Disclaimer: The following article contains vintage medical advice that has been proven bunk by posterity as well as depict drugs that have since been seen as illegal or unavailable due to the damage they did or still do to people. Besides, it doesn’t help that a lot of these vintage ads are based on dubious medical claims thanks to the lack of oversight on medicine at the time. If you’re here for actual medical tips to solve your medical problems, this is not the site for you. Thank you.
Unless you live under a rock, you might notice that Pharma ads are everywhere whether you watch TV, go on the Internet, or open a magazine. After all, medicine is a stable of healthcare to treat various ailments whether they be through a doctor’s prescription or over the counter. You might see listings for various side effects that might scare you. But at least you have the FDA requiring drug companies to address them as well as go through a long testing process to see if the drug is safe and lives up to its claims. Still, remember that medicines aren’t miracle cures for what you’re suffering. And it’s been known in the world of pharmaceuticals that one person’s life saver can be another person’s poison. However, back in the good ol’ days, you didn’t have an agency like the FDA, clinical trials, or other stuff like that to see that the drugs on the market won’t kill you. Sure it might lead to a lot of drugs on the market that might help people, but more often than not, it created an ideal environment for your local snake oil salesman along with so many other substances marketed as pharmaceuticals under dubious medical claims. And many of these drugs led to all kinds of harm such as addiction and/or death. Not that drugs were less harmful once the US had the FDA back then. Because a lot of drugs that you might have sold over the counter in the early 1900s have become the illegal street drugs that have caused a menace to society, with the possible exception of marijuana. So for your reading pleasure, here I give you a treasury of vintage pharma ads from the not so good old days of medicine.
- For dysepsia and blood, take some Quaker Bitters.
Why is that girl in a barrel? Seriously, that’s just crazy for God’s sake.
2. For upset stomach, take some 7 Up Lithiated Soda.
Yes, soft drinks were once used as medicines before they became regular beverage. And yes, the original 7 Up did contain lithium which is today used to treat manic depression.
3. To relieve all kinds of pain, you might want to try some St. Jacobs Oil.
According to the Center for Inquiry, it’s said to contain chloroform, turpentine, camphor, ether, alcohol, Carbolic acid, capsicum, and aconite. Aconite, by the way is a deadly poison from the Monk’s Hood flower that’s also known as Wolfsbane and Jacob’s Chariot.
4. Cigares de Joy are said to bring immediate relief for all kinds of respiratory problems.
In 1875, these were ‘very useful little agents for inhaling the smoke of stramonium.’ A common remedy for asthma, Datura stramonium is a hallucinogenic. Also, smoking is very bad for your lungs.
5. Got menstrual problems, try some Ergoapiol.
Sold in the early 1900s, this drug contains the ergot fungus and Apiol. One can reduce blood flow that gangrene sets in as well as cause hallucinations. The other can damage your liver and kidneys.
6. “Midol helps me forget my time of the month wherever I am.”
Except in the bathroom. Or when you have change your pad or tampon at regular intervals. Or when you find blood stains on your underwear. Seriously, this isn’t an accurate representation of a woman during her “time of the month.”
7. Whether it’s menstruation or men, always count on Midol.
If your guy is your No. 1 reason for Midol, ladies, you might want to reevaluate your relationship. Because Midol is mainly used for menstrual cramps.
8. For obese and cranky patients, give them Ambar.
For one, these people don’t seem “obese” in the modern sense of the term. More like overweight. Also, this ad really gets obesity wrong. Yes, stress and overeating may be factors. But so are genetics, not having time to exercise, and unhealthy food choices.
9. For relief from coughs, try Heroin-Hydrochloride from Bayer.
On second thought, don’t or you’ll get instantly addicted for a certain period of time before dying from an overdose if you don’t seek treatment. There’s a reason why the US is suffering a terrible heroin problem of epidemic proportions. Thanks for fucking up everything, Bayer.
10. Is housework making your life a prison, take some Serax.
Sorry, but I don’t think medication will solve this woman’s problem. Maybe having her husband pick up the slack would. Or hiring a maid.
11. Hamlin’s Wizard Oil will cure your rheumatism.
Contains 50-70% alcohol along with camphor, ammonia, chloroform, sassafras, cloves, and turpentine. In other words, it’s a quack medicine but it was quite popular.
