Companies, D, E, H, J, L, P, S, W

Sterling Products Inc. (VI.1.a) – American Home Products

Sterling Products, Inc., Manufacturer
Chapter 6.1.a: American Home Products


          In 1926, Sterling created yet another subsidiary, this time a holding company, to aid it to swallow and digest more patent medicine, drug and pharmaceutical companies.  It was named American Home Products (AHP), and, as its name implied, its reach ultimately extended far beyond the over-the-counter medicine business.  With the creation of this division, the pace of acquisition and complexity of the interactions among the various companies appears to have increased exponentially, but the seeds for this amalgamation actually were laid years before.  Yet throughout virtually all of its history – essentially until its last ten years of existence – AHP, like Sterling itself, maintained the companies it absorbed largely intact, advertised its constituent brands separately product-by-product and publicized its own name so sparingly that it was referred to in the industry as “Anonymous Home Products.”



          While AHP sprang seemingly full-grown into existence, different accounts of its formation list its constituent parts differently.  A 1947 Federal Trade Commission report (discussing potentially monopolistic consolidation occurring within the drug industry and using the credit rating compilation Moody’s Manual of Industrials as it source) showed the initial companies as Wyeth Chemical Co., Petrolagar Laboratories, Edward Wesley & Co. and the Larned Co.  A 1949 chemical industry handbook named the initial companies only as Wyeth Chemical Co., Deshell Laboratories, and Edward Wesley & Co.  Although these differences are small, subtle and perhaps ultimately insignificant at this late date – and neither is anywhere near close to a complete disclosure of the constituent parts of AHP even at the beginning – they serve to illustrate the difficulty of unearthing and reconstructing the interrelationships that ultimately joined so many family owned or sole-proprietor patent medicine companies into the global conglomerate AHP.  A minute and detailed examination of those records which remain readily available to be searched, however, demonstrates that these various companies were already so intricately intertwined even before the formation of AHP that one contemporary drug trade magazine characterized the new grouping by saying: “[t]hese companies … have been owned and managed by Sterling Products interests.”



          There is no ambiguity about the new corporation that emerged.  AHP was incorporated in Delaware on February 4, 1926.  The same three Wall Street firms that had financed Household Products, Inc. in 1923 acted as its underwriters and brokers for sale of its shares.  The principals of the new company were William E. Weiss, Albert H. Diebold, and Stanley Jadwin, all of whom already sat on Sterling’s board, as well as William Kirn (1871-1942) and Walter D. Rowles (1867-1928), both of whom held significant positions in the Detroit drug wholesale drug firm of Parke, Davis & Co., and John F. Murray (1871-1936), who headed his own advertising agency.  According to a booklet published for AHP’s 75th anniversary, the initial AHP management board of six (“the Principals”) was assembled carefully with Weiss and Diebold first teaming with Murray and then bringing Jadwin aboard to provide expertise about the interworkings of the drug trade. Kirn and Rowles were added to make the manufacturing facilities of Parke, Davis available to AHP.  This account, while not contradictory, does not jibe entirely with the history of Sterling already unfolded in these columns, because Jadwin was a part of Sterling and the two Parke, Davis members already had strong pre-existing ties with Sterling’s management, since, as chronicled in an earlier article, Parke, Davis was Sterling’s contractor to manufacture Sterling’s Knowlton Danderine. The difference in the storytelling approaches might be a reflection of the circumstance that AHP’s anniversary booklet was written in 2001, decades after Sterling and AHP had separated from one another as business entities, and AHP, at that point attempting to refocus its public image from being Anonymous Home Products to being a progressive, forward-looking pharmaceutical giant, no longer wished to recall that it had begun as a division of Sterling.



          Each of the Principals had additional tendrils in the drug business that helped to shape AHP as well, and AHP’s history states that when they began to consider launching a consolidated management in the early 1920s, they held interests in sixteen different patent medicine companies.  Present records readily available do not allow that claim to be verified, but there is no reason to doubt its accuracy.  Among the non-Sterling men, Kirn, as well as being head of Parke, Davis’s Private Formula Department, was also was serving as President of the Larned Co., possibly accounting for the difference between Moody’s explicit listing, and the industry handbook’s omission, of this company in the table of AHP’s constituent corporations.  Rowles, while head of the Special Preparations Department at Parke, Davis & Co., apparently already had two remedies bearing the Rowles name marketed through a company called Whitehall Pharmacal Co., another patent medicine company that emerged sometime around 1920 and which AHP immediately recognized as one of its divisions.  In the consolidation that followed the establishment of AHP, Rowles’ Red Pepper Rub – a medicine intended for conditions that required the application of heat and to replace old-fashioned plasters – was later manufactured under the Wyeth Chemical Co. name.  While Kirn and Rowles – who was based in Parke, Davis’s New York City office and lived in a house in Montclair, NJ that was both elegant and grand enough to be featured in American Homes and Gardens in 1910 – were in the pharmaceutical field, it was Murray – the last of AHP’s founding managers – who not only brought his ad agency into the new firm as its in-house advertising department – a status it held for the entirety of AHP’s nearly eighty year existence -, but was pivotal in bringing many of the smaller patent medicine companies into the conglomerate that AHP became.



          Murray emerges as the wildcard in the organization of AHP.  Born in Waterloo, Iowa in 1871, he was one of those Nineteenth century characters who ran away from home to “join the circus.”  It is a pity that there appears to be no extant picture of him because the AHP anniversary booklet describes him as follows: “a dandy, an immaculate dresser who ‘always looked the answer to a maiden’s prayer,’ said one colleague.”  After working as a traveling show musician and barker, he had settled briefly in Chicago where he was employed by William Wrigley, Jr.¹ to compose jingles for Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum and developed an interest in the advertising business.  As George Rowell before him had learned, to advertise, one has to have a product to sell, and if one does not have a client to sell for, it behooves the ad man to become the manufacturer.  Thus, the behind-the-scenes principal of Whitehall Pharmacal Co. that was marketing Rowles’ Red Pepper Rub turns out to have been none other than John F. Murray, whose ad agency had its offices at 17 Battery Place in lower Manhattan, a building otherwise known as the Whitehall Building.  As well as providing the name for Murray’s own patent medicine company, the Whitehall building became the first headquarters of AHP.  Not only did Murray participate behind the scenes in the ownership and management of many of these companies, as will become apparent, but, even if there had not been as much interlinked ownership as the record reveals before 1926, the proximity of the ads of many of these constituent smaller patent medicine companies well before their merger into AHP suggests that a single advertising company – Murray’s – was controlling the placement of their ads.



          According to AHP’s anniversary booklet, it was Jadwin who suggested to the others that the proper product to build the new entity around would be Wyeth’s Sage and Sulphur Compound which was manufactured by the Wyeth Chemical Co.  Originally, it had been touted as a medicine to clean the scalp and promote hair growth, but was later advertised as an elegant hair dye. However, this version of the story puts the cart before the horse by suggesting that Jadwin sought the product out especially for AHP.  A more detailed look at the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the Wyeth Chemical Co. shows that the product arrived well before the notion of AHP existed, for the owners of Wyeth Chemical Co. were the very same men who became the principals of AHP.  When the product name was trademarked in 1909, the name was said to have been in use since 1888, although it apparently had appeared as early as 1885 in the catalogue of the pharmaceutical company McKesson-Robbins (yet another company to be profiled anon in this column).  The original proprietor of the Compound was a man named John L. Wyeth, a chemist from Rochester, N.Y.  Its origins are shrouded in mystery at this time, but when Wyeth was forced to file for bankruptcy in Rochester in 1905, a dispute arose as to whether he, or his mother, who claimed that his father had developed the formula, actually owned the product.  Ultimately, he must have prevailed, because he earned his discharge from bankruptcy in 1906, and by 1909 had sold the product to none other than the very same group of individuals who changed chairs in 1926 to become the governing board of AHP!



          Thus, what is most striking about the 1909 ownership change of Wyeth Chemical Co. is that at the very moment when Sterling’s antecedents were coalescing in the form of its predecessor, the Neuralgyline Co., Weiss, Diebold and Jadwin had also begun operating the Wyeth company as well, completely separate and independent from their Sterling project, thus foreshadowing the formation of AHP by seventeen years.  In fact, from 1909 on, Stanley Jadwin (1877-1936), was president of Wyeth Chemical Co. and, by 1919, the ad man John F. Murray was its other officer and director.  Exactly why Sterling kept the other group of companies which became AHP publically separate for so long is difficult to gauge at this remote time.  Certainly, fear of being labeled a monopoly never seems to have been a serious concern of the pharmaceutical industry.  As will be shown in subsequent articles, when AHP was announced, Sterling was at the beginning of its most ascendant monopolistic phase, and only the economics of the Depression seems to have thwarted its plans to dominate the “household products” industry.  Certainly periodic Congressional investigations have never cowed any pharmaceutical company from expanding and the prices which “big pharma” charges for drugs remains a current and on-going topic of public discussion.  Viewing the situation from a distance of approximately one hundred year, the most striking element of difference between Sterling and AHP was the involvement of Murray in AHP.  Possibly the two entities were kept separate because Sterling’s ad campaigns were being run by the Thompson-Koch ad agency which it had purchased as part of its deal with Pape, Thompson & Pape.  As will be shown below, even that hypothesis is purely speculative because other Pape holdings which became part of AHP wound up being represented by Murray’s ad agency.


          When AHP was formed, Sterling’s principals were at the top of their game, and, because of their purchase of Bayer’s American properties, were considered among the sharpest and most well-financed in the business.  Because Weiss and Diebold were the foremost managers of Sterling’s affairs, the salient events of the lives have been outlined already in earlier chapters of this series of articles, but Stanley Jadwin’s background and family require a moment’s attention as well.  He came from a family not only steeped in the pharmaceutical business, but one that had also attracted grisly, momentary national infamy in 1913.  Since 1683, four generations of Jadwins had been Virginia planters before his grandfather moved to northeastern Pennsylvania in the 1830s to be a shoemaker and to raise his family of eight children. His father, Orlando (1833-1911), the oldest child, began a pharmacy and wholesale drug business with some of his younger brothers in Carbondale, PA, near Scranton, in 1856 and later moved to New York City in 1866 to found his own immensely successful wholesaler drug business, O. H. Jadwin & Sons.²  Orlando continued his father’s tradition of having a large family by fathering at least nine children of his own, among them four sons.  His boys became the “sons” part of the burgeoning and prospering family business, and, in due course, the two oldest, Palmer (1868-1922) and Paul (1874-1942), took over its management upon his death, while Stanley, the third, as well as being the third officer of O. H. Jadwin & Sons, had already branched out into his own larger pharmaceutical ventures.³  As noted in connection with the formation of Neuralgyline Co. earlier, Stanley Jadwin’s connection to the Jadwin firm had given the fledgling Sterling group entry into a national distribution network, and that advantage was also now available to AHP.  He had been deeply involved in Sterling’s acquisition of Bayer, and, by 1920, had expanded his business universe beyond the pharmaceutical industry and was also a director of two New York City banks and a New York City street railway company.





          Jadwin and Murray, were also the officers and directors of the Jadwin Co.’s subsidiary, the Jad Salts Co., manufacturer of Jad Salts, the major proprietary medicine O. H. Jadwin & Sons had itself developed and promoted, which now also was folded into AHP, as well as another minor subsidiary company, the Limestone Phosphate Co, which brought its compound for stomach settling and acid neutralizing into AHP.  Already in 1916, however, the state of Connecticut testing laboratory that evaluated quack products warned about Limestone Phosphate: “The use of the word ‘Limestone’ in connection with this product is totally unwarranted, and is most misleading in spite of the word ‘brand’ which appears on the package in small letters.”  Essentially, the laboratory found it to contain no lime at all and characterized the product as equivalent to bicarbonate of soda, otherwise known as baking powder.  The report indicated that the product might have a slightly purgative effect, in other words, yet another laxative.











          The Wyeth Chemical Co. also had a subsidiary.  It brought with it to AHP an older proprietary medicine, Ely’s Cream Balm, used for treating “catarrh,” a Nineteenth Century term for any kind of vague general disability or inflammation, particularly those involving excessive mucus discharge, much like the modern usage of the terms “cold” or “flu.”  The Balm had previously been manufactured by the Ely brothers, Alfred (1844-1917), Charles (1846-1927) and Frederick (1853-1914c), of Owego, NY, in the Southern Tier of Western New York State along the Susquehanna River.  The brothers opened a retail drug store in Owego in 1868, but later, around 1885, also created a Manhattan office. Eventually they all decamped to New York City and ran their entire operation from their New York office.  As with virtually all Nineteenth Century entrepreneurs, the Ely brothers invested in other ventures beyond manufacturing a patent medicine.  Their older brother, Edward, became involved in a tool making business called the Trimont Manufacturing Co. located in Roxbury, MA, and, in 1889, Alfred, Charles and Frederick were all named as assignees of a patent on the design of a mowing machine used to harvest grain fields, possibly for manufacture by Trimont.  Charles seems to have left the patent medicine business in the 1890s, and in 1902 became president of Trimont after Edward’s death.  A sometime poet, Charles was prominent enough to earn a profile in the 1925 Supplement to the Cyclopedia of American Biography.  While he continued to make large and generous donations to the library he left behind in Owego, he never moved back to his home town and died in Boston at age 81 in 1927.  Ely’s Cream Balm continued to sell, and Alfred and Frederick were still both named in the New York City business directory in 1910.  By 1915, Alfred alone appeared in the directory, and by 1918 even he had disappeared and Stanley Jadwin was listed as president of Ely’s Cream Balm Co.






