Idaho History

19th-century ads in Idaho promised miracle cures

Quack medicine ads appeared regularly in the Idaho Statesman in the 19th century, often over the name of a Boise drug store where they could be purchased without a prescription. Myers & Boomer and John F. Ridenbaugh had Main Street drug stores that advertised regularly. Others cure-alls advertised could be ordered only by mail.

This item appeared in the Statesman of August 29, 1889: “Renews Her Youth. Mrs. Phoebe Chesley, Peterson, Clay County, Iowa, tells the following remarkable story, the truth of which is vouched for by the residents of the town. ‘I am 73 years old, and have been troubled with kidney complaint and lameness for many years, could not dress myself without help. Now I am free from all pain and soreness, and am able to do all my own housework. I owe my thanks to Electric Bitters for having renewed my youth, and removed completely all disease and pains. Try a bottle, 50 cents and $1.00 at Myer & Boomer’s Drugstore.”

Dr. Chambers Vital Restorer advertised “No Cure No Pay,” and claimed to “positively cure weakness, nervous and physical debility or premature decline.” Beggs’ Blood Purifier & Blood Maker promised women who used it “a clear, pearly and transparent skin. St. Patrick’s Pills promised to “cleanse and invigorate the system, purify the blood and do more good than a dollar bottle of blood purifier.” Dr. King’s New Life Pills “the wonderful Stomach and Liver Remedy, gives a splendid appetite, sound digestion and a regular body habit that insures perfect health and great energy. Only 25 cents at any drug store.”

In June, 1893, this ad appeared in the Moscow Mirror: “ONE DAY CURE HATTEE’S CONGO OIL. The Marvel of the present age. Cures Rheumatism, Sciatica, and Neuralgia. Pacific Coast Agents O.W.R. MFG Co. Portland O. For sale by all Moscow druggists.” In the center of the ad is a circular illustration of two white men facing five Africans, one of whom is pointing to some clay pots, evidently containing the miraculous Congo Oil.

That quackery was recognized for what it was by most early Idahoans is suggested by this item in the Idaho World of Idaho City on January 21, 1869: “A woman in Mississippi made five attempts to kill herself, and failed. She should have sent for a quack doctor.”

In December, 1905, the Emmett Index quoted the testimonial of a satisfied woman customer of a patent medicine: “Gentlemen--- Before using your medicine I was too weak to spank the baby, but now I can lick my husband. Heaven bless you.”

On another tack, “Rules of Dress for Young Girls” appeared in the Statesman on January 13, 1893. To us in 2016 it is incredibly dated. “It seems to be the recognized rule that girls from two to eight shall wear long dress skirts. Above that age they are worn short to the knees, or just below, until twelve when they are again lengthened. At sixteen they reach nearly to the floor. Girls of twelve still wear their dresses fastened in the back. If tall for that age the dress skirt may reach to the shoe top. Among sensible people comfortable dresses which give full play to all the muscles and allow fullest development of the figure are considered in far better taste than those which are tightly fitted, perhaps over corsets.” Especially dated is this advice: “All wool undergarments, continuous from the neck to the feet, are essential for health. Physicians now are very apt also to recommend all wool night robes to take the place of those during the day, the change from wool to cotton being considered too great.”

That same month the Statesman quoted a noted doctor who warned parents that “mouth breathing” in a child, if not treated at once, could lead to “deafness and a peculiarly stupid, sleepy, inane, and foolish facial expression.”

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email