Advertising: Brought To You By Drugs

I was watching a show on the History channel last night. Well, H2, because there are now two history channels. I think regular History channel is about serious stuff: wars and Hitler, Hitler and wars. Then there’s H2 where you learn fun stuff such as, the kinds of drugs taken by Mayans. The show was called Stoned Ages if you want to check it out. Fascinating stuff. I learned a lot. It was hosted by Hank from Breaking Bad. You know, Walt’s DEA agent brother and renowned mineral collector. I know this man has an actual name, but by playing Hank he has become Hank to me.

The show got to the time in American history where people started taking, what they called, “patent medicines”. The term “patent medicine” has become particularly associated with drug compounds in the 18th and 19th centuries, sold with colorful names and even more colorful claims. In ancient times, such medicines were called nostrum remedium, “our remedy” in Latin, hence the name “nostrum.” Also known as proprietary medicines, these concoctions were, for the most part, trademarked medicines but not patented.

While discussing giving morphine to babies (and everyone else) I heard something interesting, “Patent Medicines gave birth to advertising.” It was just like an episode of Maury! Morphine, you ARE the father!

Companies used branding to distinguish their elixirs from their competitors. Some of these companies are still around today, like Luden’s. My favorite cough drop as a kid because they are clearly just cherry Life Savers and cherry Life Savers make everyone feel better.

The first ads were painted on rocks along the highway (billboards!).  And they used to have medicine shows (trade shows)! And wagons riding through the streets their sides covered with signs (mobile marketing!).

“In 1893 more than half of over a hundred firms spending more than fifty thousand dollars annually on advertising were patent medicine manufacturers. But only 20 years later, most of these firms were not patent medicine manufacturers anymore but manufacturers of food, soap, cosmetics and automobiles. These firms began to market their packaged goods under brand names. Some of the first brands were firms like Ivory, Colgate, Wrigley and Coca Cola.” Source:

During my research (extensive googling) I discovered that advertising wasn’t the only industry that drugs fathered. If you are a fan of almanacs (and who isn’t?) you have patent medicine to thank. (A nice thank you gift might be a honey baked ham.)  Almanacs were given out as promotional items.

Let’s take a look at some of our baby pictures.

Read us the story about medicine again, Mom!
Chill Tonic was the #1 cure for pig body.


Cures “Over Brainwork” which used to be a problem. Thank God we found a cure.
I don’t know. This guy seems to have bigger problems than a scratch or burn.
Don’t threaten that baby with a good time.
Early use of alliteration.

We are still searching for the remedy for female.

Drug advertising has changed recently in that 1/2 of the ad is spent discussing the side effects. Luckily they continue the tradition of being weird as hell. Let’s watch as this magical glowing green moth breaks into homes and helps people sleep (and hopefully not drive while doing so).

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