            Deshell Laboratories, the second of the named AHP-melded companies, and Sterling’s only outside acquisition, was located in Los Angeles, CA. AHP’s anniversary booklet suggests that Sterling sought out the company precisely because it was different from all of the other companies that the Principals already had interests in.  Its product was a laxative named Petrolagar, and the Deshell name soon was replaced by Petrolagar Laboratories, again perhaps accounting for the confusion as to which company was part of the initial consolidation of AHP.  Unlike any of the other medicines that the Principals held shares of, Deshell advertised the compound as an ethical preparation (that is, strictly to doctors). While it seems a bit hard to imagine now because of the impact of Sterling’s acquisition of Bayer’s interests and the advertising juggernaut AHP later became, the AHP anniversary booklet states that when the Principals sought financial backing for AHP, the Wall Street firms initially were unwilling to back the venture because of concerns that as growing scientific inquiry exposed the typical exaggerated claims of their over-the-counter-type medicines as outright quackery and potentially dangerous to the public, the public would eschew them.  The bankers felt that Sterling and AHP ought to have available a laxative that doctors could actually prescribe, beyond relying upon time-tested folk brands like Phillips Milk of Magnesia and Fletcher’s Castoria.  The AHP history also states that the Principals liked DeShell as an acquisition because it had already established overseas offices which they could capitalize on.  In light of Sterling’s prior history, including its purchase of Bayer’s assets, this view only serves to demonstrate that by the time the history was written in 2001, Sterling and AHP had been operating as separate companies long enough for AHP to have forgotten that it began as a division of Sterling.




          Nevertheless, according to the AHP history, Petrolager was the perfect product to suit the Principals’ needs.  Because he felt the world was ready for a palatable laxative, ex-President Theodore Roosevelt’s own physician had commissioned its development from a Russian immigrant pharmacist named Channon A. Deshell (1875-1947) who had settled in New York City. DeShell came up with a formula of mineral oil, agar and extract of maraschino cherries.  Roosevelt himself took the first dose prescribed and pronounced it to look and taste like ice cream, and, with TR’s endorsement, Petrolager was off and running.  Agar is a jelly-like substance derived from algae.  Because it is composed principally of polysaccharides, it is still commonly used as culture medium for microbiological work, and in the kitchen as a thickening agent for various foods.  Petrolager itself came in five varieties, depending on the severity of the constipation and the accompanying symptoms.  When Sterling’s managers met DeShell, he had moved to Los Angeles where he had tried to own and operate a drug store before deciding to concentrate on his own research and manufacturing.  He was content to sell the company to the Principals and continue to work there researching and patenting agar compounds for the rest of his life.





          The men behind Edward Wesley Co. (sometimes called Edward Wesley & Co.), the third named AHP constituent company, were familiar to the Principals.  They were William Weiss, another member of the Diebold family, Arthur H. Diebold, and the Pape Brothers, Edward H. (1877-1926) and Harry W. (1876-1928), Cincinnati patent medicine manufacturers whose company, Pape Thompson & Pape, had already sold itself and its product line, including Pape’s Dia-pape-sin, to Sterling in 1909, together with its ad agency, Thompson-Koch.  The Papes had been involved in a number of different patent medicine ventures in and around Cincinnati in the early 1900s until they found their niche with Pape, Thompson & Pape.  After the sale, they stayed with the company and kept looking for other promising patent medicines.  They organized the Wesley company in 1915 in Cincinnati, OH, and garnered success advertising a number of products, most notably Freezone, a corn removing compound, and Fluff, a beauty shampoo.







1902 & 1904 W. H. HILL CO. CALENDARS



          The last named piece of AHP was Larned Co. (named apparently for the street in Detroit on which it was located).  It was a corporation formed in 1924 to purchase, at a cost of over a million dollars, Hill’s Cascara Bromide Quinine, previously manufactured by W. H. Hill Co., a Detroit patent medicine manufacturer.  Hill was another of the Nineteenth Century’s class of self-made millionaires.  Born in 1852 in Cohocton, a small town in the Finger Lakes Region of Western New York, he moved to Michigan with his family in 1870 and became its main breadwinner after his father, a successful doctor, died in 1872.  In the late 1870s, he became a clerk and traveling salesman for a Pittsburgh drug wholesaler.  By 1880, he had learned the drug trade well enough to open his own proprietary medicine factory in Fairport, a town just outside Rochester, NY.  After his factory burned down in 1885, he relocated to Detroit MI, where he manufactured an entire range of goods such as Peerless Cough Syrup, Peerless Worm Specific and Kidney Kascara Tablets.  From 1880 to 1892, he traveled extensively around the country to establish his product line, and by the time tax stamps were required during the Spanish-American War, his business was big enough to warrant his devising his own distinctive cancel, some of which are shown above.  His signature product, Hill’s Cascara Bromide Quinine, was advertised as curing “coughs, colds and la grippe” as well as, again, being a most effective laxative.


1906 & 1924 W. H. HILL CO. COVERS

           As a successful businessman, Hill enjoyed all the perks that went with the income.  As well as running the W. H. Hill Co., he took on the presidencies of the Ideal Register and Metallic Furniture Co. of Detroit and the Detroit Silk Glove Co.  He proudly identified as a Congregationalist and a Republican, and served on the boards of directors of several prominent social clubs in Detroit.  He was a golfer and an early automobile enthusiast, with club memberships in the appropriate sporting groups.  He also owned the yacht “Titania” and was a member of the Detroit Power Boat Club.

          One anecdote, however, might serve best to illuminate the fundamental toughness of Hill’s character.  Several years after Hill sold his company to the Larned Co., he was sued by a former minority shareholder in the original W. H. Hill Co., who claimed that he had been short-changed of his share of the spoils that Hill had amassed from the sale.  In the laissez-faire age before the Depression, the trial court dismissed the case following the then-current norms of business law which held that corporate directors, like Hill, owed no fiduciary duty to their shareholders, like plaintiff, to disclose their knowledge of corporate affairs, even of events such as the impending sale of the company.



          On appeal, the reviewing court reached the opposite conclusion.  It recounted that the plaintiff in the case was a Detroit attorney who had been given stock at the time of the original incorporation of the Hill Co. in 1907 in return for his having represented Hill in earlier litigation against his competitors.  Thereafter, this attorney had served on the Hill Co. board of directors until he grew so self-conscious about his growing deafness that he requested his removal from the board.  In 1923, he read that the federal government had brought a Pure Food and Drug lawsuit against the Hill Co. and decided to protect his own reputation by selling his Hill Co. stock.  While plaintiff attempted to conduct the sale in secrecy, the Court found that Hill soon became aware that plaintiff was trying to sell his stock, both from a broker ostensibly acting on plaintiff’s behalf who in direct violation of plaintiff’s instructions contacted Hill, and also, oddly enough, from one of Hill’s own rivals, a man named Grove (another fellow who will get his own article some day) who tipped Hill off that he, Grove, had been solicited by plaintiff’s representatives to make an offer to purchase plaintiff’s stock.  The reviewing court found that Hill not only had blocked plaintiff’s representatives from getting a true picture of the company’s finances and directed that they instead be shown financial statements from a prior year reflecting losses, but also that Hill had contacted plaintiff’s broker offering him a standard commission and a bonus if the broker could conclude the deal at Hill’s price.  The court even found that Hill had conspired to prepare a misleading stock valuation sheet for that broker to show to plaintiff.  Since Hill had succeeded in purchasing plaintiff’s stock at the lower price he was offering plaintiff, the Court found that Hill’s interference with plaintiff’s sale went so far beyond the conduct of ordinary corporate business as to constitute fraud.  It directed the trial court to conduct a proper accounting as plaintiff had requested, but, by the time it issued this order in 1932, Hill was dead.  He had died in 1931.


          Aside from the big three (or four) companies formally melded into AHP upon its incorporation, it also very rapidly assumed possession of a clutch of other patent medicine companies.  Among them was the Walter Luther Dodge Co., which manufactured Tiz, a bath salt, for “tender feet.”  Dodge was born in Chicago in 1867 and apparently became a millionaire businessman in that city.  However, today he is remembered only in passing as being rich enough to have afforded to relocate his family to West Hollywood, CA and build his family home there between 1914 and 1916.  Ranked by the American Architectural Institute as one of the fifteen most significant houses ever built in America and considered universally to be a gem of the Early Modern architectural style, the Walter L. Dodge House was designed by architect Irving Gill (1870-1936), who worked principally on the West Coast.  It was constructed of eight inch thick reinforced concrete.  Although its innovative marvels included a garbage disposal in the kitchen and an automatic car wash in the garage, its radical departure was its stark reinterpretation of the traditional Spanish Mission style as a sleekly simple geometric form.  After Dodge’s death in 1931, the House passed through eminent domain into the hands of the City of Los Angeles whose original intent was to build a school on the site.  Although that plan was set aside, the Board of Education operated the grounds for number of years as classrooms for a junior-college-level trade school until 1963 when it deemed the property surplus and available for sale to a private contractor.  The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors then proceeded to re-zone the entire area as suitable for apartment construction.  In a tale of modern urban neglect, the contractor who purchased the Dodge House property from the City suddenly demolished it in 1970, over the anguished outcries of many notable architects, replacing it with a nondescript apartment building.





          Although there are easily over thirty websites mourning and paying tribute to the lost beauty of the Walter L. Dodge House, there is no biography of Walter L. Dodge himself exploring the actions and mind of the man who commissioned this masterpiece from Gill, just the dutiful notation in each article that he derived his fortune from Tiz.  Only an inconspicuous listing in a stray volume of a weekly magazine named – in self-explanatory fashion – the National Corporation Reporter suggests a possible key to his involvement in the organization of AHP.  A 1905 listing for the newly incorporated Hilo Gum Co. demonstrates that he and John L. Murray, mentioned above as one of the Principals, were two of its organizers.  Its major product was actually not gum, but rather vending machines for gum and peanuts, and, while it may not have survived to become part of AHP, its existence serves to explain how Walter Dodge drifted into the AHP orbit.  Another possible point of contact between Dodge and AHP might have come through Harry W. Pape, who in 1902 had also invented and patented a ribbon system of delivering goods suitable for cigar and gum vending machines, which were then becoming fashionable, and might have been investigated by the Hilo Gum Co.



          According to the one extant article devoted to Tiz, written in 1912 and trumpeting Dodge’s latest marketing tactic of advertising it on outdoor billboards to distinguish it from the vast number of imitators nipping at its heels, Dodge had developed the product over “several years of hard labor” and pushed it to prominence with an expenditure of “over a million” dollars in advertising. He recounted that he had experimented over a substantial period of time to develop a suitable balm for foot pain, but the greatest difficulty he faced was deriving a distinctive name for his new invention. He initially considering using the first two letters of his name, until he asked himself what the product was for, and replied to himself: “why, tis for tender feet.” In that moment of singular brilliance, he was struck with both the name of the product: “Tiz,”spelled with a “z” to make it a distinct word suitable for trademarking, and its catch-phrase: “for tender feet.”



          At first Dodge ran his business strictly by mail order, engendering enough sales from a single one inch ad in a mail order publication to warrant further investment in the product.  Gradually increasing mail order sales, in turn, attracted a few voluntary orders from wholesalers who wanted to be able to offer Tiz to their retail drug store customers.  This development prompted Dodge to conduct a trial to see whether it was popular enough to market nationally through the regular and customary distribution chain running from manufacturer to wholesaler to retailer.  Tiz was test-marketed in Indianapolis, IN accompanied by a flurry of newspaper advertising to attract attention.  Sales were so great that the experiment was soon expanded to encompass Columbus, OH, then Cincinnati, OH and finally Pittsburgh, PA.  Dodge was convinced that national distribution of Tiz would work, and continuous advertising “in every good daily and weekly newspaper in the United States” over the next two years secured his fortune.  By 1919, Dodge’s ads bore Murray’s ad agency address as its office address.


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           Dodge, as well as Jadwin and Murray, also became involved with another old-time remedy, St. Jacobs Oil, advertised over the years as a pain killer particularly against rheumatism, which also immediately became part of AHP in 1926.  The remedy itself had an intriguing history. Its formula was created by Wilmer L. Keller (1846-1906) a Baltimore druggist sometime during the 1870s.  He marketed it as Keller’s Roman Liniment, with a picture of Julius Caesar on the label, and achieved little success.  However, he did manage to catch the attention of August Vogeler (1819-1908), a solid, reputable and conservative Baltimore druggist in business since 1845, whose son Charles A. Vogeler (1851-1882) was a short-lived, but meteoric marketing dynamo.  By the end of the 1870s, the younger Vogeler had purchased Keller’s formula, added some red dye to the mixture and re-christened it as a old German remedy, St. Jacobs Oil.  Like virtually all of the nostrums of the time, at first it was touted to be equally good for what ailed men or beasts.  Vogeler’s advertising pictured a bearded, red-cloaked monk who vaguely resembled a thin and serious version of our current image of Santa Claus.  It was an instant success and immediately became a national best seller.




