and Hepp published their findings hailing the discovery of a new antipyretic, an acetanilide manufacturing industry immediately sprang up in Germany. Its low cost of production meant the proprietary medicine industry in the United States quickly adopted it both as an analgesic and an antipyretic, and obstinately clung to it as a principal ingredient of these classes of proprietaries long after its poisonous quality had been revealed.


1896 AD

To those who ingested large quantities of acetanilide, the danger manifested itself in the form of cyanosis, a bluish cast to the skin which people develop when their bodies are seriously starved for oxygen. When these cyanotic patients reported that they had recently taken the new acetanilide-based headache remedies, doctors quickly discovered that when acetanilide is metabolized by the body, it partially transforms to aniline. From treating a generation of poisoned dye plant workers, doctors already knew that aniline altered the structure of hemoglobin, the complex protein in the red cells of blood which carries oxygen from the lungs throughout the body. Aniline induces methemoglobinemia, a condition in which methemoglobin — oxygen binding sites structures (heme groups) containing ferric ions [FE+3] rather than ferrous ions [FE+2] — begins to supplant the normal four heme groups within the hemoglobin protein molecules as they travel in the blood through the lungs. Ferric ions (which eventually were demonstrated to have their crucial d sub-shell valence orbitals, where the oxygen electrons would orbit when they bonded, blocked by its own higher energy electrons) do not form the requisite bond with oxygen that the ferrous ions in hemoglobin do. As available oxygen binding sites fall within the hemoglobin protein, the shape of the entire hemoglobin protein alters causing the remaining ferrous ion heme groups to hold their own oxygen molecules more tightly, further reducing the normal oxygen exchange rate until the body can literally starve for oxygen. Blood starved for oxygen reflects blue, hence the cyanosis that doctors observed.



1899 AD

Despite a quickly accumulating body of medical evidence demonstrating its danger, and warnings published in medical journals from the 1890s to the 1930s, acetanilide was cheap and accessible, so the proprietary industry capitalized on its availability and continued to use it for fifty more years. The argument made by the industry then, as it is still made in certain kinds of disputed cases today, is that even if a product is poison, if its administration is properly controlled, the benefit experienced by the patient outweighs the potential harm. The difficulty in the case of acetanilide was that it was readily available and control, in the form of dosage, was left completely in the hands of the individual consumer.


1900c AD

Nervease was a typical fever reducer. It manufactured by the Nervease Co. in the Jamaica Plains district of Boston. The proprietor of the Nervease Co. was Joseph B. Locke, a pharmacist who otherwise ran a modern drugstore. In 1892 he is recorded as having petitioned the City of Boston for the latest in technology, an electric street light, to illuminate the corner where his store was located, and, in 1899, his store was praised in a trade magazine as featuring the latest and most up-to-date features:


However, little now can be ascertained about Locke himself, perhaps, in part, because he bears a fairly commonly occurring name. While there are historical entries about many different Joseph Lockes, this particular Joseph Locke, having never been a grandee of the proprietary medicine industry, was never profiled in the kind of Whos-Who-type booster books of the pre-World War I era. Census records do outline the barest bones of his life. They reveal he was born in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1857 of parents, Hozea and Elizabeth Locke, who themselves had come from Maine. In 1882, he married Marietta Skinner, and had a son, Edward. His wife died in 1897. In 1900, his son still lived with him, but by 1910, he listed himself as a widower, living only with a housekeeper. By 1920, he was living with his son’s family and in 1930 he disappears even from his son’s household. Possibly he died as late as 1936. Modern records reveal that his grandson and namesake died in 2003 at age 86.


1900c Ad

As a product, Nervease gained greater prominence than its maker. Locke began to place ads for it around 1890, just as soon as acetanilide became available commercially, and by 1893, Locke was actively promoting Nervease in a grand manner:


By 1898, Locke was employing an ad agency to handle the Nervease account, and it was a significant enough client so the advertising trade papers took note when  J. J. Riegel of Boston carried its business with him during his move from the Pettingall & Co. ad agency to the newly formed Walter C. Lewis Co. ad agency.