12. Hall’s Wine brings the bloom of perfect health.
Tonic wines were also common at the time. This one was known to contain cocaine. However, initial criticism of this drug had nothing to do with the infamous white substance. Also, I don’t think that woman is smiling.
13. For hay fever and other woes, try Allen’s Cocaine tablets.
Side effects may include seriously disrupted eating and sleeping patterns, psychotic delusions and hallucinations, and severe depression upon withdrawal. Also addiction and death. So if you’re smart, walk it off.
14. Enjoy relief with the great taste of Coca Cola.
Yes, this was seen as a medicine, too. But initially contained cocaine in its early years. Not kidding on that one.
15. Dr. Hart’s Pain Conqueror relieves all pains.
I’m sure this is ineffective as medicine. But, man, those little gnomes in this ad are so creepy. Possible cocaine hallucination? Maybe.
16. With Midol, Sally’s gay.
I know what they’re trying to get at here. And no, ladies, Midol does not turn women into lesbians unlike how some might interpret it.
17. Tyrant in the house? Calm him down with Thorazine.
Thorozine: the drug for when your angry old folks get out of hand. Also posted another one similar to this last year, by the way.
18. For the ills of life, take some Peruna tonic.
So what if it’s a Prohibition era medicine that just happens to contain 18% alcohol? It was apparently popular at the time.
19. For women’s minor ills, take Dr. Caldwell’s Syrup Pepsin, the Family Laxative.
Because if a woman is cranky all day, she’s probably constipated. After all, women must be angry all the time due to irregular bowel movements. What a load of sexist bullshit.
20. For pain relief, take a dose of Methadone.
Methadone is an opioid that’s used to detoxify people from heroin addiction. However, while it may not be as bad, it’s said to contribute to 26% of opioid related deaths. So it can be a very harmful drug in its own right.
21. Depressed? Try Methadrine.
Contains methamphetamine. You know, the kind of drug that prematurely ages you and rots your teeth. Or what Walter White made in Breaking Bad. Yes, that drug.
22. For over stressed housewives, try some Meprospan 400.
It’s a tranquilizer. You know something we use to treat people with psychological problems. Not something for ordinary housewives.
23. For anxious kids, Nembutal is guaranteed to give relief.
From: Best Medical Degrees: “Although pentobarbital is an FDA-approved sedative and is used to treat seizures and insomnia, it would seem dangerous to utilize it to treat nervous children (by inserting it as a suppository). Not only can pentobarbital impede thinking and slow reactions, it can also be addictive, while overdoses may be fatal.” Also, that kid is as creepy as hell.
24. Brown’s Household Panacea is a great pain reliever.
Why the hell is that guy holding a burning stove? He can get himself burned that way, especially if he’s holding it with his bare hands.
25. Have stuffy noses, ladies, take Mentholatum.
Because being pleasing to men is more important than tending to your own stuffy nose. Hey, we may not like sniffly noses, but this ad is just inherently sexist.
26. Stay fit and slim with Amphetamine.
While Ampetamine is a controlled substance today, this ad promotes it as a weight loss drug which is very harmful. Also, diet pills are terrible for you as well and should never be taken.
27. Karswood Creosote is the greatest cure on earth.
What the fuck? Creosote is a substance people call sweeps to get rid of in their chimneys. It’s a toxic carcinogenic substance. Yet, here it’s being promoted as medicine?
28. Settle down the kids with some of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup.
From Best Medical Degrees: “In 1849, Mrs. Charlotte N. Winslow launched her Soothing Syrup in Maine. The cocktail, which combined ingredients such as sodium carbonate and aqua ammonia, may have been relatively harmless – except for one point: it contained 65mg of morphine per fluid ounce. The syrup was advertised as providing relief for children who were teething, and one mother wrote to The New York Times claiming its effect on her son was “like magic; he soon went to sleep, and all pain and nervousness disappeared.” Unfortunately, children ran the risk of being put to sleep permanently as a result of morphine overdose.”
29. For every day stress, ladies, take Butisol.
The kind of happy pills that make you enjoy being tied up by your daughter playing Indian. Yeah, that’s kind of freaky.
