A wry view of life for the world-weary

Tag Archives: The Great American Fraud

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

Dennis Dupuis and Radol

A few months ago I found a lump on my neck and decided to get it checked out. Fortunately it turned out to be benign but a century or so ago I may have been interested in a nostrum plugged heavily by a Dr Rupert Wells from St Louis – his real name was Dennis Dupuis. The adverts offered hope to those who had contracted any form of cancer. A typical example was this advert from 1907; “I have discovered a new and seemingly unfailing remedy for the deadly cancer. I have made some most astonishing cures. I believe every person with cancer should know of this marvellous medicine and its wonderful cures, and I will be glad to give full information to those who write me and tell me about their case”.

The symptoms that the respondent described would always convince Wells that they had a form of cancer or consumption, if they responded to the consumption advert. They would receive a standard letter which was so designed that all the ingenious Wells had to do, as well as fill in the date and name and address of the would-be victim, was to enter the location of the body where the cancer was located. The letter boasted of Wells’ credentials – he had carried out investigations into radium-administration at the college where he was a professor, hogwash all – and claimed that he was able to cure consumption and cancer through the internal and external application of Radol, a proprietary brand containing radium in fluid form. It went on to claim he had effected many cures and, of course, contained testimonials of some grateful recipients of this wonder cure.

For ten dollars you would receive a nice bell-shaped, blue-coloured bottle, standing ten inches tall with a four and a half inch diameter. The label affixed to it claimed “This bottle contains Radol, a radium impregnated fluid, prepared according to the formula and under the supervision of Dr. Rupert Wells. St. Louis MO. This fluid is not expected to retain its radio activity beyond 40 days from the date of this label.” To add extra authenticity the label would then detail the name and address of the customer and directions for use which were basically to take a tablespoon in a wineglass of water before each meal and at bed time. This was followed by the name and address of the customer, directions for use e.g. “take one tablespoon in a wineglass of water before each meal and at bed-time.

Radol was only available by mail and for a while, though, Wells was on to a good thing, In 1908 he shipped out some 7,800 bottles at ten dollars a time. But what was in it and was it any good? Wells claimed that the bluish fluorescent glow of the liquid was down to the radium contained it. But tests carried out by Lederle Laboratories showed that it was a mix of quinine sulphate and alcohol, a combination which would also produce a bluish glow. As the exposer of quackery, Samuel Adams, wrote in his The Great American Fraud, “Radol contains exactly as much radium as dishwater and is about as efficacious in cancer or consumption.

Following this revelation Wells was put out of business in 1910 when the US Mail refused to handle his packages.

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

Magic Foot Drafts

As old age approaches, the incidence of aches and pains, a bit of arthritis here and a touch of rheumatism there blight my daily life. Stoically, I grin and bear it and usually the niggle will disappear as quickly as it came. For those who are afflicted with more prolonged bouts of rheumatism, the prospect of a panacea that will restore harmony to your body must be appealing. Naturally, there was a ready supply of quacks and chancers ready to prey on the gullible.

The Magic Foot Draft Company, operating from Jackson in Michigan, were actively promoting in the early years of the 20th century a cure for rheumatism in the feet. Their modus operandi is now painfully familiar – extensive advertising extolling the benefits of their product and a money back guarantee. “Don’t take medicine but try Magic Foot Drafts, the great Michigan external remedy which is curing thousands,” the advert, featuring its corresponding secretary, Frederick Dyer, screamed. Reading on, whatever form of rheumatism wherever situated “all yield quickly to those wonderful Drafts which have brought comfort to hundreds of thousands” – note the rapid increase in numbers from the headline – “including cases of thirty or forty years’ standing” (or not, if you had trouble with your feet). “They are curing where doctors and baths and medicines fail.

What they were, these miraculous drafts, were plaster strips which were made out of oilcloth and coated with pine-tar. These you applied to the soles of your feet and they were supposed to draw out the uric acid. To avail yourself of these plasters all you had to do was to send your name and address and you would receive a pair of drafts to the value of $1. If you were satisfied with the results, all you then had to do “was send us one dollar. If not, keep your money. We take your word and trust you for a square deal.

Presumably, they anticipated that most would persevere with the drafts and send for more with their all-important cheque. If you didn’t communicate with them, you were on their mailing list and they would soon follow up with a chaser. Some may have just then paid their dollar and put the whole thing down to experience. For those who were not sure that the drafts were working, the follow-up letter would explain that complicated cases or the incorrect application of the plaster would not yield overnight results. Some chronic cases may require up to six applications.

The letter also warned against the patient becoming impatient or giving up too easily and just to reinforce the impression of its efficacy, would include glowing testimonials. The letter would end with a hint of menace, “Unless you have already sent your order we shall expect a letter from you very soon, and there will be no failure to send the treatment just as you instruct, so you will have it and keep your recovery going steadily on day and night until every last twinge of pain has left you. Many would have paid their money for a quiet life.

And did they work? According to Samuel Hopkins Adam in his 1905 expose of the patent medicine business entitled the Great American Fraud, “they [their feet] might as well be affixed to the barn door, so far as any uric acid extraction is concerned.” I guess not, then.