Patent Medicines

Patent Medicine Started the Pharmaceutical Industry in the USA

Patent medicines were preparations that often contained various ingredients such as opium and alcohol and claimed to cure many if not all diseases. Early drug manufacturers made their own formulations and marketed them under a variety of names. Companies like Sears and Wards had large sections devoted to the sale of patent medicines in their catalogs. One such remedy was called "Soothing Baby Syrup" which claimed to stop your baby from crying. It contained opium and really worked. The problem was that baby became an opium fiend.
Very early patent medicines were often called "Cures" because they claimed to cure many if not all diseases. Eventually the U.S. government stepped in and forced the wording change from "Cure" to "Remedy". This was to bring a level of honesty into the pharmaceutical industry.
Most of the major drug companies today got their start with patent medicines. Pharmacists or Doctors would set up a small building with tablet machines or ointment mills and began manufacturing their drugs. This went on without any interference from any government agency. One could make any claim and engage in drug making without any credentials.
Eventually, the federal government began to restrict the manufacture of these drugs. Slowly at first. With time the growing pharmaceutical companies were required to prove the safety of their drugs but not efficacy. But by the 1960's efficacy as well as safety were required to be shown for a drug to remain on the market.
If you are ever in the Saint Peter area be sure to stop by to see the various patent medicines on display at Soderlund Village Drug.

Motherwort From Parke Davis
Lydia Pinkhams Vegatable Compound

Patent Medicines Lead to Innovation


Patent medicine was a natural outgrowth of the pharmacist. Back in the 1800's pharmacists made every drug they dispensed from scratch. The practice of making drugs was called compounding. All pharmacists were compounders. Some of the innovative druggists of the time mass-produced their formulas, which reduced the time it took to make an individual medication.
Not all patent medicines were quackery. There was some level of efficacy with most of the concoctions. Drugs like albuteral, quinine, digoxin, aspirin and morphine are still widely used today. All owe their use to the innovation and of the early pharmacists who developed them.

Patent Medicines Still Exist

Patent medicine is still available today. Herbal manufacturers make many unsubstantiated claims. As long as they place the FDA caveat somewhere upon the label. "This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease."
The thought process behind the allowance of herbals to be sold without direct FDA approval was that the herbs are really under the class of food supplements not drugs. This may seem illogical but history has a way of repeating itself.


Wampole's Tonic And Stimulat Preparation
Milam Herb Compound

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