1900c Ad

Despite the continual warfare over the use of acetanilide and the gradually more stringent standards, hewing toward “truth in advertising” by insisting on demonstrable scientific evidence to support advertised claims imposed by amendments to the Pure Food and Drug Act, Nervease continued to be manufactured and sold for almost fifty years with acetanilide as its principal medicinal ingredient. In 1939, the government finally brought this action against Nervease:


Two significant observations shed light on this proceeding and decision. Note by this late date the company was both disclosing that acetanilide is present in the medicine, as was required by the letter of the law, and even was counseling in its literature that too many doses could not be taken too close together in time, as medical prudence had by that time certainly suggested. Nevertheless, the government alleged that the false and misleading claims lay in the company’s reliance on testimonials only to prove medical efficacy and the potential for poisoning in the dosage frequency and duration suggested in the company’s literature.

nerveaseco-10-1a     nerveaseco-10-1b


Note also that the legal action was brought in the peculiar way authorized in the 1906 act, not against the company, but rather in the form of a “libel,” or a literal seizure action of the product itself. The company did not contest the government’s charge, as the small proprietary companies like the Nervease Co. often did not. The court would then enter judgment against the product seized by the government and order it destroyed. This form of litigation did limited harm to the company and conveyed limited benefit on the public. The company’s business was disturbed only to the extent that it lost that particular seized shipment of its goods and could otherwise still continue with its established business patterns. The public good was served to the extent that the judgments were published and distributed by the FDA, and read and heeded by medical professionals and the public. Fearing such bad publicity, wiser proprietary companies altered their ingredient formulas or advertising literature after a single judgment entered against them.  A second similar judgment had to be entered against Nervease in 1951.  After that encounter with the law, Nervease Co. disappears from the public record.



Ultimately science itself, not the law, effaced acetanilide as an ingredient in headache and fever reducers. In 1948, doctors finally established that the analgesic and antipyretic properties of acetanilide were contained in paracetamol, the other by-product produced when acetanilide is metabolized in the body. Paracetamol is equivalent to acetaminophen, which by then, could be manufactured cheaply and safely by itself. No longer did any manufacturer have to use acetanilide to produce the relief the antipyretics and analgesics were meant to provide.  Thus, cost efficiency rather than medical safety removed acetanilide from consumer products.  Self-medicators and current buyers of over-the-counter medications should pay heed for the same dangers still lurk in the market place.

©  Malcolm A. Goldstein 2016


Nelson Baker & Company

Nelson, Baker & Co was among a cluster of prominent pharmaceutical companies located in Detroit, MI, although a latecomer on the scene. It was organized only in 1890, but by the Spanish-American War had become a large enough operation to utilize a whole array of cancels, including a profusion of type faces and layouts, on various values of the battleship revenues. Its principals were Edwin H. Nelson and William S. Baker, but its superstar was Dr. Albert Brown Lyon, whose scientific reputation transcended the company.

Edwin Horatio Nelson was born in Brighton, Ontario on June 27, 1856, during a time when his parents briefly resided in Canada. His father was born in Ireland and his mother was a member of the ancient and honored Thayer family of Massachusetts. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Arkansas where his father owned and operated a plantation before the Civil War. A turn of the (20th) century biographical sketch of Nelson tactfully mentions that the plantation was used by the Union army as a hospital during the Civil War, after which his parents retired to Canada. Nelson was educated in Canada and graduated from the Ontario College of Pharmacy in 1876. His life’s path was set when he moved to Detroit to work for the oldest of the pharmaceutical houses in Detroit, Frederick Stearns & Company (a definite subject for a much longer piece in this series). He worked for Stearns until he became the young and brash President and Chairman of the Board of the new company. By 1907, along with his ownership of N B & Co, he was also a director of the newly formed National Bank of Commerce in Detroit as well as a director of the National Can Co. In a biographical sketch, he characterized himself as a Republican, Episcopal, and a member of prominent business and social organizations in Detroit, including serving as secretary of the Detroit Club in 1907. His son Frank Thayer, born in 1887, won the silver medal in pole vaulting as a member of the US team at the 1912 Olympics. Unlike his father, Frank, as an Olympian, merits his own stub Wikipedia entry and a picture of his medal winning pole vault is displayed there.