30. Daughter being a brat? Give her Castoria.
Because if your kid is acting up, then it must be because she’s constipated. I think real moms in the 1950s knew better than that.
31. Aggressive elders? Loxapac should do the trick.
Great for helping old folks with cactus head according to this ad. Yes, he’s become a bit prickly lately.
32. For cold and flu, take some Coriforte.
This ad from South Africa may seem harmless enough. But one this drug’s ingredients is none other than methamphetamine. Yeah, probably something you should avoid.
33. To relieve coughs, try some Cosadein.
Contains codeine, marijuana, and chloroform. Talk about a real drug cocktail here.
34. Ambition Pills, the drug for weak and nervous men.
This 19th century supplement was promoted to build strength, ambition, as well as combat ailments. However, each box was later found to contain enough strychnine to kill an adult. Because strychnine is a known toxic pesticide.
35. Men, does your wife have “nerves,” give her Nervine.
Contains bromide which can lead to side effects like alteration in central nervous system functioning with headache, irritability, fatigue, slurred speech, ataxia, emotional instability, tremor and hallucinations. According to a report from 1997 no less.
36. Mebaral is great for the guy who overreacts to everything.
However, I want to know why they’d use an image of a guy about to jump off a building. Because that looks pretty scary. And I think that guy might need an undertaker at this point.
37. As Eli Lily said, Ampedroxyn is great for all kinds of problems like obesity, depression, and narcolepsy.
Uh, let’s not kid ourselves, Eli Lily has an ad promoting methamphetamine. You know, meth. It might help you lose weight and overcome problems with sleep and depression, but it will make you look ugly.
38. Have peace of mind with Serenace.
This is one from Japan. It depicts a naked woman rising out of the water inside a hand. I don’t understand what that’s supposed to mean.
39. Calm the storm in your life with Rivotril.
So what’s with the naked girl holding the umbrella in a storm? I don’t get this at all.
40. Relieve your worries with Serenace.
This picture might do well as a work of Surrealist art. But in a Pharma ad, this is just plain weird.
41. Got rough seas ahead, take Deliton.
Unfortunately, Deliton can’t cure shell-head. But it can make you feel better with shell-head.
42. Sernace is great for coping with life’s biggest worries.
Like when you’re about to get picked up in the desert by a giant bird of prey for dinner. Yeah, it’s for problems like that.
43. Restore them to their senses with Thorazine.
But is having a dunk tank in this ad really necessary? And there’s a guy who fell in the the water. Poor thing.
44. Baby can’t sleep? How about some Laudanum?
Laudanum is opium by the way and it was used to treat various ailments from the late 1600s to the 19th century. Can cause addiction, constipation, respiratory distress, and pupil constriction. Yeah, screw Junior up for life.
45. Divorced? Depressed? You might have ADHD.
This ad really doesn’t show ADHD in a great light. Besides, there are a lot of divorced and depressed people who don’t have ADHD. But this is a drug ad so they don’t give a shit.
46. Feel like a battered parent? Miltown may be the answer.
It’s particularly effective when you’re having to care for giant children. As if normal sized children aren’t a handful to deal with already.
47. To be the person within, take Invega.
Is she getting out of her skin? Okay, that’s really disgusting. And freaky. Really freaky.
48. Stuck in the woods with the head of a jackass? Take Cipramil.
I don’t think Shakespeare’s Bottom showed any signs of anxiety when he was with Titania. If ever, he seemed to take everything in stride and he was perfectly fine by the next morning. Someone’s got their Shakespeare screwed up.
49. For coughs, try Kimball’s White Pine and Tar Cough Syrup.
Contains chloroform, which according to Best Medical Degrees: “But despite the drug being hailed as a good substitute for ether, cases emerged of chloroform causing fatal cardiac or respiratory arrest. Multiple patients died after breathing it in, prompting doctors to revert back to using ether. In spite of this, however, chloroform was still used in mouthwashes and ointments. Eventually, in 1976, the Federal Drug Administration prohibited the use of chloroform for human consumption after the substance was found to cause cancer in lab animals.”
50. For morning sickness, take Morninide because his need for breakfast doesn’t suffice with your pregnancy.
This was a drug used to treat morning sickness which was later pulled by the FDA for causing low blood pressure and liver damage. But at least her husband got his breakfast (asshole).
