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Mason County Memories


"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus" ~ Mark Twain


History Columns are arranged by year of publication in the Ludington Daily News



david k petersen

Patent Medicines, Nostrums, snake oil salesmen, blood purifiers and more; we've all heard about them, many have made fun of them but at the turn of the last century, in the dawn of science and technology anything could go and it often did.

The modern concept of medicine was in it's infancy, there was a lot we did not know, germ theory, sanitary practices were relatively new, even the mysterious X Ray was only a couple years old.

The patent medicine industry had already gotten it's start in the early 1800's and as that century moved forward the entrepreneurs of the time took advantage of peoples fears and suffering and began to offer an ever growing number of miracle cures to fix anything that ailed you.

Thousands of cures were developed, secret formulas, secret ingredients, that often contained a high percentage of alcohol, maybe cocaine, laudanum, heroin, codeine, and as often contained inert ingredients, herbs, flavorings and maybe not much else for a dollar a bottle. (or more)

The printed word was a powerful thing, and early on the marketers of patent medicines took note and would spend upwards of 50% of their profits on advertising, showcasing testimonials from people who were cured by their use of a particular "medicine". From about 200 newspapers in the early 1800's to over 4,000 just 50 years later the medium to promote these concoctions flourished, without regulation anyone could make any claim, sell any mixture.

Dr. Kilmers Swamp Root Kidney Cure, Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable compound, (still on the market) Hall's Catarrh cure, Bromo Seltzer, Paines Celery compound, Blood Purifiers and Bitters are all examples of the patent medicines available in the United States and in Ludington as well. Many of these patent medicines that were bought locally can be found in the outhouse pits in your own backyard as well as the old dumpsites around the county.

We had several pharmacies operating in Ludington around the turn of the century, Snows Drug Store was owned by Samuel Snow. He was born in Girard Pennsylvania in 1859 and came to Ludington as an 18 year old young man in 1877. He began his work with Dr. E.N. Dundass, Ludington's first Physician who also operated a drug store at a familiar address, 402 W. Ludington Avenue, now home of the House of Flavors.

Samuel Snow also worked with F.N. Latimer prior to establishing his own drug store and eventually moving into the storefront now occupied by Anna Bach's Candies at 102 W Ludington Avenue.

Frank Latimer's pharmacy was located at the corner of Ludington and James St as well where Snyder's shoes is now, and was later followed by Taggert's Pharmacy at that location, later he was in charge of the Heysett pharmacy that was established in the building that later housed the Lewis Drugstore that many people will still remember.

Another long time druggist in Ludington was Joseph Sahlmark who owned the Sahlmark drug store on South James Street for over 40 years, later the home of Johnson's Drug Store. Joseph Sahlmark came from Sweden at age 15 in 1889 and became interested in pharmacy after working at the Paquette Pharmacy in Ludington.

Other local druggists included Magnusson's, Peoples Drug Store, Rousins, Watson Carroll, and a few others.

Prior to 1906 when the laws in this country began to change anything could be bottled and sold, teething gels for infants contained Laudanum, cough syrup could contain heroin, and many of the thousands of patent medicines wee available locally, over the counter at many types of businesses as well as mail order.

The advertising was often colorful, the premiums given away are quite collectible, and the embossed bottles that once contained speculative cures are prized as well. These items often stamped or produced even for local pharmacies help to illustrate our local history as well as provide a reflection of the history of the nation as well. After 1906 the patent medicines were more regulated, and this was strengthened with the Harrison Narcotics act of 1914. The patent medicine market as it was known in 1900 came to an end but we can't really say the same for the marketing of cures and fixes of dubious origin claiming to fix your problems. One only has to open to the advertising section of certain magazines and download your email to see that there are still those selling the quick fix and the miracle cure. Caveat Emptor.

If you have any stories or photos you would like to share with our readers please feel free to contact me at 757-3240 or davep@blackcreekpress.com

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