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Quacks Pretend To Cure Other Men’s Disorders But Rarely Find A Cure For Their Own – Part Fifty Four


Every Woman’s Flesh Reducer

Obsession with body image isn’t just a modern fad, it seems, and where there is a concern, there is an opportunity for the unscrupulous practitioner of quackery to operate. Today we are awash with diets – it is a multi-billion dollar business – and it is hard to make sense of which one to adopt. Often it comes down to personal recommendation or how much effort the diet involves. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the pounds would fall off with the minimum of effort?

Well, that was the claim of the wonderfully named Every Woman’s Flesh Reducer, manufactured in Chicago. It was, according to the adverts that plugged the product, an “easy, wonderful, external method for men and women”. All you had to do was pour the reducer into your bath and step into the warm water. The results would be astonishing; “your superfluous fat will fade away, easily, surely and without any bad effects. Day by day your figure will become more and more as it should be – graceful, trim and beautiful”.

What was more, that is all you had to do. “No need to starve yourself, dose with harmful, drastic drugs or go through exhausting and ridiculous exercises”. It sold for $1 or for $2 you would get three times the amount together with a money-back guarantee. In the days when advertising standards were somewhat laxer than they are now, there was nothing like a bit of fat shaming to ram home the message, “you cannot be happy while you carry around with you that load of useless, energy-using fat. Rid yourself of the burden”. Where do I sign up?

So what was in the white powder and did it work? The American Medical Association carried out a chemical analysis of the Reducer and published their findings in their 1914 Annual Report. They found that it consisted of Epsom salts, alum, citric acid, camphor and sodium bicarbonate. Their conclusion – “like every other bath salt sold as a cure for obesity, Every Woman’s Flesh Reducer is a fraud”.


An even more egregious example of fat shaming appeared in the adverts for Korein.” I Was a Tub of Fat”, screamed the headline. These words were attributed to a Lillian Ianchuck who, before taking the red gelatine capsules that were Korein, weighed in at 190 lbs. After a course of the capsules she lost 40 lbs. “Now my weight is just right for my height”, she claimed. “I have no more excess fat on me”. Other lard buckets testified to its efficacy. You could even send off for a free trial before committing to purchasing it. The adverts claimed that it consisted of bladderwrack, a seaweed which was popular at the turn of the 20th century as a weight loss supplement.

So what was in it and was it any good? Well, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Association carried out a full analysis in 1915. They discovered that it consisted of 40% sassafras oil and 60% petrolatum. Sassafras oil has subsequently been banned by the American Food and Drug Administration because of its carcinogenic properties and because of its toxicity it may have had some effect on people’s digestive systems. The booklet that accompanied the capsules recommended a restrictive diet that may have helped but on the whole it was probably best left alone.

Alas, weight loss requires some effort on your part, it would seem.


Quacks Pretend To Cure Other Men’s Disorders But Rarely Find A Cure For Their Own – Part Thirty


Wendell’s Ambition Pills

If there is anything we have learnt about the world of quackery then the recipe for success is a blend of boundless ambition and fearless advertising. It also helps if you come up with a great name and Wendell’s Ambition Pills, the latest example of egregious quackery to come under our microscope, seems to fit the bill. After all, we all have ambition and whatever it may be, find a way to achieve it. What could be simpler than popping a pill, particularly if it delivers health benefits along the way.

In the late 1800s Ambition Pills were targeted heavily at men – presumably women didn’t have ambitions in those days – and particularly those who were characterised as weak and nervous. Before and after shots are always effective and advertisements would often show a down in the mouth individual on the left hand side, a remarkably spry and happy character on the right and someone midway between in the middle, the clear implication being that a course of Ambition Pills would bring about this remarkable transformation.

There was an element of false modesty behind many of the adverts, to enhance that this was the real McCoy. The manufacturers, the Wendell Pharmacy of Syracuse in New York, it claims, had hesitated to bring this potion to the attention of the general public for fear of it being classed with many of the fraudulent preparations on the market. But any such scruples were soon overcome because a course of these wonder pills would convince anyone that they had a cure for impotency, sleeplessness, enlarged veins and nervous debility. Troublesome dreams, despondency, evil forebodings and aversion to society would all be things of the past.