51. Baby not feeling good, Mrs. Winslow’s should help.
That should knock the kiddie out for awhile. Perhaps permanently if you give the tyke too much.
52. For depression relief try Norodin.
Otherwise known by the more familiar term, “meth.” From Best Medical Degrees: “The advertisement above claimed that Norodin was “useful in dispelling the shadows of mild mental depression” and that it has “relatively few side effects.” Never mind the fact that it can result in various alarming physiological effects, including anorexia, tooth grinding, irregular heartbeat, insomnia, abnormal blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. It is also extremely addictive and is one of the hardest dependencies to overcome.”
53. Wolcott’s Instant Pain Annihilator gives you instant relief.
I’m sure this is bound to have the same medicinal properties as snake oil. But the artwork advertising is pretty badass.
54. Daley’s Magical Pain Extractor can let you handle anything.
Because how else was Molly Pitcher able to man her husband’s cannon at the Battle of Monmouth? Because she had to be under a lot of stress at the time.
55. Quaaludes always give you a good night sleep and a sunny morning.
Quaaludes: the drugs that people got high on in The Wolf of Wall Street. Also used as Bill Cosby’s rape drug of choice during the 1970s. Oh, and it was said Elvis was on them, too.
56. Hear voices? Seroquel can help.
Because whenever you see talking mouths in the bushes, you might have a problem. Unless you’re not taking the brown acid already.
57. Clamps got you down? Urodonal may be the answer.
Because those clamps shouldn’t be weighing you down. Seems like this guy is being tortured for some reason.
58. Aspironal is better than whiskey for colds and flu.
You mean they were using whiskey for colds and flu? Said to contain 10% alcohol and suitable for children. According to this, that is.
59. Broncil is known as a safeguard for children’s health.
And thanks to Broncil, you can make your kid shovel snow in your driveway all you want. Even when your kid is complaining because the other children are having fun sledding and building snow forts.
60. Zeldox is a great drug to treat schizophrenia.
And if was available during Vincent Van Gogh’s time, then he wouldn’t have cut his ear off. Seriously, this is kind of messed up.
61. Risperdal Range always helps deter relapses.
And I’m not sure what mythological creature this is supposed to be. Seems like it’s half-human and half-dog from what I can tell by the legs. Yes, this is freaky.
62. For nervousness, try Dr. Carter’s Little Nerve Pills.
Caption: “Advertisement for Carter’s Little Nerve Pills depicting a very young child sitting on the ground looking up at a standing, talking frog.” Since when should anyone take such advice from a talking frog? That’s not right.
63. For pain relief, try Pantafon Opium that’s straight from the poppy.
You know how addictive opiates are and the problems they cause in our society? Give this drug a pass. Seriously, avoid it like the plague.
64. Thomas Edison always finds relief in Mariani wine.
By the way, Mariani wine contains cocaine. Edison endorsed it because it helped him stay awake longer to work on his inventions. Wonder why.
65. Papine Battle & Co. prepares the safest and most pleasant opium.
Sorry, guys, but that’s not really saying much given that opium is highly addictive. Then again, that might’ve helped their business.
66. Cannabis Americana has been recommended by clinicians everywhere.
You might know this as marijuana. Though I’m confident of its medicinal properties, I’m sure some patients would prefer smoking it instead of taking it from a bottle.
67. For new moms and babies, try Anhauser-Busch’s Malt Nutrine.
Because only in the Gilded Age could you sell such beer as a health tonic to nursing mothers. Yes, you got that right.
68. Thorazine always helps control agitation.
Because in domestic abuse situations, how else are you going to calm him if you can’t get him institutionalized or obtain a restraining order? Seriously, this could almost look like domestic abuse here.
69. For more pep try some cocaine pills.
Now this old man seems terrifying and bound to give anyone nightmares. Wouldn’t want to see this guy on cocaine at any rate.
70. Got a headache and emotional fatigue? Try Anacin.
Yes, housewives, take Anacin because they relief that’s acceptable for you is drugs. Never mind if the guy in the corner is your husband and the woman he’s with is not you.
Wow- those are crazy! Pretty good art work though. Thank you, Food & Drug Administration!