          The Vogelers conducted a much larger operation than Keller had, and it ultimately featured several different lines of patent medicines at various times, including such concoctions as Dr. August Koenig’s Hamburg Breast Tea, Dr. Bull’s Baby Syrup, Diamond Vera-Cura and Red Star Cough Cure.  They were savvy enough to recognize the advertising advantage of availing themselves of the federal government’s offer to allow patent medicine proprietors to negotiate their own printing contracts for revenue stamps during the Civil War tax period, which lasted from 1862 to 1883, since the federal government was using the same private contractors to print both its postage and revenue stamps.  When, in the 1930s, Holcombe wrote his articles on United States private die proprietary medicine stamps, the heirs of August Vogeler were still running a remnant of the original company.  He consulted them and, as a result, his article on the various stamps and labels they ordered for different splinterings and transformations of the company, including August’s many partnerships with his son Charles and with his son’s friend, Adolph C. Meyer (1852-1914) after Charles’s sudden and very early death, is one of his most thorough and comprehensive, but, sadly, is by no means exhaustive.  Nor does it properly reflect the history of St. Jacobs Oil.



          An admiring reporter for Scientific American magazine toured the Vogeler plant in 1881 – at the height of the St. Jacobs Oil craze – and wrote about it that: “[w]hile the production of that class of articles known as proprietary specialties may involve no machinery or process not in common use by all manufacturers of drugs, chemicals and the like, the business of advertising and selling them in a large and successful way does involve industrial operations of such magnitude and completeness of organization as to bring the business fairly within the scope of great industries.”  The reporter went on to describe the two “business block” sized buildings rising four stories, and the departments that made up the Vogeler operation.  On the first floor were the executive offices, the “literary” department, which functioned like that of a “publishing house” in filtering and channeling correspondence received, the “mailing supply” department, which kept all the retailers supplied with advertising to promote the goods, and the shipping department, which dispatched the patent medicines to retailers.  The laboratory was located on the fourth floor of the main building and was designed “with ample facilities for the swift and easy handling of crude products and completed preparations, particularly the St. Jacobs Oil, which is the chief specialty” of the company.  However, the “distinguishing feature of the house” was its giant advertising department occupying the entire second floor of the building, together with a large plate-glass windowed open area containing receptacles with over ten thousand pigeon holes, one labeled to receive a every newspaper in the nation which published Vogeler’s ads.  Copies of each ad run in any such newspaper or periodical were “examined, marked, entered and filed.”  The reporter noted with admiration Vogeler’s method of paying for all this advertising: “The unvarying courtesy exhibited toward publishers and the exceptional method of paying advertising bills without waiting for the rendering of statements have established the most cordial relations between the press and the house.”  All of this advanced payment was made possible by the book-keeping department’s records that filled 22 ledgers, comprising 12,000 discrete accounts, that were stored in a special safe.  The bottling department, which also covered the corking and labeling tasks, seems to have been located on the third floor of the main building, and the enormous printing presses for all of the necessary Vogeler advertising material were located in the basement of the main building.  Advertising material was prepared and supplied in eleven (11) different languages.  The bindery, where pamphlets and almanacs, were bound and stitched after printing was located in the rear building, together with the separate chromolithography department where multicolored trade cards were designed, created, separated and boxed for shipment.



          With the advent of St. Jacobs Oil, the firm had to rapidly establish sales branches in “London, San Francisco, Toronto, Canada, Australia, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Cape Town, Africa” to meet the demand, according to a contemporary Baltimore puff book.  The Vogelers even purchased a paddle wheel “fairy” steamboat to sail up and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers painted with the name “St Jacobs Oil” solely for the purposes of advertising their product.  It was a “fairy” steamboat in the sense that, while it was 65 feet long and 14 feet wide and equipped with four staterooms and a lavishly appointed dining room, it didn’t carry freight or passengers as a “real” Mississippi steamboat would, just advertising for St. Jacobs Oil to be distributed at its ports of call.





          However, even before the death of Charles A. Vogeler, the complexity of the arrangements the Vogelers made concerning certain nostrums other than St. Jacobs Oil that they also marketed caused the Vogelers to ordered a second private die proprietary stamp in the name of Vogeler, Meyer & Co.  The disruption caused by Charles A. Vogeler’s sudden and early death seemed to pull the company in different directions and almost caused it to function as two separate divisions competing with one another.  Vogeler, Meyer & Co. ultimately evolved into A. C. Meyer & Co. which was a large enough concern itself to cancel battleship revenues to pay the tax imposed during the Spanish-American War.  Whether any of these cancelled stamps were actually placed on St. Jacobs Oil is unclear because it has suffered a reversal of fortune by then.  Holcombe’s lack of completeness about A. Vogeler & Co. is most apparent when it comes to tracing the ownership of St. Jacobs Oil as it traveled from the possession of Charles A. Vogeler in the 1880s to its inconspicuously slipping into AHP in 1926.  With respect to that particular product, he reported only that some years after Charles A. Vogeler’s death, it was sold to an “English syndicate” for $200,000.  The true story is longer and sadder.





* * * * *


May 1, 1899

          May 1, 1899 – Black Cancel           May 1, 1899 – Purple Cancel


May 1, 1899 – Unlisted Value

                    July 2, 1898                              October 1, 1898


   November 1, 1898


                    December 1, 1898                          January 2, 1899



May 1, 1899  – Black Cancel         May 1, 1899 – Purple Cancel


 * * * * *


* * * * *


          After Charles Vogeler’s death, the ownership of St. Jacob’s Oil passed to his widow, Mrs. Minnie Vogeler.  Shortly thereafter, she formed a partnership with a prominent businessman, Christian DeVries, who not only shared in his brother’s department store business in downtown Baltimore, but also served as president of an important Baltimore bank.  Soon she married him, relying upon him to take control of the marketing of St. Jacobs Oil, but once Charles A. Vogeler was dead, the glory days of St. Jacobs Oil quickly ended.  By 1886, the “fairy ship” had been sold, and the Meyer and DeVries branches of the company were battling each other in the local court over DeVries’ marketing a cough syrup competing with a Meyer’s branch product and Meyer’s retaliating by marketing a product known as Salvation Oil in competition with St. Jacob Oil.  These squabbles were papered over quickly enough, but, by 1896, the original inventor of the compound, Keller himself (of all people), while boasting in response to a trade magazine query seeking the formula for St. Jacobs Oil that it was still proprietary, was also decrying that the manufacture of St. Jacobs Oil had “passed into inexperienced hands, the principal owner being a muslin merchant [DeVries] who knew nothing of the business, the article did not sell so well and seems to have gone largely out of the market, compared with its former popularity and immense sales.” In fact, as a skein of subsequent lawsuits revealed, DeVries was a spectacularly bad businessman who destroyed both his own family’s businesses, as well as that of St. Jacob Oil.


          An English magazine reported in 1901 on the actual intricate proceedings that led Holcombe to record that St. Jacobs Oil had been purchased by an “English syndicate.”  In December, 1899, it explained, the two owners of St. Jacobs Oil (unnamed in the article, but meaning Christian DeVries and his wife, the ex-Minnie Vogeler) signed in Baltimore an assignment for the benefit of creditors (meaning that they confirmed Keller’s lament by contracting under Maryland law to transfer their business to a trustee to dispose of its assets for the purpose of paying its debts).  When the English creditors, who apparently held a major portion of the company’s debt, tried to enforce this assignment in English court to collect from the trustee, the court refused to accept the American assignment as an “act of bankruptcy within English law.”  After the English creditors appealed to the House of Lords, which would not disturb this ruling of the lower court, they then made an attempt in same court to seize directly the assets of the company as payment for their debts.  They were again frustrated because this time that court ruled that it did recognize the American assignment as a binding legal contract transferring title of all the company’s assets to the American trustee, leaving nothing for the English creditors to seize.  The Baltimore attorney whom the trustee had dispatched as his agent to England to stave off the English creditors then apparently turned around and sold the entire business to the manager of the Vogelers’ English office (producing Holcombe’s reported $200,000).  After summarizing all these facts, the English magazine article commented on the brazen solicitation of the public by the new owner to raise fresh capital:

 … it does appear, according to the statement of the promoter, who has been the manager for seventeen years, that the business is an exceeding lucrative one and there are comparatively few bad debts.  If the … statements are true how is it the business has collapsed, and what guarantee is there that under the same management it may not suffer a second reverse and have again to keep its creditors at bay?  We should recommend to leave the company severely alone.



          Subsequently, from 1901 to 1913, the new company, St. Jacobs Oil, Ltd., maintained an office and a manager in Baltimore, even though organized as an English company and apparently owned by the former English branch office manager.  From 1914 through 1922, the company listed Cincinnati, OH as its address in a trade publication directory of products, although by 1919 it also listed an office in the New York City business directory at John F. Murray’s ad agency, and showed the corporate officers to be Stanley P. Jadwin, president and John F. Murray, secretary, with Jadwin and Murray also listed as the directors.  At least part of that time, according to that trade publication directory, its president at the Cincinnati address was one A. J. Walber, who was, coincidently, also listed as president of both the Walter Luther Dodge Co. in Cincinnati and, in the Cincinnati city directory, of Pape, Thompson & Pape.  By 1923, the company’s office was safely ensconced in New York City ready to become part of AHP.  To cinch the association with the AHP crowd even more tightly, in the 1922 trade publication product directory, St. Jacobs Oil, Ltd. is co-listed with the Walter Luther Dodge Co. as a proprietor of Tiz.



          The consolidation of all these companies took place in 1926, perhaps on the very day that AHP first opened its doors for business, but AHP was just getting warmed up. Within the next several years at least as many companies again were added to AHP.  By 1928, Sterling and AHP were both swept into an even larger consolidation, with still more companies added both to AHP itself and to the larger entity.  Finally, in 1931, AHP swallowed one more major pharmaceutical company, John Wyeth & Brother, so central to its existence and lasting legacy that AHP ultimately changed its name to Wyeth.  All these events will be chronicled in subsequent chapters of this series.


¹          Yet another canceller of proprietary medicine stamps (of the 1914 series) who will get his own column someday.

²          Orlando’s younger brothers, who themselves mostly trained as pharmacists, sometimes worked for O. H. Jadwin & Son in New York City, but remained settled in northeastern Pennsylvania near Scranton.  Stanley’s uncle, Cornelius (1834-1913) was a leading businessman in the region, as well as being elected as a Republican to the United States House of Representatives.  His pharmaceutical business, C. C. Jadwin & Co., pedaled its own patent medicine – Jadwin’s Subduing Liniment – sometimes jointly with O. H. Jadwin & Sons even after that company became part of AHP – although neither Sterling nor AHP ever listed that remedy among its own products.

³          It was Donald, Orlando’s youngest son, who briefly brought notoriety to the Jadwins.  While attending private school in California, he had become acquainted with the beautiful young Minna Van Bergen, from a wealthy and socially prominent San Francisco family.  A few years later they became secretly engaged while traveling to Europe together on the same ship, and they married in 1912, when she was 19 and he 25.  However, the marriage quickly soured and Minna returned to live with her mother and sister’s family in San Francisco.  On the night of January 13, 1913, Donald swept drunkenly into that family residence during dinner, and, with Minna’s entire family present around the table – including her mother, sister, niece and nephew – embraced and kissed his wife while simultaneously discharging twice a pistol he was holding against her body.  He then put the gun to his own head and shot himself in the temple.  She died within minutes and he died later that evening.  Because both victims were young, wealthy and glamorous, and the act was so abrupt and shocking, the story made the front-page of every newspaper in the country.

©  Malcolm A. Goldstein 2020

Companies, P, S

Sterling Products, Inc. (V.5) – Pepsin Syrup Co.

Sterling Products, Inc. – Manufacturer
Chapter V.5 – Pepsin Syrup Co. – Manufacturer





           Sterling’s next acquisition was made through its newly-spawned holding company, Household Products, Inc. In 1925, this division paid “upward of $5,000,000” (according to the New York Times) to acquire Pepsin Syrup Co. of Monticello, IL. That company’s principal product was Dr. W. B. Caldwell’s Syrup Pepsin. In 1836, the German physiologist Dr. Theodor Schwann identified a fluid called pepsin (ultimately classified as an enzyme) as the bodily secretion that caused mammalian digestion to occur, and it soon became fashionable to include a dash of pepsin in any remedy aimed at curing ills, particularly those thought to be associated with digestive disorders. Since in the mid-Nineteenth Century there was little empirical evidence properly identifying the cause of any disease, as with virtually every other nostrum, Syrup Pepsin’s trade ads proffered it as a cure for any ailment. Pepsin’s inclusion in the name of Dr. Caldwell’s product, and the trace that may actually have been added to the remedy’s formula, thus served to promote the notion of “good digestion” rather than to produce a specific remedial outcome. While the overall flavor of the nostrum was provided by oil of peppermint and aromatics, its major active ingredient was the herb senna, recognized known and used as a laxative from ancient times. Since regularity has always been considered a mark of good health, by the time the Pure Food & Drug Act required disclosure of ingredients, the company was happy enough to adjust its labeling to proffer the product principally for that purpose.



           The inventor of Syrup Pepsin was William Burr Caldwell. He was born in 1839 in Shelbyville MO and studied at Bloomington College in Missouri. He then sought a medical education in 1858 at the Eclectic Medical Institute in Cincinnati, and continued his study at a medical school in Keokuk, IA. While beginning a medical practice in Laclede, MO, like many small town doctors, he also ran a drugstore as well. Thereafter, over time, he moved east to Bloomington, MO, then further east into DeWitt County in central Illinois. He finally seems to have received his medical degree from Rush Medical College in Chicago in 1875. Eventually, in 1885, he moved one county further east and settled in Monticello, IL after purchasing a drugstore there.




