Lydia E. Pinkham's Medicine Company, Lynn Mass.
Founded by Lydia Estes Pinkham after her husband went bankrupt, the Lydia E. Pinkham's Medicine Company began selling her nostrums in 1875. The recipe had been won by her husband in a card game and she had made the compound for a number of years for free or cost; customers came from as far away as Boston to get the elixir from her. Without a doubt, the vegetable compound was the linchpin of the company's success. The advertisement at the left is from the Dec. 8, 1881 issue of the Salt Lake Weekly Herald. The text reads:
Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound is a positive cure for all these Painful Complaints and Weaknesses so common to our best female population. It will cure entirely the worst form of Female Complaints, all ovarian troubles, Inflammation and Ulceration, Falling and Displacements, and the consequent Spinal Weakness and is particularly adapted to the Change of Life. It will dissolve and expel tumors from the uterus in an early stage of development. The tendency to cancerous humors there is checked very speedily by its use. It removes faintness, flatulency, destroys all craving for stimulants, and relieves weakness of the stomach. It cures Bloating, Headaches, Nervous Prostration, General Debility, Sleeplessness, Depression and Indigestion. That feeling of bearing down, causing pain, weight and backache, is always permanently cured by its use. It will at all times and under all circumstances act in harmony with the laws that govern the female system. For the cure of Kidney Complaints of either sex this Compound is unsurpassed.
One of the lures to customers used by the company was an encouragement to "write to Mrs. Pinkham" for medical advice; this tradition was continued by Lydia's son Daniel after her demise in 1883. The Ladies' Home Journal wrote an expose in 1905 that included a photograph of Lydia's tombstone and speculated on the quality of the advice received, especially since Lydia Pinkham had died 22 years earlier! Caught red-handed, the company tried explaining that they were referring to 'Mrs. Jennie Pinkham' (Daniel's wife and Lydia's daughter-in-law). Even this didn't work as Collier's Weekly published their own expose revealing that the company employed dozens of typists who responded to gullible womens' queries with form letters; usually recommending liberal doses of the company's products! The following year saw the enactment of the Patent Medicine and Pure Food & Drug Act which is enforced by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to this day. What happened to the 'Medicine That Launched a Million Bottles'? The company was sold to Cooper Laboratories in 1968. They closed the manufacturing plant in Lynn, Mass. moved operations to Puerto Rico (close to the source of the ingredients), ceased all advertising, and concentrated on selling the compound to a fixed customer base of mostly elderly, black women in the Southern U.S. to a profit of about $700,000 annually.
The story doesn't end here! Recent medical experiments done in Germany have demonstrated the efficacy of Black Cohosh in regulating menstrual periods. This extract is best preserved in an alcohol base. Black Cohosh extracts are now sold with the approval of the German government as an herbal remedy. Guess what one of the main herbal ingredients in Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound was! Yup, Black Cohosh and in a preserving alcohol base!