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...a club for people who never stop learning...

The Scientech Club provides a forum for weekly presentations and discussions in the fields of science and technology and other topics for the enlightenment of its membership.

Regular, one-hour Meetings are, with the exception of holidays, held every Monday at noon at The Northside Knights of Columbus, 2100 East 71st Street, Indianapolis. Club Members, as well as the general public, may attend our Regular Meetings for a nominal contribution to pay for the facility. For those who wish, a buffet lunch may be enjoyed before the meeting. Occasionally, instead of a presentation, members and their guests may take a tour to a place of interest, such as a plant or historical site.

The Scientech Club is associated with an outstanding local charitable Foundation, The Scientech Club Foundation, established by Scientech members to promote science education. Information about the foundation may be found under the heading Foundations above.

Club News ! !

Click on underlined items in blue for more information

Click HERE to see a fascinating series of four videos produced by WISH TV about club member Jim Carter's personal collection of old heavy construction equipment.

Congratulations to Jim Dillon for his recent election to the Hamilton County Council and to Lou Mestichelli the new President of the University of Chicago Alumni Club succeeding fellow club member Jeff Rasley.

Click HERE for brief biographical information on the following new members of Scientech who have joined the club since the last Roster. :

Jesse Clark
Patricia Clark
Douglas Gettelfinger
Johanna Krauze
Dorothy Lorant
Ruth Ann Ingraham
Suzanne Mittenthal
James Palecek
James Shepherd


Vol 93 No 15 - April 25, 2016

History of Patent Medicines in America – 1700’s through 1900’s

Presented By: Richard L. Schreiner, Scientech Member


Dr. Richard

Dr. Schreiner introduced the history of patent medicines in America by describing Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound which, through mass marketing circa 1876, became one of the best known patent medicines of the 19th century. Ads suggested the men loved it because it made women “so much easier to live with.”


Unorthodox medicines emphasized “nature’s way” and attacked “regular” or “orthodox” doctors. Patent medicines became a catch-all phrase for products with secret ingredients and which purported to cure or treat specific complaints without the need to consult a physician, pharmacist or other health care professional. Thus families could “doctor themselves” at low cost (compared to seeing a doctor). The term “Quack” described the promotion of false and unproven health schemes for a profit and was most often used to denote the peddling of “cure alls”, patent medicines, devices, etc. Most ingredients were similar to those in competitors’ products but the specific ingredients and amounts were “secret”. Many provided short term “relief” because of alcohol and narcotics. Dangerous ingredients included alcohol – up to 80% (160 proof), opium (sap of poppy), morphine (isolated from opium around 1800), cocaine, heroin (synthesized from morphine 1898), and cannabis.

It is estimated only 2% of the patented medicines launched in New York had any significant degree of success. Expense of advertising was a major reason for failures. In 1859 the estimated sales were $3.5 million/year ($103 million/year in 2015 dollars) with a population of only 31 million. 1850-1900 was the Golden Age of patent medicine in the U.S. with a rapid increase in industry and manufacturing, urban living, massive advertising, dramatic increase in the number of newspapers and magazines, increase in literacy and the absence of regulation. In 1905 estimated sales were $75 million/year ($1.94 billion in 2015 dollars) with a population of 84 million.


The appeal of patent medicines included: physicians knew little about causes of diseases and had few effective treatments in the 1700s and 1800s, patients with serious diseases treated by “regular doctors” did not get better, regular doctors could not compete with wild claims of the patent medicines, there were relatively few physicians and pharmacists available, professional standards for physicians were very low, medical education was extremely lax, and an M.D. diploma could be bought for minimal cost. “Heroic medicine” used by regular (orthodox) physicians (bloodletting, blistering, mineral products) was painful, debilitating and ineffective. Most patent medicines were “gentle” and made you feel better if it contained alcohol and/or narcotics. Self diagnosis and self prescribing were consistent with the American independent attitude – “every man his own doctor”. Advertising encouraged the public to believe they were sickly, and if they took a medicine and felt better, they credited the medicine.

Surviving OTC Products include: Absorbine Jr, Anacin, Bayer Aspirin, Bromo-Seltzer, Carter’s Little Pills (Carter’s Little Liver Pills), Doan’s Pills, Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia, Smith Brothers Cough Drops, and Vicks VapoRub. Products no longer sold as medicines include: 7-Up, Dr. Pepper, Hines Root Beer, Pepsi Cola, Tonic water, Coca-Cola (caffeine replaced cocaine as active ingredient in 1903). Thousands of “Patent Medicines” continue today including: herbs, probiotics, vitamins, spices, sexual enhancers, weight reducers, pain relief, and antiaging products.

During the 1880s-1900s, many attempts were made to pass legislation but were blocked by patent medicine manufacturers. A key figure promoting passage was Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley (a Hoosier), Chief Chemist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1882, who was named “Father of the Pure Food and Drug Act” which was passed in 1906.

Dr. Schreiner introduced his brother, John A. Schreiner, R.PH, who operates the “History of Pharmacy Research Center” in Griffith, IN, which has a vast array of patent medicines.

Notes by Donald Mink