The nose is a good indicator that perhaps your mens sana is not in an entirely corpore sano. Blocked, runny, congested – these are all signs that all is not well. Be that as it may, the nose has another attraction – it has two nostrils which allow access to your interior. Many of our medicines require us to inhale or apply drops but rarely recognise that we have two nostrils. Our latest purveyor of quackery, Alfred H Ramey, did though and his gloriously eccentric device enabled the patient to access all areas.
After sustaining devastating injuries which resulted in him losing a leg during the American Civil War, Ramey settled down to run a market stall selling medicines in Aurora, Illinois. Eventually, through hard work, he had a successful business. Why he decided to patent a do-it-yourself medical aid is unclear but on 3rd June 1890 he and his colleague, Frank D Rollins, filed a patent for their Medicator.
The design was fairly simple. There were three tubes – two which were inserted into the nostrils and one down the throat. An inner chamber contained wadding into which the medicine of choice – naturally, the Medicator came with its own Compound Inhalant – was poured. The vapours from the medicine would be blown up into the nostrils or down into the throat as required, clearing the head of catarrh and the lungs of phlegm. Four inches in size and nickel plated, with a hollow handle which allowed you to store the instructions and a cap for each tube, the Medicator came with four months’ worth of compound inhalant and a tin of nasal ointment, all for ten shillings. Postage was free. The 1905 version featured a moveable mouthpiece for greater comfort.
One of its key selling points was that it didn’t require any medical expertise to use and once you had bought it, it was always at hand. You didn’t even need to use Ramey’s compound inhalant. Despite these obvious attractions Ramey needed to advertise his product extensively and, as we have often observed with quacks, he was not shy in proclaiming its benefits. “cures catarrh, catarrhal deafness, headache, neuralgia, coughs, colds, bronchitis, asthma, hay fever and la grippe or your money refunded”, an advert dating to 1895 proclaimed. “By the aid of this Medicator you are able to force highly medicated air directly to the seat of the disease, reaching even the remotest parts of the head, throat and lungs, cleansing them all of impurities, restoring lost taste and smell and purifying the breath”.
“The Inhaler…” it goes on, “is without doubt far superior” – no Carlsberg style probably here – “to any other remedy or device, as there is no irritating power or fluid applied to the diseased and inflamed membranes. On the contrary, nothing but pure and highly medicated air is used, which produces a soothing and cooling sensation to the parts affected, causing almost instant relief”. The advert does, however, attempt to dampen down expectations. “Please remember that chronic or deep seated catarrh cannot be cured in a day or a week but continued use .. according to directions..will effect a positive cure”.
So was it effective or was it just hot air? It is difficult to tell but suffice to say Ramey did nicely out of it being “able to afford material assistance to many of his friends” until his death in 1923. Probably the Medicator, once bought, was the sort of thing that was put in a cupboard and quietly forgotten about.