          By the time he arrived in Monticello, Dr. Caldwell apparently had begun to experiment with a formula for his own remedy, and, the following year, he sold the drugstore to a Charles H. Ridgely (1861-1933) and another in order to concentrate on his medical practice in the office above the drugstore. Dr. Caldwell kept experimenting with his remedy, and allowed Ridgely to sell it in the drugstore when the first small batches began to draw a following. When the successor to Ridgely’s original partner sold his interest to an attorney, Harry Crea, Ridgely and Crea propelled the whole operation to the next level by creating the Pepsin Syrup Co. in 1893. In 1899, Crea sold his interest in the company to local businessman Allen F. Moore (1869-1945) and another for $12,000. Moore understood the value of advertising, although his efforts were tentative at first. A 1900 “newspaper for newspaper writers” – an advertising trade journal – ran the following offer:

Moore’s instincts were sound and the business began to grow rapidly. In 1908, he brought in a local druggist John Hott (1869-1935) to oversee operations in order that he have time to pursue his greater ambitions, and Hott became his second in command. In time, Hott’s son Maxwell (1897-1969) joined the company as well. The company purchased its first formal factory building in Monticello in 1903 and made major additions to its factory property in 1914, 1919 and 1924.


* * * * * *




        By 1914, the company was large enough to absorb another smaller patent medicine company. The Pinus Medicine Co of Los Angeles, manufacturers of Fruitola, Traxo and Pinus, announced that it had been purchased by Pepsin Syrup Co. and was henceforth moving its headquarters to Monticello, IL. Advertisements for these products had first appeared in the catalogue of the large St. Louis distributor Meyer Brothers (partially profiled in an earlier column) in 1908. Fruitola and Traxo were advertised as essentially as remedies for digestive kinds of ailments, while Pinus was claimed to treat rheumatism and nervous disorders. Similar ads for these products continued to appear at least once a year in the Meyer Brothers catalogues for the next five years. The first act of the new management in 1914 was to reduce the wholesale price from $9 a dozen to $8 for these products, but after that promising beginning, they appear to have developed no traction and were seemingly dropped by the company. The extensive advertising campaign promised in the blurbs announcing the transfer of the goods was never launched. They also were never referenced as part of the property purchased by Household Products in 1925.


          Perhaps the products made by Pinus did not catch on as had Pepsin Syrup because in 1914 the Indiana State Board of Health issued an analysis of the three “remedies” showing that: 1) Fruitola was composed of olive oil and seidlitz powder (another then-common generic fizzy folk remedy laxative used to treat headaches and upset stomachs) which retailed for $1 and contained ingredients worth 15 cents; 2) Traxo was composed of the plant materials taraxacum (essentially dandelion) and cascara (the outer plant layers which surround coffee beans) both of which were also generic folk remedy laxatives, which again retailed for $1 and contained ingredients worth 15 cents; and 3) Pinus was 85% turpentine (even then making the transition from Nineteenth Century “medicine” to currently-regarded toxic substance) and 15% magnesium carbonate (yet another laxative previously discussed at length in the Phillips Milk of Magnesia chapter), and, while priced at $2.50, contained a nickel’s worth of ingredients. The Texas Dairy and Food Commissioner reached precisely the same conclusions in 1916.  Nevertheless, the Pinus Medicine Co. seems to have retained a separate corporate existence, still appearing on a trade journal’s roster of medicine manufacturing companies as late as 1927, mentioned in a list of companies used to obtain data on chain store pricing policies in a 1933 FTC report to Congress, and even still turning up in 1963 apparently to renew and transfer a trademark to another company.



* * * * * *

          In 1918, Moore served as a national officer of the Proprietary Association of America, the most powerful and influential patent medicine trade association as well as the lobbying arm of the industry. By 1919, one trade magazine was calling Pepsin Syrup the “largest selling liquid laxative in the world,” boasting that the company was going to spend $500,000 during the 1919-1920 advertising season, with $150,000 to be devoted to a special push to penetrate the greater New York market. Moore retained his interest in the company, and it was he who arranged the sale of the company to Household Products in 1925.



* * * * * *


          Dr. Caldwell, the inventor and moving spirit behind Pepsin Syrup, remained in Monticello for the rest of his life. He died at age 83 in 1922, so much respected for putting Monticello on the map as a major medicine manufacturing center in the United States that the town businesses closed during his funeral. Charles Ridgely continued to operate the drugstore in Monticello until 1916 and then sold it to Maxwell Holt and another. A drugstore remained opened at that same location in Monticello until 1994. Both Ridgely’s and John Hott’s deaths were marked in the pharmaceutical trade journals, although it is unclear whether they remained with the Pepsin Syrup Company after its sale to Sterling, although Maxwell Holt did. Moore, who had a 20,000 square foot mansion custom built for himself in 1920, realized his larger ambitions both as a trustee of University of Illinois and as a local alderman and then mayor of Monticello. He also served as a Republican in the House of Representative from 1920 to 1924. In the mid-1920s, he and his wife were both wealthy and generous enough to donate $150,000 toward building a new high school in Monticello and aided in the building of the local hospital. After selling the Pepsin Syrup Company in 1925, he went bankrupt during the Depression, and eventually moved to Texas where he involved himself in the oil business until his death in 1945. Not unlike the descendants of Demus Barnes mentioned in the last column who donated Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard, Maxwell Holt and his wife later donated their home in Monticello, IL as a conference center for the University of Illinois.



* * * * * *





* * * * * *



          Sterling renamed the Pepsin Syrup Co. as W. B. Caldwell, Inc. in 1934 and periodically thereafter transferred it to various different divisions. No matter which division it was in, Sterling advertised Pepsin Syrup extensively and made it a well-known name among radio listeners. Particularly in the late 1930s, it built an extensive advertising campaign around a farm family radio program, the Monticello Party Line, that it used to advertise Pepsin Syrup.  Sterling continued production of Pepsin Syrup in the Monticello IL plant until 1984, when it sold the entire operation, including trademark rights to the Pepsin Syrup name, to another company which then closed the plant in 1985. Pepsin is still widely available for purchase on the Internet, although Dr. Caldwell Syrup of Pepsin is not now being manufactured.







©  Malcolm A. Goldstein 2020

C, P, S

Sterling Products, Inc. (V.4) – Centaur Co.

Sterling Products, Inc., Manufacturer

Chapter V.4 – Centaur Co., Manufacturer


Printed Full Date


CentaurCo-2-3-RB23-2(Full7-1-98Date)     CentaurCo-2-3-RB23-3(8-1-98Date)


Printed Year Only Date

CentaurCo-2-3-RB25-1(blackc)     CentaurCo-2-3-RB25-2600

Blue Ink – ’98                              Red Ink – ’98


Red Ink – ’99

Circular Handstamp


               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.



               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.





               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.


CentaurCo-3-1875c-1(predJBRose)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.





               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.



CentaurCo-21-5(NYRecipeBk)(1883)     CentaurCo-21-5a(NYRecipeBk)(1883)

CentaurCo-21-5b(NYRecipeBk)(1883)     CentaurCo-21-5h(NYRecipeBk)(1883)     CentaurCo-21-5i(NYRecipeBk)(1883)


                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.


CentaurCo-10-9a     CentaurCo-10-9bR


               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.





CastoriaCo-2-RB25(ChicagoIL)     CastoriaCo-2-RB25a(ChicagoIL)


CastoriaCo-6a-1899-1     CastoriaCo-6a-1901-1


               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.






               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.



               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.



               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.




CastoriaMedCo-10-1a(KansasCityMO)     CastoriaMedCo-10-1bR












               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.”

Centaur-CanadianCastoriaAd-W-58a1(CastoriaAd-ActonOntario-FreePress-1-8-1914)     Centaur-CanadianCastoriaAd-W-58a2(CastoriaAd-ActonOntario-FreePress-1-8-1914)


               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.

PfeifferChemCo-10-1(Pitcher'sCastoria)     RoyalMfgCoOfDuquesne-1902-1(NonCBottle)


               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.



CentaurCo-5-3-1a    CentaurCo-5-3-1b

CentaurCo-5-1-PitchersCastoria-1aR     CentaurCo-5-1-PitchersCastoria-1b

CentaurCo-5-3-2a     CentaurCo-5-3-2c

               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.”


CentaurCo-20-1878-1a     CentaurCo-20-1886-1a

CentaurCo-20-1888-1     CentaurCo-20-1901-1aR

               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

CentaurCo-50-2-QnsSutphinBlvd     CentaurCo-50-1-Mn-MrktBtwnHnry&EBrdwy-1c(covered2003)

               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.



               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.



               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

CentaurCo-6-2     CentaurCo-Ad-1886

Typical 1880s Ads

CentaurCo-6-10(1897)     CentaurCo-Ad-1899

1897                              1899

CentaurCo-6-7(c1900)     CentaurCo-6-13(1902)

                      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.




CentaurCo-3-1925c-1bR     CentaurCo-6a-1927c-1

1925c                                   1927c

CentaurCo-6-5(1941LHJ)     CentaurCo-6-14(1943)

1941                                1943

               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.



CentaurCo-10-2b     CentaurCo-10-4




               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.




DumbartonOakesConf(1944)     DumbartonOaksFacade

Conference                                           Today

               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




P, S

Sterling Products Inc. (V.2) – The Charles H. Phillips Chemical Co.

Sterling Products, Inc. – Manufacturer

Chapter 5.2 – The Charles H. Phillips Chemical Co., Manufacturer


Initials Only – Narrow Lettering (+ color variation)

phillipschash[the]-2-1n-rb23r     phillipschash[the]-2-1n-rb25-0

phillipschash[the]-2-1n-rb31-0     phillipschash[the]-2-1n-rb31-0cv

            Initials and Year Date – Narrow Lettering (+ date differences, color variations)


phillipschash[the]-2-2-rb25-1     phillipschash[the]-2-2-rb25-1cv

phillipschash[the]-2-2-rb28-1a(98)     phillipschash[the]-2-2-rb28-1b(99)

phillipschash[the]-2-2-rb31-1     phillipschash[the]-2-2-rb31-1cv

Initials and Year Date – Wide Lettering

phillipschash[the]-2-1w-rb24     phillipschash[the]-2-1w-rb27-1

Date with Lettered Month

phillipschash[the]-2-3-rb21ar     phillipschash[the]-2-3-rb25-3


Date All Numbers (+ color variation)

 phillipschash[the]-2-4-rb20     phillipschash[the]-2-4-rb24b

phillipschash[the]-2-4-rb25-2a     phillipschash[the]-2-4-rb25-2cv

phillipschash[the]-2-4-rb28-2     phillipschash[the]-2-4-rb31-2

          Considering how popular and well-known Phillips Milk of Magnesia is even today as an antacid and laxative, it is amazing how little is actually known about the man and the company that originally produced this product.  A recent thorough and scholarly treatise on the differing presentations of Milk of Magnesia bottles and tablets over time (after all, who, but bottle collectors, would scrutinize Milk of Magnesia in depth?) deems the background information on Charles H. Phillips, his invention and his company “confused and confusing.”  Although this bottle treatise attempts to distill the correct facts while ‘ignor[ing] the often-copied incorrect information from the internet,” it actually winds up perpetuating the confusion.



          The one and only firmly established fact is that Milk of Magnesia was patented in the United States in 1873.  Beyond that date, the common wisdom is that the original patent was solely held by one Charles Henry Phillips, an English chemist, born in 1820, who came to America, lived in Stamford, CT, and died in 1882.  He had four sons who incorporated the company as The Charles H. Phillips Chemical Co. in 1885 and ran it until it was sold to Sterling Products, Inc. in 1923.  The bottle treatise itself concentrates on the minute differences of the various Sterling incarnations of Phillips Milk of Magnesia, because Sterling had the vast treasure chests of money to expend on the reams of advertising that guarantee Phillips Milk of Magnesia shelf space even in today’s drugstores.  However, because the use of the battleship revenues by this company predated Sterling’s ownership of the company, this article focuses primarily on the early history of The Charles H. Phillips Chemical Co. itself.  To the extent that Milk of Magnesia figures in the greater picture of Sterling’s development as it evolved, it will be discussed in subsequent installments.



          Much – but not all – of the common wisdom about Charles H. Phillips set forth above is correct, but the corrections made in this article, while subtle, do sharpen the perception of Phillips.  Oddly enough, the difficulty in obtaining information about Phillips himself is not the lack of available records, but rather the welter of data available about people named C. H. Phillips caused by the fact that Phillips is such a common name.  Even the picture associated with the English chemist Charles Henry Phillips on one of his internet biographic pages is of another person, the Afro-American Methodist bishop, the Rev. Charles Henry Phillips, who was not only born in the United States, but born in 1858, almost a full generation after the inventor of Milk of Magnesia.



