Saturday, April 28, 2012

28 April 1899: Pink Pills for Pale People

On this day in 1899, this beautiful ad for Dr. Williams' Pink Pills for Pale People appeared in the Weekly Banner:

(click to enlarge image)

This patent medicine, manufactured by a Canadian company, was advertised in mass market newspapers in 82 countries, and was the best selling product for the owner, George T. Fulford. The Fulfords made millions from the sale of the pills after purchasing the formula in 1890 for a mere $53.01.  His family's 20,000-square foot summer home, built around the time this ad was published, is now available for events and tourists to visit in Brockville, Ontario.

Fulford's prime method of advertising was the personal testimonial. Testimonial advertising allowed the company to vary the ad content, depending upon the symptoms the particular ad claimed to cure. It was also an engaging story about using the medicine, anecdotal evidence often being seen as more reliable than scientific evidence,  a useful quirk of psychology that worked in favor of patent medicines with no scientific evidence of their worth.

In this ad, testimonial of miraculous cure is given about "Miss Cora Watrous, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Mr. I. C. Watrous, of 61 Clarion St., Bradford, Pa." The names and addresses in the testimonial were real; if one looks at the 1900 U.S. Census, you find Cora, the oldest of eight children belonging to Ira and Helen Watrous, still living at the address used in the ad. By 1900, she was 20 years old and working as a dressmaker.

The company would publish small books, such as one that interpreted dreams, interspersed with tales of cures for the many ailments the pills claimed to relieve. All advertisements emphasized that a "reliable druggist" would carry their pills, and not offer alternatives.

According to the directions for use, Pink Pills for Pale People claimed that it cured
Pale and Sallow Complexion, General Muscular Weakness, Loss of Appetite, Depression of Spirits, Lack of Ambition, Anaemia, Chlorosis or Green Sickness, Palpitation of the Heart, Shortness of Breath on slight exertion, Coldness of Hands or Feet, Swelling of Feet and Limbs, Pain in the Back, Nervous Headache, Dizziness, Loss of Memory, Feebleness of Will, Ringing in the Ears, Early Decay. All forms of Female Weakness, Leucorrhoea, Tardy or Irregular Periods, Suppression of the Menses, Hysteria, Locomotor Ataxia, Partial Paralysis, Sciatica, Rheumatism, Neuralgia, etc. 
It also cured 
Scrofula, Swelled Glands, Fever Sores, Rickets, Hip Joint Disorders, Hunchback, Acquired Deformities, Decayed Bones, Chronic Erysipelas, Consumption of the Bowels and Lungs, Loss of Vital Powers, Spermatorrhoea, Early Decay, Premature Old Age.

However, the directions also warned, "They are NOT a cure-all."

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