Tag Archives: patent medicine

Blood was thin, she felt weak

The July 19 1928 edition of the Toronto Daily Star contained this ad for a patent medicine that claims to have cured the ills of a Toronto housewife.


When I see a name and address in a patent medicine ad, I like to look it up in the Toronto city directories to see if the person giving the testimonial really existed. In this case, there really was a Mrs. Mary Wilson at 210 John Street in 1928. However, she was not a housewife, as the ad claims: the Seneca Apartments were at that address, and she appears to have been living alone. She was there in 1929, but both she and the apartments did not appear in the 1930 directory.

Because she had such a common name, it was impossible to trace forward from there, so I thought I would try going back. The 1927 directory lists Mrs. Mary Wilson as living at 218 John Street instead of 210; I don’t think it’s too great a leap to assume that this is the same person. The 1926 directory also lists her at 218 John, and has an occupation for her: she was working as a serger at the Berger Tailoring Company at 256-260 Richmond Street West, which was very close by. But there was nobody named Mary Wilson working there or living at 218 John in the 1925 directory, so once again she is lost to history.

Husky and its proponent, A. G. Payne, are also lost to history – I could find no reference to either in searches. This is unusual, as a patent medicine seller often leaves a large paper trail. Mr. Payne isn’t local, either, as there is no one named A. G. Payne in the 1928 city directory.

To complete the collection of dead ends: 210 John and 218 John no longer exist. The block of John Street between Stephanie and Grange is now Grange Park.


Fighting rheumatism

The June 3 1925 edition of the Toronto Daily Star contained two ads on the same page for products that claimed that they were effective against rheumatism.

Product #1 had the appropriate name of Rheuma:


Who would not want swift, gratifying relief from agonizing pains (I mean, seriously)? A Google search on Rheuma found nothing, so I have no idea what it contained.

Product #2 was gin pills:


Gin Pills were apparently primarily marketed as being good for the kidneys, and gin-soaked raisins have long been considered a folk remedy for arthritis, though there is no proof that this actually works.

According to Google Maps, there actually is a place named Lower Economy in Nova Scotia. I guess business didn’t exactly boom there.

Bathe away fat

Here’s an ad from the May 9 1932 Toronto Daily Star for a product of dubious medical value:


A Google search for Reudel Bath Saltrates didn’t turn up anything definitive. An image search showed that it had been historically used to treat foot troubles, so this was a new marketing twist. I could find no word on whether people’s feet became thinner.

Internal bathing

The March 22 1924 edition of the Toronto Globe contained an article for “internal bathing”, which claimed to be a cure for constipation.


Wikipedia has an entry for Charles Alfred Tyrrell (1843-1918), who was the proponent of internal bathing. The J.B.L. Cascade mentioned in this ad was an enema appliance, and apparently dates to 1903; J.B.L. stood for “Joy, Beauty, Life”. The American Medical Association claimed that the product might be dangerous, and that its advertising featured “deceit, misrepresentation, and quackery”.

Before attempting to market the J.B.L. Cascade, Tyrrell popularized the Ideal Sight Restorer, which the A.M.A. called “pseudomedical claptrap”. So there you are.

As for the Toronto office of Tyrrell’s Hygienic Institute: it first appears in the 1920 Toronto city directory, but was not around much longer than this ad. The institute doesn’t appear in the 1925 directory.

George is a changed boy

The November 15 1929 edition of the Toronto Daily Star contained this ad:


My first thought: if George was old enough to go to school, he would have been teased unmercifully about this ad. I hope that his mother gave him a share of the money that the family got for appearing in it. (And I hope that the family did get paid!)

As usual, I was curious whether Mrs. A. Gresham actually existed at 7 Currie Avenue. The answer is almost certainly yes – the 1929 city directory lists a William Gresham there. He worked as an engineer for the City of Toronto, and continued in that job as late as 1955. In the 1960 city directory, his occupation is not listed, so I assume that he was retired. Unfortunately, I do not know whether Mrs. A was still there, as the city directories were resolutely sexist and only listed the head of the household.

George himself starts appearing in the city directories in about 1948. He worked at Eaton’s, and was there at least through 1960; I didn’t check later than that. Hopefully, he was still regular.

As for California Fig Syrup: it appears to have originated late in the 19th century, which is when a lot of the most famous patent medicines came into being. The references I could find were mostly related to the bottles that it came in. There’s an early history of the company and its bottles, and another history that contains a collection of early ads for the product.

Hearing for the deaf in 1927

The May 21 1927 edition of the Toronto Globe contained two separate ads for products that claimed to allow the deaf to hear.

The first was what today we would call hardware-related:

IMG_3810 (2)

The Phonophor appears to have been manufactured by Siemens. In 1927, the Dictograph Products Corporation was at 11 Wellington Street East; by 1932, they had moved across the street to 9 Wellington West. By 1935, they were no more.

The second option for the deaf involved a patent medicine:


Catarrhozone appears to have been an inhaler. It apparently not only cured deafness, but overcame a variety of other diseases! It was manufactured by the Catarrhozone Company of Montreal. A search turned up:

  • A booklet of recipes and ads for patent medicines, including Catarrh-o-zone (as it was called in the booklet).
  • A photograph of a Catarrhozone box, which looks to be from the 19th century.
  • A Catarrhozone almanac.
  • Catarrhozone annuals from 1905 and 1909.


The January 23 1951 edition of the Toronto Daily Star contained this ad for Dr. Chase’s Nerve Food, in which they offered to send $10.00 to anyone who bought it and didn’t feel better afterwards.


Dr. Chase’s Nerve Food originated in the 19th century, and was one of the many products created by Dr. Alvin Wood Chase (1817-1885). Weird Science has a short entry on Dr. Chase’s Nerve Food, and the Canadian Pharmacists Journal has a scholarly article on almanacs advertising Dr. Chase’s patent medicines.

So, suppose that you’ve picked up $10.00 from the Dr. Chase Medicine Co. Ltd., and you’re not sure what to do with it. One option, in an ad on the same page of the paper, was to recement your furnace:


The Carter Furnace Company had moved to 2581 Yonge by 1955, and does not appear in the 1960 city directory.

Another option was to buy a pair of glasses and pocket $0.50 in change:


King Optical existed into at least the mid-1960s. In 1965, they had a branch near Yonge and Dundas (at 276 1/2 Yonge Street), and a branch in Scarborough. I’m not sure when they ceased to exist.