In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the United States experienced a forgettable and embarrassing phenomenon. This was the time of the traveling medicine show. A salesman would come to town, along with an entertainer, or otherwise famous person and set up a portable store in a prime location. This was the era of patented medicine. Without a formal regulating body, medicine was created and sold to a populace eager for relief from various afflictions. Outlandish claims were often made. Shamefully, sometimes the local preacher would even be recruited to add credence to the huckster’s claims.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History Website contains pictures and descriptions of some these patented medicines. Here is a description of one of them.
Bromo Soda: For sick and nervous headache, indigestion and insomnia, sleeplessness, excessive study, dyspepsia, acute migraine, nervous debility, mania, depression following alcoholic and other excessives, mental and physical exhaustion, brain fatigue, sea sickness.
Date made: 1906-1908
The Smithsonian web site sums up the practice of patented medicines, “Unscrupulous manufacturers greatly exaggerated the curative powers of their remedies, selling them as “panaceas” or “cure-alls.” The aptly named Swaim’s Panacea purportedly cured all “blood diseases” including scrofula, chronic rheumatism, ulcers, old sores, boils and carbuncles, diseases of the spine, catarrh, and wasting.”
We would never be so gullible today would we? We are far more advanced than those backwards folks from 120 years ago, aren’t we? Sadly, we are not. Despite our advances in technology, and education, we can be just as gullible as that crowd gathering around to watch the juggling act prior to that salesman’s pitch. However, we do not have to leave the confines of our own home to experience such marketing. It comes to us via our televisions, radios and computers. Even though the physical setting has changed, many of the sales techniques have remained the same. Some of those techniques which are employed today are: an appeal to science, an appeal to a trusted authority, the use of technical language, or the use of a celebrity. Isn’t it both amusing and sad how much people are influenced simply because a famous person suggests to them that they should use a product, even though that person may have no qualifications whatsoever to speak as an authority on the given subject.
One Harvard Professor recently wrote that, “Prozac and the other Serotonin boosters–Zoloft, Paxil, and Luvox–have been the panaceas of the past decade.” Page 13. Joseph Glenmullen, Prozac Backlash. Clinical Instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and on the staff of Harvard University Health Services.
The first potent antidepressants of the modern era were cocaine elixirs, introduced in the late 1800s. (PB, 12).