If you think direct-to-consumer prescription medication advertising is bad today, take a look at the historic newspapers we have digitized on the Oregon Historic Newspapers website! Likely, if you have taken the time to peruse just a few issues, you will have noticed an overabundance of strange medication advertisements.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, a lack of adequate medical care in combination with few government regulations resulted in a flurry of business called the patent medicine industry. These questionable concoctions promised lofty claims, and in large part helped fund Oregon’s early newspapers through their advertisements.
Merchants had little obligation to truthfully describe the contents and effectiveness of their products, creating tonics, pills, and syrups that often contained dangerous substances such as opium, morphine, cocaine, and alcohol. While consumers might have found temporary relief from these ingredients, patent medicines were an unfortunate cause of accidental overdose, intoxication and addiction.
Next time you are on the Oregon Historic Newspapers website reading your favorite historic papers, take notice of the patent medicine advertisements on the side of the page; I’m sure you’ll find something that surprises you!