          The actual Charles Henry Phillips who invented Milk of Magnesia was born in England – perhaps in the village of Broadwater in the County of Sussex – but in 1822, not 1820.  More significantly, he died in 1888, not 1882.  He, along with his wife, a daughter and the four sons who later ran the company, all were counted in the 1860 U.S. Census as living in Darien, CT.  While Phillips was a man who experimented with chemicals, and definitely did so successfully, his identification as a “chemist” meant that he trained as what Americans call a pharmacist, for “chemist” is the English term for pharmacist.  Lost in the blizzard of data about different C. H. Phillips is the exact date that this Charles H. Phillips emigrated from England to the United States and the place where he landed.  Apparently, he first operated a drugstore in Elizabeth, New Jersey for some period of time, possibly until 1849.  In that year, he appears to have moved to New York City and entered some aspect of the drug business, because New York City directories from the early 1850s list “drugs” as the trade next to the name of a resident named Charles H. Phillips. Whatever his endeavors for those next several years, they must have been fertile, for, in 1856, he had the resources to open the Phillips Camphor and Wax Co. factory on the banks of the Noroton River in Glenbrook, CT, now a neighborhood of Stamford, located on the border between Stamford and Darien.  He placed his home – actually an estate called Denehurst – toward the Darien side of the large factory tract, which might explain why the 1860 Census treated him as a resident of Darien.




          The products first manufactured by the Phillips Camphor and Wax Co. were, according to an article on the Phillips lineage, “white wax, refined camphor and a high grade of essential oils.”  Certain of these products were used in medicines and Phillips continued to experiment on chemical compounds with medicinal applications.  The reasons why and how he came to work with magnesium salts are now lost in time. However, as early as the 1600s, the English had learned to use magnesium, in the form of magnesium sulfate (MgSO4 – magnesium bonded with sulfur and oxygen), externally to treat skin inflammations and internally, in small amounts, as both an antacid and a laxative.  By the mid-1800s, magnesium sulfate had become known as Epsom Salts, named for the English town where it occurred naturally in the water.  Yet, while relatively easy to use as a topical medicine, magnesium sulfate was so bitter tasting that it was largely unpalatable, and scientists struggled for over a century to find a form, or compound, of magnesium that was more easily ingested.  While magnesium itself was not identified as a separate metallic element until the English chemist Sir Humphry Davy isolated it in 1808 in England, already in the United States in 1818, an inventor named John Callen, himself seeking the commercially successful formulation for rendering magnesium appetizing that Phillips later found, patented a process for manufacturing “medicated liquid magnesia,” (which was magnesium hydroxide – Mg(OH)2 – magnesium bonded with water, hydrogen and oxygen), from magnesium carbonate, MgCO3 – magnesium bonded with carbon and oxygen.



          At about the same time, the Irish physician Sir James Murray (1788-1871), who may have known of Callen’s work, devised a method for suspending magnesium sulfate in water, a solution he called “fluid magnesia.”  In the 1830s, after Murray successfully used his “fluid magnesia” to treat the ills of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, medical journals around the world trumpeted its use for digestive troubles.  Murray then set up a factory in Belfast to manufacture his “fluid magnesia” and created a large and profitable business.  Interestingly, he and his company never sought to patent protect his formula outside of Great Britain and the British Empire. The rest of the world apparently did not matter.





          The then-current state of the medical world’s knowledge of magnesium and its compounds is well summarized in the 1838 edition of a medical dictionary, Butler’s Medicine Chest, prepared by Murray’s fellow Irishman Dr. Charles Butler for families to keep in their homes to avoid having to call a doctor.  Together with an occasional ad for Butler’s own proprietary remedies, it contained the following definitions of “magnesia” and “magnesia calcinated or burned” (magnesium oxide – MgO):


  • * * *


• • •



          Although there is no known record of communication between Phillips and either Callen or Murray, Phillips must have been aware of Callen’s patent and probably had read about Murray’s success with “fluid magnesia” in medical journals.  As the ad immediately above shows, Murray’s Fluid Magnesia was definitely available in New York City.  Phillips must have seen an opportunity to improve upon Murray’s method for suspending magnesium in water.  However, when he submitted his application for a patent in the United States in 1873 (probably the action which caused Murray’s firm to patent “fluid magnesia” in England in 1873), it was signed both by Phillips as well as by one Lawrence Reid (1812-1874).  Although the precise nature of the relationship between Phillips and Reid is also now lost, Reid was a chemist who had emigrated to the United States from Edinburgh, Scotland.  He was older than Phillips, and in the middle of the Nineteenth Century, would have been more well-established in New York City than Phillips.  After the 1840s, when he was a Professor of Chemistry at the New York City College of Pharmacy lecturing on poisons, courts recognized him as an expert, and the press quoted him when he gave testimony at the sensational murder trials of the day.¹   For the College of Pharmacy’s Committee on Inspection, he also analyzed, and issued technical reports on, the dangers of certain adulterated compounds sold to druggists in New York City to prevent them from being used to mix medicines sold to the public.  In the 1840s, he also had enhanced his reputation as a scholar and an expert when an analysis of his setting forth the chemical makeup of the content of mineral springs located in Schoharie County, NY was published in the Journal of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences.  In the 1850s, he himself received a patent for a process to convert slaughterhouse offal into clean useful fertilizer, and, at a time before Lister’s work on sterilization was fully appreciated and understood, while working at New York Hospital, Reid advocated using very diluted sulfuric acid (taken orally!) to fight the periodic cholera epidemics that swept the City. Had Reid lived, possibly today Milk of Magnesia might be known as Phillips & Reid Milk of Magnesia.  On the other hand, perhaps Reid merely lent his then-better-known name to Phillips to add gravity to Phillips’s patent application or merely to show Phillips the ropes, since he himself had already successfully completed the patent application process.  In any event, Reid promptly assigned his patent interest to Phillips and was dead when Phillips filed a second patent application to refine the manufacturing process within two years.




          The patent application of Phillips and Reid specified magnesium sulfate as the raw material for their process, the same as Murray had identified as the starting point for his method, but firmly stated that any soluble salt of magnesium could equally serve as the source for the magnesium.  The innovation in their process was that the end product of the chemical reactions they described was no longer magnesium sulfate, but rather magnesium hydroxide, a compound that their process caused to precipitate as a crystal already incorporating water into its structure (Mg(OH)2 • H2O), which (when further diluted with water) could be marketed as a milky, finely grained textured fluid that was not only potable, but almost pleasant.  They created this compound by exposing the magnesium salt in a repeated, controlled and regulated manner to hydroxide compounds in the form of either caustic soda or lye (NaOH) or caustic potash (KOH) (to provide what is now termed an ion exchange medium) causing the magnesium to change its chemical bond from the sulfate ion (SO4) to the hydroxide ion (OH).  The application firmly asserted that their process “will finally supplant the impure preparations, termed ‘fluid’ and ‘solid’ magnesias, now in use.”  Phillips and Reid stressed that their process could be differentiated from other available hydrating processes (and therefore worthy of a patent) because of the particular smoothness and uniformity of the solution it produced, equally palatable to infants and geriatrics, as well as the length of time the hydrate of magnesia would remain suspended.  The patent also boasted that the “medical faculty” would find the process a “most valuable addition to their dispensatory [sic], despite their generally well founded objections to the use of proprietary medicines.”²  The second patent application, two years later, substituted ammonia (NH3 – really nitrogen trihydride) for the caustic soda, lye or caustic potash to simplify and speed the ion exchange process.

phillipschash[the]-mom-10-3a(mom)     phillipschash[the]-mom-6-1900c-1


           Once Phillips began to manufacture Milk of Magnesia, it became his foremost product, and he quickly seems to have laid aside the wax and essential oils business and soon began to offer other medicinal preparations for sale as well.  He did apply for a British trademark for Milk of Magnesia in 1879, six years after Murray’s company filed its British patent.  Sources do not agree as to when Phillips actually changed the name of his Connecticut manufacturing complex because Milk of Magnesia and the other medicinal products were always advertised as being offered by Charles H. Phillips, manufacturing chemist, from a New York City address.







          The next product Phillips offered to the public was Phospho-Nutritine. It was a “preparation of soluble wheat phosphates” aimed at filling the persistent gap in nutrition which people down through the ages have always inevitably perceived (or imagined) in everyone’s daily diet.  While compounds containing phosphates have been established by science as central to both animal and plant life (and, indeed, by modern science as crucial to the formation of DNA), the use of the term “soluble wheat phosphates” as a requisite and necessary supplement to the diets of healthy people in the late Nineteenth Century appears to have been akin to the present day use of the term “vitamins.”  Even if no one clearly understands what quantity of such “phosphates” then – or vitamins now – can actually be utilized by the system of an otherwise healthy organism to increase, or maximize, its well-being, it is a folk assumption that the normal food which people consume is never nutritious enough not to require outside assistance.  Many, many “experts” of every stripe, and degree of training, including Phillips (who probably had more training than most), were happy to fill this perceived nutritional vacuum with their handiwork.  Sometime later, Phillips changed the name of this product simply to Wheat Phosphates.




phillipschash-[the]-cocoa-5-2a    phillipschash[the]-cocoa-5-2b cocoatradecard-1a             cocoacrate


          Phospho-Nutritine was soon followed by the company’s one anomalous attempt to simply market a food product: cocoa.  It was sold to the trade as a bulk concentrate syrup under the name of Phillips’ Fountain Chocolate for use in the latest innovation that trendy drugstores were installing, the soda fountain, and to the public in powder form as Phillips’ Digestible Cocoa.  As a consumer product, it competed with many other commercial brands of cocoa for approximately thirty years. In the first decade of the Twentieth Century, when analysis of foods for impurities became a heightened concern for both the federal and state governments, it passed muster as a valid brand of cocoa with the examining agencies of both Pennsylvania and Connecticut.  In fact, the testing agency in Connecticut, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, was so comfortable with its findings about commercial cocoa production in 1910 that it remarked: “the chief difficulty about cocoa at the present time seems not to be about adulteration but a very marked tendency among the manufacturers to exaggerate the food value, assimilability and digestibility of their products.”  The Phillips company was certainly counting on its reputation for marketing healthy products to aid sales of its Digestible Cocoa because it noted on the back of each can that phosphates were added to the cocoa “with a view of furnishing increased nutriment.”




          However, in this respect the company may have outsmarted itself, for, in 1913, the federal Department of Agriculture entered a judgment against the company for mislabeling its cocoa under the Pure Food and Drug Act because on the front of the cocoa tin the label said “pure cocoa” while, in smaller type, on the back, the company more accurately stated the product consisted of cocoa, sugar, phosphates and vanilla flavoring, along with its additional embellishment that the phosphates were added for their nutritional value.  In what seems now like a bit of overkill, the government contended two distinct violations of the Act, for both “adulteration” of the product because the substance itself was not, in fact, “pure cocoa,” and “misbranding” because the front of the can affirmed that the substance was “pure cocoa.”  Yet, while never directly attacking the claim that the phosphates added nutritional value, the government did successfully allege that the smaller type on the back label (which listed the ingredients correctly) was insufficient to offset the incorrect impression created by the large type on the front label.  Apparently, at that time, the company did not consider such an error significant to its operations, because it did not either appear in court or contest the issue.  Nevertheless, by the time the company was sold to Sterling in 1923, it no longer seems to have been marketing cocoa.  Interestingly, as penalty for the “adulteration and misbranding,” the court directed the federal marshal to offer the cans for public sale after assuring that they were properly re-labeled, instead of ordering destruction of the property, the usual and customary remedy in forfeiture cases.
















          The Phillips company soon added two further variations of its “soluble wheat phosphates” nutritional supplement.  One was Phillips’ Palatable Cod Liver Oil, which shortly became Phillips’ Emulsion of Cod Liver Oil.  Phillips’ version of cod liver oil satisfied the requirements of common folk wisdom that always deemed fish oil a necessary supplement to achieve good health. Exactly when and where such folk wisdom arose is virtually impossible to trace.  As with most folk medicine, there was a kernel of scientific evidence to support the notion.  In the Nineteenth Century, it was determined anecdotally that cod liver oil seemed to help to correct bone softening caused by the disease rickets.  Later science determined that rickets was actually a deficiency of vitamin D which is necessary to properly metabolize the minerals calcium and phosphorus. Since cod liver oil turns out to be rich in vitamin D, it was ultimately deemed as a medically valid treatment for rickets.  However, since folk wisdom continues to evolve and advertising now trumpets “omega-3 nutrients” (in modern pseudo-scientific terms) from fish oil as an anti-inflammatory, it is thus still considered by many to be a requisite of every healthy person’s daily regimen.  Because of the continuing re-invention of fish oil as an aid to good health, then, as now, some possible benefit probably came from ingesting Phillips’ cod liver oil, but, as with the “soluble wheat phosphates,” it was then, and remains now, remarkably difficult to quantify the precise benefit an otherwise healthy person receives from the addition of such a supplement.







pmq2     pmq1a


phillipschash[the]-pmq-6-1915c-1a     phillipschash[the]-pmq-6-1915c-1b


          The other “wheat phosphates” product the Phillips company added was its Phospho-Muriate of Quinine.  This compound was a way of fortifying those “soluble wheat phosphates” with quinine, and, because the method of adding quinine to the mixture was through a chemical reaction involving a quinine chloride, it was called a muriate, which is an older name for a chloride compound.  Quinine itself had already proved during the Civil War to aid in the reduction of fever, particularly that caused by malaria.  As a special bonus, the Phospho-Muriate mixture also contained iron, which by the Eighteenth Century had been recognized as a component of red blood cells, as well as a dash of strychnine, which – while now regarded as a deadly poison – was, at that time, considered in small doses to be a stimulant for the heart and upper body.  Because of its special fortification with quinine, iron and strychnine, Phospho-Muriate was always touted as particularly useful for the sick or for invalids, but it was also advertised as a tonic for healthy people, essentially as extra insurance for good health.  Eventually in 1918, the American Medical Association condemned the absurd combination of the disparate elements in Phospho-Muriate as well as the falsity of the advertising for Phospho-Muriate, summarizing its devastating critique as follows:


Quite possibly because of the AMA’s denunciation, the Company soon discontinued offering Phospho-Muriate for sale, and by the time it was sold to Sterling the products other than its remarkably successful Milk of Magnesia also appear to have been discontinued.