It was also marketed as a great nerve tonic which would eliminate the feeling of tiredness, morning headaches, poor blood and kidney and liver complaints. Malaria, rheumatism, neuralgia, hysteria, dyspepsia, loss of appetite, constipation and all ailments associated with the nervous system could be combatted by a course of the wonder pills.

What was there not to like? They were available from all authorised pharmacists or by mail order and retailed for as little as 50 cents a box of 42 pills. Refunds were available for dissatisfied customers and, another marketeer’s trick, discounts were available for bulk purchases. Hurry, the adverts urged, because prices were bound to go up.

But were they any good and what was in them? As we have seen before the introduction of a more regulated environment for the sale of medicines introduced in the States in the second decade of the 20th century did much to curtail the activities of quacks and, inevitably, the Ambition Pills soon came under the spotlight. In 1918 the Journal of the American Medical Association published the preliminary findings of a chemical analysis of the pills. They reported that each pill contained a little over a thirtieth of a grain of strychnine – yes strychnine – and a fifth of a grain of ferric oxide together with some pepper, cinnamon, ginger and aloe. Their conclusion was that there was enough strychnine in a box of pills to kill an adult male.

No amount of advertising puffery was enough to rescue Wendell’s Ambition Pills after that damning indictment and they disappeared before even more damage could be done.

Quacks Pretend To Cure Other Men’s Disorders But Rarely Find A Cure For Their Own – Part Seven


Albert Abrams (1863 – 1924)

The latest practitioner of the ignoble art of quackery to fall under our microscope is Albert Abrams who unleashed radionics on the unsuspecting public.

Born in San Fransisco Abrams obtained a medical degree at the Medical College of the Pacific in 1881 and then moved to Germany where he graduated the following year at Heidelberg University and then undertook further studies in London, Berlin, Vienna and Paris. He went back to the States holding various teaching posts at Cooper College and was President of the California Medico-Chirurgical Society in 1893 and at the turn of the twentieth century became a respected expert in neurology, publishing a number of books almost up until his death from broncho-pneumonia.

However, it was adherence to radionics that brought Abrams to wider public attention. The theory behind radionics was that a healthy person would radiate certain energy frequencies through their body which defined their health and general well-being whereas an unhealthy person radiated different energy frequencies which defined their disorders. Abrams developed a machine called a dynamizer which purported to diagnose and heal by applying appropriate frequencies to counterbalance and negate the effect of the discordant frequencies emanating from the patient’s malaise.

So sensitive and powerful was the Dynamizer, according to Abrams, that any ailment could be diagnosed simply by feeding into the amazing black box a slip of paper upon which a drop of the patient’s blood had been blotted. If the patient was unwilling to donate a drop of their blood, an example of their handwriting would suffice! He even claimed he could tell their religion from a drop of their blood.

The machine was then attached to a healthy assistant by means of an electrode to their forehead. The assistant was then turned to face a westerly direction (very important, this) in a room with dim light and then Abrams would proceed to strike their abdomen repeatedly with a mallet. The vibrations coming off the abdomen of the assistant would indicate to the quack the nature of the ailment. Amazingly, Abrams came up with another device, known as an oscilloclast, which fired frequencies at the patient to cure them. So strong were the frequencies emanating from the machine, so Abrams claimed, that they would work even in a telephone consultation.

So successful was Abrams that he made millions leasing out his devices and was dubbed by the American Medical Association (AMA) as the dean of gadget quacks. Unfortunately, his runaway success attracted the attention of sceptics and spoilsports started to test the system out A member of the AMA sent him a blood sample and the results suggested that the patient was suffering from malaria, diabetes, cancer and syphilis. The donor of the blood was actually a Plymouth Rock rooster.

Several adherents of Abrams also misdiagnosed samples of animal blood and a few of them found themselves up before the beak on fraud charges. Abrams was due to appear as a witness but (conveniently) died before the trial. Officers of the Food and Drugs Agency opened up his boxes and found that one produced a magnetic field similar to a doorbell and another was little more than a low-powered radio wave transmitter. Astonishing!