Gone are the days of the proverbial snake oil salesman selling tonics and panaceas from the back of a wagon — or are they?
With strict FDA regulations, it’s hard for pharmaceutical and medical device companies to hock their wares without oversight. But thanks to social media and “fake” medical news from a few disreputable sources, there’s still a chance for chicanery.
MedPage Today has rounded up a few vintage medical advertisements to serve some palm-on-the-forehead laughs and act as a reminder for patients and providers to always think critically.
This vintage advert for the once-ubiquitous Miltown (meprobamate) frames the tranquilizer as an easy way to for the well-educated, high-earning yet harried housewife to take a break from the motherly stresses of the 1960s. The company neglects to mention the drug’s addictive properties.
2. Electric Belt
Electric muscle stimulation is all the rage in fitness circles, much to the chagrin of some experts, and using EMS has shown benefits for migraines and epilepsy. This old-timey electric therapy from a certain Dr. McLaughlin in San Francisco claimed to cure “affections of the vital organs,” including rheumatism and kidney and stomach troubles.
3. Vegetable Compound
There’s a thin line between medical intervention and medical chicanery these days. The wide and unregulated reach of the internet and social media has created a new way for patients to embrace the latest medical fads. Even without digital technology, the 1800s were no different as the Gwyneth Paltrow of the era, Mrs. Lydia E. Pinkham, pushed her herbal concoctions to relieve “Female Complaints.” Her Vegetable Compound supposedly cured a plethora of ills, such as uterine tumors, and was sold in lozenge and elixir form.
4. Bayer Aspirin
This might be the only vintage ad we’ve found that undersells the product it’s promoting. Instead of focusing on aspirin’s pain relief, Bayer chose to highlight the provenance of the small, white pill. “Made on the banks of the Hudson River,” the full-page ad in the New York Tribune proudly states, evoking an all-American, clean industrial sentiment. (It was published in April 1918, while the U.S. was at war with Bayer’s homeland of Germany.) The “for your protection” copy meant to convey trust in the product’s purity and safety, but the same phrase could be used today as aspirin has shown to be a secondary method of CV risk prevention and is supported by guidelines.
5. Menthol Pencils
Minty menthol vapors are used to relieve cold and flu symptoms. It also adds a tingle to lip balms and other skin care product that you’ll find in various jars and plastic tubes. The ingredient is even found in cigarettes. But this ad shows an elegant and popular late-19th-century method of distributing the crystalline substance: the menthol pencil. Housed in a carved wood pedestal the menthol pencil was claimed to reduce aches and pains.
6. Cornea Restorer
Long before stem cells could even be considered to restore corneas, this vintage contraption was marketed by a doctor in New York City who said it could cure myriad ocular ailments with a money-back guarantee!
7. Opium Cure
Across the globe and the centuries, opiates have ruined lives for those addicted to them. In the 19th Century, opium was a major problem just as Rx opioids are today. At the time, one doctor in LaPorte, Indiana purported that he discovered a “painless” cure for users.
8. Early ‘Electric’ Toothbrush
This late-1800s vintage “electric” toothbrush uses the term “electric” loosely. It might have been a “boon to humanity” as the ad states, but further reading shows that this isn’t the electric toothbrush we know today. Rather, it’s supposed to have been “permanently charged with an electro-magnetic current” — a far cry from the rotating and sonic dental devices now available.