          The Charles H. Phillips Chemical Co. lasted as a family business for two generations. Its founder, Charles H. Phillips, presided tranquilly over his business until his death in 1888.  While he lived and died so quietly that all of the present internet biographical articles about him state that he died in 1882, it is unclear how the wrong date became established as his official date of death, although contemporary coverage of his death tended to be sparse and tight-lipped.  A short-lived publication called The Doctor, marked his actual death in 1888 with a one line obituary:


The New York Times more graciously granted him an entire paragraph which provided marginally more detail about him:


The Druggists Circular and Chemical Gazette, a trade publication, followed the lead of the New York Times and similarly printed a largely uninformative paragraph about him:


The Journal of the American Medicine Association’s biographical sketch was shorter and less complete than that of the New York Times, and to the extent that his death was even mentioned in other journals, the summaries generally consisted of a single line biography.

  phillipschash[the]-cocoa-5-1a     phillipschash[the]-cocoa-5-1b

    cocoatradecard-2a      cocoatradecard-2b


          Phillips’ second son, William D., seems to have become president of the firm when his father died.  A bachelor, he was apparently as social as his father was not, and busied himself with his many organizations in New York City, among them the New York Athletic, Manhattan, Reform, and Underwriters’ Clubs, the American Geographical and Chemical Societies, and the Board of Trade and Transportation.  Outside of New York City proper, he belonged to, among other organizations, the Weeburn and Hillandale Golf Clubs and the Suburban Club.  He met a tragic death, when, in December 1904, he fell from his horse while “riding to hounds” at the Watchung Hunt Club in Plainfield, NJ.  Although Phillips was immediately tramped by his fellow riders before they could rein in their mounts, his New York Times obituary reassuringly noted that the physician who examined the body stated that Phillips had suffered a “clot of blood on his brain” and definitely was “already dead before he rolled out of his saddle.”  The article dutifully explained that although Phillips was a charter member of the hunt club, he had never participated in a hunt before this one.  He was 51 years old.



          Phillips’ oldest son, Charles Edmund H. Phillips, married the daughter of the President of the New York State Dental Association in a society wedding in 1879, delivered the valedictory address at his graduation from New York College of Dentistry in 1882, possibly practiced dentistry for a time, although apparently becoming President of the Company after the death of William, but otherwise largely avoided public scrutiny. He died shortly after the sale of the company to Sterling in 1923 at approximately age 74. While his death passed unremarked, when his widow died in 1937 at age 83, she received an obituary in the New York Times and was remembered as a generous benefactor of the many charities in the area of Glenbrook and Stamford CT where she resided.


phillipschash[the]-mom-5-1a(spanish)     phillipschash[the]-mom-5-1b(spanish)


phillipschash[the]-mom-4-1915c-6ar(canadian)     phillipschash[the]-mom-4-1915c-6b(canadian)


          Phillips’ third son, John B., was the “money” man of the group.  He became Treasurer of the Company and also served as a director of the Stamford Savings Bank in Connecticut.  He retired after the sale of the Company and died in 1928 at age 67.  Phillips’ youngest son, Alfred Noroton (for the river), trained as a doctor at Columbia University Physicians & Surgeons and interned at Bellevue and New York Hospitals.  He practiced medicine in Bridgeport CT for a few years before joining his brothers in the management of the Company.  After the sale of the Company, he was involved in community affairs in the Stamford CT area.  He died in 1944 at age 88.  His son, also Alfred N., (1894-1970), after graduating from Hotchkiss School and Yale, first became mayor of Stamford CT at age 28 in 1923, served as mayor for three non-consecutive terms, was later a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Connecticut for one term between 1937 and 1939, and a Captain in the Army in North Africa during World War II.  Between graduation from Yale and his political career, he had worked for the Company, but, in addition, became publisher in 1922 of the local weekly newspaper, the Darien Review, a position he maintained until 1952, and, when he moved to Washington to serve as a congressman, he also bought a dairy farm in Maryland which he continued to operate for most of the rest of his life.  His New York Times obituary characterized him as a “blunt-spoken man” who enjoyed stirring up controversy, once by advocating that his state legislature adopt a bill permitting whipping of wife beaters.

phillipschash[the]-3-1921-1r    1921 COMPANY COVER

          The Phillips’ Connecticut factory property long survived management by the Phillips family. Sterling continued to produce Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia at the Company’s Glenbrook Laboratories, as Sterling denominated the complex, until 1976 when production was moved to Gulfport MS.  However, even then Sterling didn’t abandon the location, and when Sterling itself dissolved in 1994, the site  and buildings passed into the hands of none other than Sterling’s old partner and rival Bayer Corporation which still operates the facility in today’s industrial park.  Phillips’ mansion Denehurst, torn down and rebuilt in the 1930s by a great-granddaughter, is now called the Phillips Mansion, has been subdivided for rental as business offices, and is now surrounded by condominiums built on the remainder of the old Phillips tract.



          Milk of magnesia is sold in virtually every retail outlet today, and, while Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia is perhaps the best known, the term “milk of magnesia” has become a generic name, which means that people may choose from among many different brands, all of which can be called “milk of magnesia.”  While the Phillips did attempt to establish exclusive use of the name “Milk of Magnesia” by trademarking that term in 1894, Sterling ultimately lost lengthy litigation to prohibit other drug companies from using that term generically to describe their liquid suspensions of magnesium.  In 1924, after the transfer of the Company from the Phillips family to Sterling, a rival drug company, McKesson-Robbins, filed an administrative proceeding to void the trademark. However, after the Patent Office affirmed Phillips exclusive right to “Milk of Magnesia” as a valid trademark, McKesson proceeded to file suit in federal court. While the Patent Office’s rulings was meant to end the challenge, a loophole in the then-current U.S. trademark law permitted McKesson to continue its challenge in the federal court. In 1931, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City, speaking through the eminent judge Augustus Hand, upheld the District Court’s ruling that the Phillips Company had not met the criterion set in the then-current statute for establishing its exclusive right to milk of magnesia, noting that Phillips had not been the only company selling its magnesium suspension as “Milk of Magnesia” for the ten-year period prior to its most recent trademark registration application filing in 1905.  By its inaction in not challenging those other companies during that period, Hand ruled that the Phillips Company had allowed the term to become descriptive rather than being identified exclusively with its product. Moreover, Hand found a conclusive waiver of exclusivity in the Phillips Company’s lack of legal action against the other companies that were using “milk of magnesia” to describe their products in the years after that 1905 registration.  The Supreme Court declined to review the ruling of the Second Circuit, so milk of magnesia became a generic name, just as aspirin had. Even though Sterling lost the legal battle for the name, its steady, prominent advertising barrage generated huge profits for it and also served to insure that Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia can be found in every household even today.


¹     Although a later scholarly forensic dissection of the most scandalous trial in which Reid testified suggests that he was discredited on that occasion because, on cross-examination, he admitted that he had been dismissed from his post at the College, as well as paid lavishly for his expert testimony, then considered most ungentlemanly.  He also was shown to be generally uninformed and ignorant of his field because, while he claimed to use a chemistry textbook written by his brother when teaching his classes and for the procedures of his own experiments, he could not recall details of the book.  His brother, David B. Reid, who did not emigrate, was not only a noted English chemist and author, but also a pioneer of “systematic ventilation” (which later evolved into the field of air-conditioning), who was consulted on the subject of ventilation during the re-building of London’s Parliament buildings after the Great Fire of 1834.

²    As often stated, a patented medicine was neither a “patent medicine” nor “a proprietary medicine” as these terms are generally now understood, albeit the medicine’s preparation process was patented and owned by a private proprietor

©  Malcolm A. Goldstein 2019


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







John D. Park & Sons

John D. Park & Sons, Wholesaler

Park JohnD-2-RB28




John D. Park & Sons was a middleman in the drug industry. As a mid-west wholesaler located in Cincinnati, OH, it bought goods – mostly in the form of patent medicines – from national manufacturers and resold them to local retailers. Yet it holds an outsized place in the history of the pharmaceutical business in the United States because it waged a legal battle over approximately twenty years that permanently linked its name with the creation of a significant principle of American antitrust law that endured for almost one hundred years.

Park JohnD-2-RB15bR


After the Civil War, as business in America grew and thrived overall, such industries as oil, steel and sugar, which dealt in fungible goods, consolidated to the point where the linked corporate boards of the producing companies, referred to as an “interlocking trust directorate,” controlled, by means of a “horizontal” monopoly, the entire supply of that particular product available in the United States market. While admired for their efficiency in delivering commodities cheaply, quickly and uniformly, these trusts engendered public fear that industry monopolies would lead to unchecked and abusive retail prices. At the height of the Gilded Era, between 1890 and World War I, the trusts and their detractors fought a pitched battle to shape the continued growth and development of American business.


Patent medicine manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers admired the efficiency and uniformity of the trusts and wished to emulate the trust structure within the pharmaceutical industry. However, because of the separate “patents” (meaning, in this case, secret and private formulae, rather than formally registered patents) for the manufacture of each medicine, the patent medicine business was not amenable to the same rigid domination as oil, steel or sugar. In 1876, drug wholesalers from eleven Midwestern states gathered in Indianapolis, IN to fashion a strategy which would allow them to maintain uniform resale prices across the industry in order that every member of the wholesale association, large or small, be able to compete on a level playing field. The organization that grew out of that meeting was called the Western Wholesale Druggists’ Association. In 1882, it changed its name to the National Wholesale Druggists’ Association (NWDA).


Over years, the NWDA along with similar organizations of manufacturers and retailers, designed, developed, imposed and policed various contractual schemes to insure that all wholesalers followed the same rules in dealing with retailers. At first controlled by having manufacturers refund part of the wholesalers’ purchase price in the form of rebates after the wholesalers certified that the goods had been resold at the fixed resale price, these strategies ultimately evolved as far as to require manufacturers to individually mark and track goods package by package (or bottle by bottle, as it were). That these contractual plans had the additional benefit of ensuring maximum retail sales prices for the participants did not offend these manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers or their sponsoring organizations in the least.

Park JohnD-3-1889-1aR


The efforts by the NWDA, and the associations of manufacturers and retailers, can be viewed two different lights. On the one hand, most businessmen thought the NWDA and the other trade organizations were simply vindicating one of the oldest principles in commercial law: the legal doctrine of “freedom of contract” which holds that parties are free to sell only to those customers with whom they choose to do business and only upon such terms as they desire to set in the contract. They also believed that the inverse also held true: parties could not be forced to sell to those with whom they did not wish to conduct business nor could such sales be coerced upon terms that interfered with the sellers’ freedom to condition sales as they chose. In the Gilded Era, this doctrine, wielded both as an offensive and defensive weapon, seemed ingrained as deeply as capitalism is itself, and was always the first position argued in litigation. Moreover, businessmen regarded Park’s actions as ungentlemanly, rude and sharp business practice when it purchased goods from wholesalers and retailers who had made contractual promised to the manufacturer to resell the goods at the prices the manufacturer specified. In addition, because the nostrums were prepared from privately held formulae, the drug industry always asserted the additional claim that there was a legitimate element of secrecy in the manufacture of these concoctions that earned it an extra cloak of limitations, such as setting the price the wholesaler could supply retail customers. While patent medicines are now largely extinct, such claims of additional protection for items developed from specific processes, thoughts and ideas still exist and are now fought over in modern litigation under the rubric of “intellectual property” rights.



Opposed to the notion of “freedom of contract” was an older common law doctrine, developed over hundreds of years, that a businessman could not unfairly manipulate the market to do deliberate injury to his competitors. Claiming such unfair market manipulation, the pleas of two constituencies opposed the trust defenders’ arguments of efficiency, speed, scale and uniformity (as buttressed by claims of special reward attaching to the generation of the underlying idea). First, there was the public outcry from those who had to truckle to the high prices set by the trusts for the goods that they manufactured, processed or even moved. For example, a particular sore spot was agrarian anger at the railroad trust over charges for carrying farm products to market. Second, and to a lesser degree, there were the complaints from the businesses squeezed out by the trusts, who decried the unfair methods of competition deployed against them to drive them under. These pleas, when combined with a general public skepticism of centralized economic power wielded by an elite class of “robber barons” routed in the old common law doctrine, became so constant and so poignant that they led to the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Law in 1890, which was intended to curb the worst abuses by limiting the monopoly power that any one company could wield within a single industry. Since, as noted above, the nostrum business operated differently from the big trusts, like oil, sugar and steel, it was not immediately apparent that the Sherman Act even applied to it. Park ultimately proved that it did.

