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."
- Weekly Banner, Aug. 1898 - Oct. 1899 on Microfilm in the Heritage collection.
- 1900 U.S. Census in Ancestry Library Edition via GALILEO.
- Directions for Using Dr. Williams' Pink Pills: For Men and Women, Young and Old, An Unfailing Blood Builder and Nerve Tonic.
- The Meaning of Dreams by Dr. Williams Medicine Company, published c. 1900.
- Kansas Historical Society's Cool Things online collection.
- Seeking the Cure: A History of Medicine in America by Ira M. Rutkow in the general collection.
- Drugs and Pharmacy in the Life of Georgia, 1733-1959 by Robert Wilson Cumming in the Heritage collection.
- Medicine: An Illustrated History by Albert S. Lyon in the general collection.
- Victorian Pharmacy: Rediscovering Remedies and Recipes by Jane Eastoe in the New Books collection.
- A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac by Edward Shorter in the general collection.
- Nerve: Poise under Pressure, Serenity under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool by Taylor Clark in the New Books collection.