The Baker of N B & Co was William S. Baker, born in New York State in 1861. Apparently never significant enough to be profiled in the contemporary biographical puff books of Detroit’s prominent businessmen, his role is mentioned only once in connection with N B & Co, in a description of its operations published in an 1894 trade journal. He is portrayed there as being a canny pharmaceutical salesmen, who had woeked as such for fourteen years ( perhaps also for Stearns) before he became part of N B & Co. He served as N B & Co’s treasurer for ten years or more, although by 1910, he had relocated to Chicago where he spent the next decade. In 1930, he and his wife were living with their daughter’s family in Seattle. As with many, even most, other second names in company titles, he seems to be overshadowed in collective memory as well as in life by the lead name.

Dr. Albert Brown Lyon served as supervising chemist and corporate secretary for N B & Co, from 1897 to his death in 1926, but his reputation today primarily rests on his treatise and compendium on plants published in 1900, apparently still a popular reference guide. Born in 1841 to one of the pioneer missionary families in Hawaii, he moved back and forth between the islands and the mainland before finally settling in Detroit. His Lyon ancestors landed in the New World in 1635, and his mother’s family descended from religious dissenters who accompanied Roger Williams to Rhode Island after he was expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. When Dr. Lyon’s father was buried in Waimea Hawaii in 1886, the King of Hawaii himself sent a Hawaiian flag to use as his winding sheet, because he had heard the old man say: “Fifty years have I lived under your flag … I wish that when I die I may be wrapped in the flag I loved.” Published in 1905, the three volume Lyon family anthology, for which Dr. Lyon acted as chief editor, as well as relating that story, included his father’s favorite hymn translated into Hawaiian.

Dr. Lyon, himself, was educated at Hawaii’s most famous private school, Punahou, and attended college at Oahu College for two years before graduating in 1865 first in his class from Williams College in Massachusetts. He studied medicine at University of Michigan and earned his M.D. in 1868. Immediately following graduation, he became a chemistry professor at Detroit College, where he spent the next twelve years before becoming a consulting chemist to Parke, Davis & Company (another Detroit powerhouse which will be visited again in these columns) in 1881, and then editor of the trade journal Pharmaceutical Era in 1887 (a significant information source for these columns). In 1887, Lyon also published a handbook for analyzing drugs and galenicals (standard preparations of medicines which contain organic substances) which brought him renown as a chemist. In 1888, he returned to Hawaii as the government’s chemist and a professor of various sciences, including physics, as well as logic at Oahu College. When Hawaii became a republic, he served for two weeks as a militiaman in its Citizen’s Guard in 1895, as his biographers ever after proudly noted. In 1900, he was chosen as one of twenty-five chemists named to conduct the decennial revision of the United States Pharmacopoeia. His wife, whom he married in 1878, was born in Wisconsin, but Dr. Lyon could trace her ancestry back through his minister father-in-law (who performed their wedding ceremony) to the Puritans John Alden and Miles Standish. He had two children both of whom matriculated at his medical school alma mater, the University of Michigan. His daughter, after graduating Phi Beta Kappa, ran a missionary school in China and his son became a language teacher at University of Michigan. He belonged to various scientific and professional societies, was a deacon of his church, as he had been in Hawaii, and was a staunch Republican.

N B & Co erected its own laboratory in Detroit in 1893. In 1909, at a time when the original building had been greatly expanded, the company employed more than 400 people, including 70 traveling salesmen. According to a contemporary book trumpeting the important businesses of Detroit, it manufactured a “full and complete line of pharmaceutical preparations and the products of the establishment are recognized by the trade and by the medical profession in general as being of a superior order.” While its profusion of cancels attests that N B & Co was manufacturing lots of different products, there is no single product with which it is most strongly identified. A trade card offered the product Bromo-Laxine for coughs, colds, headaches and neuralgia, but the products themselves suggest everything from Seidlitz Powder (a generic cathartic) to urine testing kits for professionals. The company successfully remained in business, with Frank Nelson, who became an attorney after the 1912 Olympics, becoming Vice-President upon his father’s death in 1932. Although Frank lived on until 1970, in 1950, N B & Co was combined with Penslar Corporation, another small Detroit pharmaceutical company founded in 1910, and both were purchased by the Purepac Corporation, still today a manufacturer of generic drugs.

The Nelson, Baker canceled battleship stamps below are from the former collection of Henry Tolman.  From Mr. Tolman’s organization of the types it is clear that he was still working on coming to final terms with the cancel varieties:
© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2012