Park JohnD-3-1894-1R


Within the drug industry, the NWDA, through its restrictive contract systems, acted as the surrogate for the trust structure that other industries created. John Park & Sons emerged as the company that bucked these constrictive schemes by price-cutting and underselling its competitors. Park insisted upon its right to determine itself the price at which it re-sold goods purchased from the manufacturers. Because of Park’s stance, NWDA blacklisted Park by ordering its members not to sell goods to Park. No matter who initiated the litigation nor was actually named as the opposing party in the litigation, it was really the NWDA that Park was fighting. Park soon became a pariah within the drug trade, although it had begun in much the same way as other wholesalers had.



In fact, the firm of John D. Park & Sons had existed for nearly half a century before it began its struggle with the NWDA. Its founder was John D. Park, who was born in 1816 in the hamlet of Livingston Manor, Sullivan County, in the Catskill Region of New York State and spent his youth there farming and learning medicine. In 1841, he moved to Cincinnati and opened a retail drug store with Benjamin F. Sanford, another New Yorker, born in 1818 in the town of Camden, Oneida County, northwest of Rome, N.Y. To expand the scope of their business, Park and Sanford soon became the local agents for the eastern patent medicines they were selling.

apPark JohnD-13R(Ad-10May1843-P1-CincinnatiEnquirer)


One of Park’s patent medicines was Wistar’s Balsam of Cherry. In or around 1843, Sanford and Park apparently obtained the right both to manufacture and sell this nostrum west of the Allegheny Mountains from L. Williams & Co., a Philadelphia firm, which had purchased the formula for the medicine from Henry Wistar, a Virginia doctor, himself a scion of a famous glass and bottle making family. As was often the case with nostrums, Williams later dealt its remaining interest in the formula to another party, in this case one Isaac Butts, who, in turn, quickly sold it in 1845 to Seth W. Fowle (1812-1867), himself an ambitious Boston retail druggist with the same desire as Park to expand into the manufacturing and wholesaling business.


Unlike Park, Fowle’s company issued its own private die proprietary stamp to pay the earlier tax on patent medicines imposed during and after the Civil War, and was therefore profiled by Holcombe, although the material mostly describes the Fowle stamp, and reveals little about Fowle himself. Also, unlike Park, Fowle concentrated heavily on Wistar’s Balsam of Cherry as its principal product.

Fowle S-1-RS91d


After the Mexican-American War, about 1850, the shape of the United States changed with the formal annexation of the western third of the country. Park and Fowle both continued to manufacture and market Wistar’s Balsam of Cherry, occasionally competing for the small volume of sales in the newly acquired territory. As later alleged by the Fowle company, in 1869, finally recognizing the potential for growth in the western region of the country (as well as Canada and Mexico), Fowle negotiated an agreement with Park which: 1) clearly defined Park’s territory as lying between the crests of the Alleghenies and the Rockies, Park’s former traditional central region of the country; 2) set a uniform minimum price per dozen for volume sales of the Wistar’s Balm of Cherry manufactured by either company; and 3) compensated Park for accepting these limitations. However, according to Fowle, Park continued to sell its Wistar Balsam both in New York City and on the West Coast as well as to undercut the agreed upon volume sale price to retailers. After doing a slow burn for years (as well as meticulously collecting evidence of Park’s clandestine sales), in 1886, Fowle sued Park in Cincinnati to enjoin its continuing encroachments on Fowle’s territory. Perhaps because of Park’s home town connections, the suit appears to have been summarily dismissed without a formal opinion. Just as strangely, Park submitted no argument and made no appearance when Fowle appealed the case to the Supreme Court, and that Court, noting both Park’s non-appearance and the lack of explanation by the lower court of its reasoning for the dismissal, in a decision, aptly titled Fowle v. Park, just as summarily reversed the lower court and, in 1889, entered judgment for Fowle.



Fowle v. Park marked Park’s first major engagement in the courts. The dispute was of a fairly common variety in this period. Infringement claims often arose between manufacturers and wholesalers over territorial rights to market a product, or copying of medicine bottles or labels too closely. Perhaps because of the outcome of the case – which appears to have been a resounding defeat for it – Park both learned how to conduct business as an outsider in the industry and how to employ the grit and determination to stay the roughly twenty year course it took to ultimately prevail in the later dispute over resale price control, which, while only a subsidiary issue in Fowle v. Park, became the dominant matter in subsequent litigation.


However, long before the battle concerning Wistar’s Balsam of Cherry concluded, Park had enlarged his scope of endeavors by cementing a formal alliance with an eastern drug wholesaler. After Sanford had dissolved his partnership with Park in 1850, Park went into business with the major New York City drug wholesaler Demas Barnes (1827-1888) . Through Barnes, Park also for a time was involved in a San Francisco partnership, called Park and White, with one Thomas White (1825-1902).


As an aside, Barnes, whose business flourished in the 1850s and 60s before he left its active management to pursue careers in politics and publishing, was an adventurous entrepreneur who acquired a number of nostrums from earlier proprietors, and, like Fowle, exploited the advertising value of issuing his own private die proprietary stamps to pay the tax imposed during and after the Civil War. According to Holcombe, at its peak, Barnes’s business had subsidiary offices as well in San Francisco, Montreal and New Orleans. Later, he used his fortune to finance a variety of other companies whose stories in the Civil War period have been explored by Holcombe. In due course, these stories will be explicated and further enlarged in subsequent columns.




Through his partnership with Barnes, Park leveraged himself into a major position in the pharmaceutical industry, for Park, as recounted by Holcombe, had a hand in the direction and guidance of a number of other smaller firms in the industry: A. L. Scoville & Co., a wholesale druggist with offices in Cincinnati and New York City; S. N. Smith & Co., a wholesale druggist in Dayton, OH; the Lyon Mfg. Co. a drug manufacturer and wholesaler in New York City; and D. H. Seelye & Co. a manufacturer in Freeport, IL. With the sundry products manufactured and sold by these different companies, Wistar’s Balsam of Cherry became a much smaller part of Park’s focus. For his part, Park was able to channel patent medicines manufactured in the Midwest to Barnes and also supplied Ohio Catawba wine to Barnes for sale in his New York City drug depot.







Although Park seems to have officially ended his business partnership with Barnes in 1861 (and, according to one source, not particularly cordially, since Barnes advertised in 1862 that Park was selling a counterfeit version of another of his products) the web of connections with so many other manufacturers and suppliers which Park was able to form through the association with Demas Barnes in this era appear to have sustained the Park company throughout the years of fighting with the industry after its break with NWDA over retail pricing took place. Park was somehow always able to obtain sufficient goods through its connections with firms that operated in large cities, such as St. Louis, Chicago, and, in particular, New York City, where the market was so fluid that competition was always too keen for NWDA to effectively impose its price control schemes.

     PARK AD – 1854


PARK AD – 1877

Over the years the Park firm endured ups and downs. In 1877, as it moved into new quarter in Cincinnati, it discontinued its retail trade entirely in order to concentrate totally on the wholesale pharmaceutical market. While that action also might have been taken in conjunction with a reorganization in bankruptcy (which drew an extremely rare mention of a Cincinnati firm in the New York Times), a trade magazine later implied that the 1877 move was the natural outcome of the continued growth of the wholesale business, and reported that when the Park firm incorporated in 1891, its stated capital was $2,000,000 which had only grown thereafter.


PARK AD – 1895

Park also developed the commercial model during this period which allowed it to differentiate its pricing from the others in the trade. The firm made no secret about how it was able to undersell its competitors. The usual method for wholesalers to solicit orders was to send their traveling salesmen to the retailers. Park simply employed no “travelers;” retailers mailed in their orders. The firm estimated it saved about six to eight percent of its overhead, which it gladly passed on to the retailers. To the rest of the industry, Park’s pricing method became known as “cutting.”





When NWDA took as its mission the stamping out of “cutting” and “cutters,” it found it had its hands full with Park. In 1894, Park opened its attack on retail price control by suing NWDA and the four other wholesale drug firms in the Ohio Superior Court in Cincinnati claiming that they were all part of a “combination” formed “for the sole purpose of maintaining excessive rates and charges for certain proprietary articles or medicines throughout said United States,” and asking for an injunction both barring them from placing Park, and those companies which chose to do business with it, on a national “cut list” and from interfering with sales made to Park. However, when the case came on for hearing, NWDA’s lawyers argued simply that the defendants were exercising their freedom of contract. The court agreed and Park’s lawsuit was summarily dismissed.



A month after the failure of the Ohio state lawsuit, in September, 1894, John D. Park died at age 78. The dual nature of Park’s role both as an important western wholesaler and as an industrial provocateur is captured in the tribute paid to him after his death. Although the lawsuit remained on everyone’s mind and was discussed in his obituary, a special gathering of his colleagues in Cincinnati drafted memorial resolutions to send to his family and to “the principal trade papers” in the country.


Park had traversed the Nineteenth Century trajectory from rags to riches. He had amassed a fortune, a handsome city house and a country estate. Married in 1845, he was survived by seven of his ten children, five of whom were involved in the business. The mantle of leadership passed easily to his eldest son, Ambro R. Park. Ambro was born in 1849, joined his father’s firm right after graduation from Berea College in Kentucky, and was quoted as saying about the Ohio lawsuit: “All we want is our rights.”



The firm continued its campaign to undermine the NWDA contract scheme. Its actions weighed heavily on the organization’s deliberations. In 1895, after a meeting of a special Proprietary Committee appointed at its annual meeting in New York in 1894, an NWDA representative “admitted” to a New York Times reporter that Park was “the only conspicuous backslider among 300 wholesalers and jobbers, and all measures of control and punition [sic] were aimed at that firm because its system is inimical to the interests of all. “


Ambro Park kept his father’s fight going next by filing two huge complaints in New York City. In the first suit, the Park firm again sued NWDA and other large wholesalers alleging they cooperated together through the NWDA to blacklist Park. The firm sought a court order to bar this practice. In second lawsuit, filed in 1897, Park did not name the NWDA but rather approximately twenty of the largest wholesalers and manufacturers in New York City, together with their partners individually, asking for the monetary damages it had suffered as a result of their joint action against it. Because of the complexity of the issues the suits raised, together with the sheer number of persons, business and specific transactions they touched upon, the complaints were complicated. While modern legal pleading style requires discrete and succinct statements of facts individually alleged, even in their more stylistically and linguistically convoluted times, these complaints were considered “voluminous.” The second complaint, occupying some 120 single spaced pages of a later appellate record volume, stretched to 378 discursive and prolix allegations, sought damages in the enormous amount of $500,000, and was accompanied by 156 exhibits, mostly letters received and compiled by Park from various companies specifically citing the NWDA blacklist as the reason for its declining to do business with it. The complaint in the first action was slightly larger and longer.


Considering the sheer bulk of these complaints, defendants first successfully moved to strike out parts of the both complaints as irrelevant and redundant. The trial court granted defendants’ motions, beginning a saga, not unlike Dickens’s Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in Bleak House, that continued for no less than 18 years, for Park immediately exercised its right to make an intermediate appeal of these rulings. Naturally, prosecution of an appeal touching upon the appropriate scope of the subject matter of the lawsuit necessitated delays in the actual prosecution of the claims made in the suit. The next year the reviewing courts required Park to restate its claims in fresh complaints in both suits, so Park was forced to begin again.

After several more years, the parties agreed to have the court hear the issue directly involving the NWDA first. Since the issue of stopping the blacklisting of Park, was considered a matter of equity, or a judgment the court could itself make by its study and application of the appropriate law, it made sense to determine this issue first. If the court found in Park’s favor, the issue of the monetary compensation due to Park for the injury, if any, considered a matter of common law damages requiring elaborate proof of facts, could properly be left for determination by a jury in the trial court after complete and final resolution of the equitable issues. If defendants won, the lawsuit would be over, or, at least, so the parties thought.

     On the pure legal question of whether NWDA and its members could blacklist Park, all the defendants simply entered a legal “demurrer;” they took the legal position that the court could accept the facts as stated by Park, BUT EVEN IF [the BUT EVEN IF being the “demurrer”] the court accepted the facts as stated by Park, the court possessed no power under law to compel them to do business with Park. Relying essentially on the “freedom of contract” argument, they asserted simply that Park had pleaded no claim that the court could act upon to grant Park’s wish. In 1900, the trial court agreed and dismissed Park’s equitable claims. Park again appealed to the intermediate level court which affirmed the trial court’s decision.

In 1903, the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, New York’s highest court, affirmed the lower court’s rulings in NWDA case. The ruling was a split decision. Of the seven judges ruling, two judges entered two opinions upholding the NWDA’s rights, with which four judges in total agreed, and two judges entered two opinions upholding Park’s claims, with which three judges in total agreed. The principal opinion favoring the NWDA stressed the fairness of the NWDA’s plan of uniform distribution and profit protection for small wholesalers, as well as NWDA’s lack of coercion of Park, and applauded the NWDA for protecting the little distributors against predation by larger unscrupulous wholesalers like Park whose capacity for bulk purchases might force the smaller distributors out of business. The secondary opinion supporting NWDA stressed that the NWDA’s scheme did not directly impact the retail price of goods offered to the public because it was merely an agreement among manufacturers and wholesalers, and that because neither party to the suit was attempting to aid the public, no public interest was involved, thus depriving the court of the authority to intervene in one merchant’s rules about its sales to another merchant.

