Friday, January 23, 2015

Sepia Saturday: Safe and Effective

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt, a vintage ad, is tailor-made for a post I have wanted to write for some time.  Mine is not an advertisement for horse shoes; it’s for cough syrup.  What makes the ad unique though is the testimony of the wife of my first cousin 3X removed:  Nannie June Fogg Jollett. 

Ad with testimony by Nannie June Fogg Jollett 1899

This ad appeared on the front page of the Alexandria Gazette published in Alexandria, Virginia, December 19, 1899. 

Children Never Cry
When they have to take
Dr. Bull’s Cough Syrup

It is pleasant, pure and reliable.  It soothes while it cures.

Portsmouth, VA Jan. 18, 1899
I am never without a bottle of Dr. Bull’s Cough Syrup in the house, because it prevented my two children of dying of the whooping cough.  I think it an excellent medicine.
Mrs. C. B. Jollett

Refuse Substitutes

A.C. Meyer & Co., Baltimore, Md.
Dr. Bull’s pills cure Constipation and Biliousness.
Trial 20 for 5¢.  At Dealers, or by mail.

Nannie June claimed that the cough syrup was so effective that she kept a bottle on hand at all times. 

I wonder if she knew about the morphine.

In 1905, Collier’s Weekly published a series of articles called “The Great American Fraud” in which journalist Samuel Hopkins Adams exposed the false claims made by many drug companies.  He analyzed the contents of some of the most popular medicines, including Dr. Bull’s formula, which included morphine.  

Adams also exposed the dangers of such medicines, which in some cases actually damaged the health of users.  Dr. Bull’s medicine was blamed for several deaths due to morphine poisoning.  Eventually the formula for cough syrup was altered replacing the morphine with codeine.

Later ads for Dr. Bull’s miracle medicine emphasized how safe and effective it was for children.  But the muckraking Adams achieved what he set out to do:  in 1906, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act.  However, it would take several more pieces of legislation to tighten the reins on both ingredients and advertising claims in the food and drug industry.

Whether Nannie June remained a loyal customer is anyone’s guess. 

Sepia Saturday makes no claims to cure whooping cough, constipation, or biliousness.  But try it anyway.  It’s safe and effective. 

Adams, Samuel Hopkins. "The Great American Fraud/Chapter 5." Collier's Weekly (1905): n. pag. - Wikisource, the Free Online Library. 4 Jan. 2012. Web. 14 Jan. 2015. <>.

McCoy, Bob. "The Great American Fraud: Overview." Museum of Quackery. N.p., 13 Apr. 2013. Web. 14 Jan. 2015. <>.

Meyer, Ferdinand. "So Who Is A. C. Meyer?" Peachridge Glass. N.p., 12 Jan. 2014. Web. 14 Jan. 2015. <>.

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. So neat to have your ancestor's testimonial on this old advertisement!

  2. Brilliant, I didn't know morphine was used in cough mixture.

  3. Thanks for making me laugh! It’s nice to know Sepia Saturday is safe, effective and free from Morphine!

  4. Dear Sir/Madam, I was feeling quite fed up and down in the dumps until I read this Sepia Saturday post, after which I cheered up no end. I can assure you that I never cry when I have to read a Sepia Saturday post as entertaining as this one. Yours etc, AB from Huddersfield

  5. Interesting post (and ad). I remember liking the cough medicine I was given as a child.

  6. I know, codeine? Really? No wonder the stuff worked. What about the diet pills that had tapeworms inside...they worked, too! Yikes.

  7. Some of these old patent medicines were scary stuff! I looked into Peruna for an old post and it was snake oil, straight from the can.

  8. With our family it was Woods Great Peppermint Cure. It tasted great but it disappeared off the shelves so it probably contained something unhealthy. An interesting post.

  9. Quite the interesting expose! I know we had cough syrup, but I'm not sure what was or wasn't in it? I really needed it when I was 9 yrs old & had bronchitis for 2 months! Now I just use Musinex & Fisherman's lozenges.

  10. What a treat to find an old advertisement with an ancestor's testimony. I wonder when they began to realize the ill effects of morphine, cocaine, and other drugs. Obviously by 1906. I know it's not true but I still think of the late 1800s and early 1900s as "dark ages" in regards to health, illness, disease, and medicine -- including addictive drugs.

    Did OCR find her name for you or were you browsing the paper and noticed it?

  11. Coca cola was known to have contained cocaine derived from cocoa leaves. The formula was changed in 1904 when spent leaves were used instead of fresh ones. An interesting post.

  12. That is great Wendy. Perfect!

    How wonderful that you have the testimony of Nannie June.

    I wonder if Samuel Adams analysed Dr WIlliams' Pink Pills for Pale People?

  13. How fascinating to find your own ancestor in an old advert, but morphine? No wonder those children stopped crying!

  14. I am echoing previous comments, but how wonderful to have such an old advert with endorsement by an ancestor. How many of us can lay claim to that! In my opinion a century on, cough syrups have not improved - I speak from experience!

  15. There were some awful concoctions back in those times, all claiming to be cure-alls, with no requirement to state the ingredients on the box or bottle. And people believed them!

  16. I'm feeling a bit unwell this morning and could use some of Dr Bull's magic elixser. Here in Asheville we have Dr. Grove's tonic which could "make children fat as pigs!" He made a fortune off of it and built several major buildings here including the famous Grove Park Inn hotel and spa.

  17. Those medicines were something else. I'm amazed more people didn't die of them. But maybe they did!

  18. It is a neat ad. One never knew what your parents were putting into you when you were a kid. The harsher stuff I am sure had alcohol in it. It always made me warm.