"The Great American Fraud"


"The Great American Fraud"


Adams' exposé on the evils of the patent medicine industry revealed that these nostrums were, for the most part, completely ineffective in treating diseases. The drugs themselves comprised of high amounts of alcohol and dangerous substances such as morphine and cocaine. His articles on the "nostrum evil and quack" pushed Congress to establish regulation of drugs and ensure their validity, so that millions of innocent Americans would not be fooled by their false promises. The dangers of drug/alcohol addiction and possible bodily harm scared the public into pushing for reform.


Samuel Hopkins Adams


Collier's Weekly


October 7, 1905


Adams, Samuel Hopkins. "The Great American Fraud." Collier's Weekly 7 October 1905. Found in Google Books online.


GULLIBLE America will spend this year some seventy-five millions of dollars in the purchase of patent medicines. In consideration of this sum it will swallow huge quantities of alcohol, an appalling amount of opiates and narcotics, a wide assortment of varied drugs ranging from powerful and dangerous heart depressants to insidious liver stimulants; and, in excess of all other ingredients, undiluted fraud. For fraud, exploited by the skilfulest of advertising bunco men, is the basis of the trade. Should the newspapers, the magazines and the medical journals refuse their pages to this class of advertisement, the patent medicine business in five years would be as scandalously historic as the South Sea Bubble, and the nation would be the richer not only in lives and money, but in drunkards and drug-fiends saved.

"Don't make the mistake of lumping all propriety medicines in one indiscriminate denunciation," came the warning from all sides when this series was announced. But the honest attempt to separate the sheep from the goats develops a lamentable lack of qualified candidates for the sheepfold. External remedies there may be which are at once honest in their claims and effective for their purposes; they are not to be found among the much advertised ointments or applications which fill the public-prints. Cuticura may be a useful preparation, but in extravagance of advertising it rivals the most clamorous cure-all. Pond's Extract, one would naturally suppose, could afford to restrict itself to decent methods, but in the recent epidemic scare in New Your it traded upon public alarm by putting forth "display" advertisements headed, in heavy black type, "Meningitis," a disease in which witch-hazel is about as effective as molasses. This is fairly comparable to Peruna's ghoulish exploitation, for profit, of the yellow fever scourge in New Orleans, aided by various Southern papers of standing, which published as news an "interview" with Dr. Hartman, president of the Peruna Company...


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Samuel Hopkins Adams, “"The Great American Fraud",” Inbetween Peoples, accessed September 23, 2020, https://as205.omeka.net/items/show/30.