On the other hand, the principal dissenting opinion, holding that the NWDA’s plan effectively placed pricing of goods in the hands of the customers rather than the manufacturers, and pointing to the number of manufacturers and wholesalers who had previously dealt with Park who declined to sell to it only after the adoption of the NWDA’s pricing plans, found in such actions the requisite coercion of Park to constitute an improper attempt at monopoly sufficient to sustain Park’s charge of a boycott against it. The second dissenting opinion, agreeing with the first, sharpened the nub of the dissenters’ disagreement with the pro-NWDA judges by finding that the public was perniciously impacted by the requirement of resale at a fixed retail price placed on the those who endorsed the NWDA plan.


Even without the goad of the federal Sherman Act, the final vote of the New York court was a razor-thin 4-3 margin in support of the NWDA and against Park. However, only one dissenting judge articulated the growing trend of both legal and public opinion to focus upon the potential harm to the public inherent in fixing the ultimate price retailers might resell their goods to the public. While times were beginning to change, Park still had not prevailed and both New York State lawsuits should have ended at this point, but, by means of a legal manoeuver, Park’s attorneys managed to preserve the damage suit (the one not naming the NWDA) even though the Court of Appeals ruling in the injunction suit had cut off its legal rationale for proceeding.



For a time, though, other litigation came to dominate Park’s concerns. One of the hottest sellers of the first decade of the Twentieth Century was a beverage known as Peruna, classified as a “bitter,” but, in reality, so prized for its “medicinal effect” that many bars sold it in individual “doses” by the shot glass. Its manufacturer, the Peruna Drug Manufacturing Co. of Columbus, Ohio, owned by a figure named Samuel B. Hartman (1830-1918 – a character who, in due course, will receive his own column) governed Peruna’s distribution through its own individual contract system which resembled the NWDA’s because its terms pledged wholesalers who purchased from Hartman to sell only to retailers: 1) with whom Hartman specified had signed an agreement with Hartman to retail Peruna at the price Hartman had set; 2) who adhered to Hartman’s coded system for tracking its bottles; and 3) who reported their adherence to Hartman’s pricing schedule back to Hartman. Hartman alleged that Park was buying Peruna from some of its wholesalers or retailers, and sued Park to enjoin Park both from purchasing Peruna from such wholesalers or retailers and from attempting to induce such wholesalers or retailers to sell Peruna to it in breach of their agreements with Hartman.


This time the litigation “shoe” ought to have been on the other foot. In the prior litigation, Park had tried to force others to do business with it, and the courts simply would not exercise their injunctive power to “mandate” (coerce) parties to enter into business transactions if one side was unwilling. The courts kept finding that “freedom of contract” allowed such resistant parties simply to decline to do business. In this lawsuit, however, Hartman was trying to have a court use its injunctive power to “enjoin” (prevent) Park from entering into contracts with parties that Hartman itself had alleged were willing to sell Peruna to Park. Since injunctions preventing defined acts judged to be improper are much easier to police and enforce than those directing or compelling some undefined form of proper conduct, the court was being asked to make a much more traditional kind of ruling and, in the area of business relations between parties, apply well-worn rules against unfair competition. Yet even against that background, the local federal district court had no trouble finding that Park was interfering in a most unsavory way with the appropriate contractual arrangements Miles had put in place. The “freedom of contract” rationale once again prevailed and Park had chalked up another litigation loss.


Park appealed to the federal Circuit Court, the intermediate court between the district courts and the Supreme Court. In this forum, it received a more sympathetic hearing. This Court began its analysis from the perspective that age-old common law, tracking public suspicion against monopolies, acts to keep commerce unfettered and to prevent one business from gaining an unfair or improper advantage over its competitors. The Court measured Hartman’s complaint both against this old common law bias against monopolies and restraints of trade as well as the provisions of the new and still developing federal anti-trust law stemming from the Sherman Act of 1890. Having set a legal framework much more cordial to Park, the Court then centered its analysis on whether Hartman could assert some palpable legal grounds to use its contract system to trump the usual prohibition against monopolistic practices.





Hartman argued that its rights derived from the proprietary nature of Peruna’s medical formula, likening its secret nature to a patent or a trademark.  In such patent or trademark cases, the government recognizes the uniqueness of the invention or marketing device by issuing to the person holding a patent or trademark an exclusive license – a monopoly – to condition its further use by others who make contracts to license the patent or trademark (often called grantees or licensees) as the grantor of the license wishes, in recognition of the effort expended by the grantor in devising the patented product or trademark. A part of the protection such a license carries is that the grantor also is permitted to place restrictive conditions upon its subsequent use by a sub-licensee or subsequent licensee who derives its rights from the original grantee or licensee.


In its decision, Hartman v. Park, the Circuit Court, speaking through Judge Horace Lurton, drew a distinction between the mere secrecy protecting the formula of a patent medicine and an actual patent or trademark, which is issued only after the unique or innovative nature of the object patented or trademarked is demonstrated. The Court held that the mere secret formula used by Hartman to prepare Peruna was not a patented and did not warrant the protection of a patent. In addition, the Court found there was a difference between a contract involving actual manufacture of the underlying formula, which might be enforced to the extent of preventing disclosure of that formula by a party contractually bound not to disclose, and the kind of sale of the already-bottled medicine involved in the present suit. By drawing that distinction, the Court could discuss and “distinguish” – avoid being bound by the reasoning of – both the earlier decision in Fowle v. Park, and the 1903 New York Court of Appeals Park opinions discussed above, saying that in the former the court had credited the assertion that the challenged contract involved the actual improper use of the formula by a contractually restricted party, and in the later, that Court believed that the NWDA’s contract system was bottomed on protection of patented or trademarked formulae.





The Court then bowled over seriatim Hartman’s remaining arguments. It disposed of any separate trademark claim, since it found Park was not attempting to fool the consumer by insinuating a look-alike product in place of Hartman’s. As for any other potential contract claims, not only did it reiterate that Hartman had not even alleged any direct contract relationship with Park, it also disposed of other contractual relationships that Hartman attempted to allege. It found that Hartman could not claim that Park was interfering with his “agents,” since it found Hartman’s sales to its wholesalers to be completed transaction, and commented that Hartman was merely attempting to “juggle words” when it argued that the wholesalers or retailers were acting as Hartman’s agents. It also found that Park, as a buyer from parties who had purchased from Hartman, had assumed none of those parties’ contractual obligation to Hartman, even if Park were aware that those parties were not complying with the terms of their contracts with Hartman. The court noted that Park’s purchase transferred absolute title to the medicine to Park and that any obligations which had run between the seller and Hartman remained entirely with that seller.

Thus, using the common law tests concerning business relationships, the Court found that Hartman could assert no patent or trademark restrictions to block Park, could demonstrate no direct contractual relationship with Park, and could impute none of the limitations it imposed upon its contract-holders to Park. Moreover, the Court found that several other courts had begun to apply the Sherman Act prohibitions against monopoly to contract systems resembling Hartman’s. It ruled that Hartman was entitled to no relief. In March, 1907, Park had finally achieved its first legal victory.


Within two months after the Hartman decision, another significant case reached its conclusion as well. President Theodore Roosevelt had energized his Justice Department to seek out and prosecute Sherman Act violations. Among the industries it had sued was the pharmaceutical industry. As discussed previously in the article on the United States Pharmacal Co., the government prosecuted a single action against associations representing manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers in the United States District Court for Indiana sitting in Indianapolis, IN. The “Indianapolis Decree,” issued in May, 1907, required the scrapping of all of the proprietary medicine industry’s contract systems on the grounds that because two or more manufacturers, wholesalers or retailers, acting as  “horizontal” classes, had joined together to sponsor them, they were “conspiracies in restraint of trade” as defined in the Sherman Act. Among the systems proscribed by the Indianapolis Decree was the NWDA’s scheme.

Now that the NWDA’s plan was officially dead, could Park collect for the damage it had suffered at the hands of the NWDA? There might yet be a chance. Notwithstanding the loss of the lawsuit against the NWDA in its New York lawsuit in 1903, Park had thereafter filed yet another amended complaint in its second New York lawsuit seeking damages against the individual defendants in the original 1897 litigation, apparently with the permission of defendants. Simultaneously, Park had filed an action in the federal district court of New York seeking the same injunctive relief under federal law, including the kind of injunctive relief it had just been denied by the New York state courts. Because the Hartman case and the government’s case in Indianapolis were both pursuing the same questions, the parties held both this new complaint in Park’s state damage action and the new federal injunction action in abeyance pending those rulings. Eventually Park also filed a damage suit in federal court as well to complement the injunctive relief it was seeking. Such federal Sherman Act damage suits had the additional bonus of permitting the injured party to ask that its damages be tripled as a penalty for the defendants’ violation. While also held in abeyance, Park’s damage claim was pleaded now at $2,000,000.

In 1909, Park filed two different motions in its dormant New York state lawsuit. First, it asked the New York State court to permit it file a new complaint embodying the facts of the favorable Hartman ruling and the favorable Indianapolis Decree into its original state lawsuit while upping its damage claim to $3,500,00. Although the trial court agreed with Park that the new circumstances were germane to the issue, the intermediate reviewing court disagreed and the parties returned again for a final ruling to the New York Court of Appeals. In another written opinion, that Court ruled that Park could not incorporate subsequent events into the original complaint. That litigation proved to be another costly, time-consuming paper blizzard leading to another defeat for Park.

Second, Park moved to conduct discovery – that is, it asked the trial court’s permission to formally collect the evidence it needed to prove its damage claims in the 1897 litigation by taking the testimony of defendants under oath, particularly those not readily available within the New York Court’s jurisdiction. Since the trial court believed that the current state of affairs, rather than the original circumstances, ought to govern the final outcome of the litigation, that court appeared inclined to allow Park to collect the accurate facts it needed to prove its damages. Because of the appeal of the other motion amending the complaint and the twisted history of rulings on that issue, the litigation surrounding this discovery motion seems yet again to have remained pending for a number of years.


Even with the Hartman decision and the Indianapolis Decree now looming in its face, NWDA was not willing to concede the injunction issue and Park still faced challenges to the principle that manufacturers and wholesalers could not control the retail price of their goods when resold. After the Indianapolis Decree, another major manufacturer, the Dr. Miles Medical Co., promptly filed suit against Park under its own individual contract system. It contended that unlike the NWDA’s system, Miles was a single manufacturer acting by itself to protect its own business. As a single manufacturer, it argued that it simply set the price at which the goods would be sold at retail, that intermediate wholesalers and retailers were merely its agents and, therefore, it conspired with no one to fix any price Twenty years before it began marketing Alka-Seltzer, the name which carried its fame into the modern era, Miles was then selling as its principal product Nervine, an effervescent pre-cursor of Alka-Seltzer claimed to soothe nerves and headaches. Specifically because the suit was filed after the Indianapolis Decree, the industry hailed it as the vindication of the individual manufacturer’s right to impose its will upon retailers, and dismissed Hartman as an aberration.




The federal District Court and Circuit court (again speaking through Judge Lurton) quickly disabused the industry of its pipe dream that the old way could continue by adopting the reasoning of the Hartman decision. Still, it is the Supreme Court that has the final say as to what becomes the law of the land. At the very beginning of January, 1911, the Supreme Court (with the now appointed Supreme Court Justice Lurton not participating because it was his ruling being appealed) heard the parties’ arguments. Very much like the Hartman case, Miles required wholesalers and retailers who offered its product for sale to sign individual “agency” contracts pledging themselves to market to the public at pre-determined retail prices, and Miles similarly sought an injunction prohibiting Park from interfering with its contractual relationships with its wholesalers and retailers. Applying the reasoning of Hartman, the Court, this time speaking by Justice Charles Evans Hughes, found in April, 1911 that the transfers of the bottled medicine were completed sales rather than transitory placements with “agents,” were therefore properly classified as attempts to control the retail price of Peruna, and thus constituted a monopoly in restraint of trade. Rather than finding a traditional “horizontal”conspiracy in the concerted activity of multiple manufacturers, wholesalers or retailers acting together with each other to fix prices, in this case, the Court found for the first time that the conspiracy was “vertical,” encompassing not only the manufacturer but also the wholesalers and retailers. It judged these wholesalers and retailers not to be the manufacturer’s “agents” but rather separate entities who “conspired” with the manufacturer by signing the manufacturer’s contracts. Moreover, in the Miles case, the Supreme Court pronounced a hard and fast rule that any attempt by a producer or manufacturer to control the retail price of its product after that product was sold in commerce was “per se” – by itself – a violation of the federal anti-trust law. Such “per se” violations do not require the party alleging the violation to engage in a complicated economic analysis to demonstrate the existence of a monopoly in the market where the price of an article is being fixed; proof of the act of price-fixing by itself – per se – serves as proof of the violation.



No less a judge than Oliver Wendell Holmes, voiced a lone dissent in Miles, finding that wholesalers ought to be regarded as agents of the manufacturer and that retailers could be converted into such legal agents with a few changes in the contractual language. Stressing one last time the businessman’s freedom of contract (by now a minority notion) and claiming that an overemphasis was being placed upon price competition for items not necessities, Holmes found Park’s conduct in inducing breaches of the Miles system of contracts to be distasteful. He warned that the majority’s decision was “reached by extending a certain conception of public policy into the public sphere.” This new public policy, embodying Theodore Roosevelt’s crusade against conspiracies to control retail prices, remained the law of the land for nearly one hundred years.

With the law now firmly fixed in its favor, Park now finally attempted to set the trial of its New York damage case. In 1915, the New York Times repor