As part of my job, I spend several or more hours a week winding through reel after reel of local newspaper microfilm. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there’s no end to the wonders of nineteenth century life. Take, for example, advertisements for patent medicines. See a partial transcription below from a notice for Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters that appeared in a January 1895 daily from a small Midwestern city. Hostetter’s was a nationally known patent medicine manufacturer from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Here’s the first sentence:

Hope crushed to earth will rise again in the bosom of a dyspeptic wise enough to substitute for the pseudo-tonics, which have bamboozled him out of his belief in the possibility of cure, the real invigorant and stomachic, Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters.

Uh, would anyone like to diagram the sentence above? I didn’t think so.

The notice goes on to proclaim that this “helpful botanic medicine” can prevent and remedy malaria, as well as offer relief to the “bilious, the nervous, the dyspeptic, the rheumatic alike.” Recommended dosage? A “wineglassful” of the mixture three times daily.

Hostetter’s was just one of thousands of unregulated tonics, pills, creams and bitters manufactured and peddled across the land promising to cure anything and everything: Diseases of the stomach and liver, “female irregularities,” cholera, chapped hands, chilblains, sprains, hemorrhoids, “looseness of bowels,” boils, erectile dysfunction, toothaches, diphtheria, dysentery, skin eruptions, frostbite, irritability, burns, ear and toothaches, congestive chills and even tumors. Hope crushed to earth will rise again. Indeed!

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