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.