Epilepsy “Cures”

February 24, 2015

New York City directories listed Henry Root, Patent Medicines, from as early as 1881 until 1913 or possibly later. Sometimes calling himself “Dr.” Root, he offered a “cure” for epilepsy—only one among many.

Actually “Dr.” Henry Root was from Springfield, Ohio, where—on the 1870 U.S. Census—he was listed, at age 35, as “Vendor of Patent Medicine.” Apparently he sold his business, and with it his name, “to the highest bidder, and returned to his profession of pump-maker” (“Root” 2015). The purchaser was almost certainly a quack named T.A. Slocum, who also sold his own remedy “for Consumption and Lung Troubles” named Psychine, among other nostrums (Fike 2006, 77). Slocum shared several addresses with “Root.” In addition, in London, a chemist named Thomas Francis Elton acted as agent for the Root and Slocum nostrums (“Root” 2015).

The “Root” advertisements appeared in English-speaking countries worldwide. One was printed in the Rockland County Journal of June 2, 1888 (page 8, col. 6). In very large letters it proclaimed,

“I CURE FITS!” It went on to say: “When I say CURE I do not mean merely to stop them for a time, and then have them return again. I MEAN A RADICAL CURE. I have made the disease of FITS, EPILEPSY or FALLING SICKNESS, A life-long study. I WARRANT my remedy to CURE the worst cases. Because others have failed is no reason for not now receiving a cure. Send at once for a treatise and a FREE BOTTLE of my INFALLIBLE REMEDY. Give Express and Post Office. It costs you nothing for a trial, and it will cure you. Address H.G. ROOT, M.C., 183 PEARL ST., New York.”

As shown by bottles of the “remedy,” the product was called “Elepizone.” Some of the bottles were of clear glass, some of aqua, and the sizes varied slightly, from 8½” to 9¾” They read “DR. H.G. ROOT” or “H.G. Root M.C.” Most bore the New York address but some were embossed “LONDON.” (See Fike 2006, 97.) In my collection (see photo) is one aqua glass bottle (about 3¼’’ x 1⅝’’ x 8⅝’’ tall, hand-blown in a two-piece mold), embossed: “‘ELEPIZONE’ / A / CERTAIN CURE FOR / FITS & / EPILEPSY / H.G. ROOT M.C. / 183 PEARL ST / NEW YORK.” (It is unclear what “M.C.” means—perhaps Medicine Co.?)

Among other epilepsy nostrums was Dr. Lindley’s Epilepsy Remedy which was sold by one A.K. Hollowell, doing business as the NewVienna Medicine Company. It was claimed as “A Positive Remedy for Epilepsy, Fits, Spasms, Convulsions and St. Vitus’ Dance” (a nervous disorder). Chemical analysis found it to contain only bromides in water and alcohol.

Another such “cure” consisted of two products advertised in tandem by Dr. Peebles’ Institute of Health at Battle Creek, Michigan. They were a “Brain Restorative” (bromides in an alcoholic preparation with the herb valerian) and “Nerv-Tonic” (a sweetened, water and alcohol solution of vegetable products lacking medical value). This so-called institute was run by a quack named W.T. Bobo (Nostrums and Quackery 1912, 1: 570).

Numerous additional “cures” were marketed—typically containing sedatives like bromides (the Converse “Treatment,” Hale’s Epileptic Relief, Hunter’s Epilepsy Cure, R.N.P. Tablets, and Doctor Croney’s Specific for Epilepsy), while others relied on phenobarbital (e.g., Epilepson, Maghee’s Epilepsy Treatment, Nobro, Nurone, Nurosol, and Vitosol). (See Nostrums and Quackery 1921, 136–159; 1936, 49–51).

Many of the nostrums ran afoul of the Food and Drug Act of 1907. According to the AMA (Nostrums and Quackery 1921, 137), purchasers confused the temporary suppression of epilepsy by the powerful sedatives with a “cure,” and were subjecting themselves to great risks.

References

Fike, Richard E. 2006. The Bottle Book: A Comprehensive Guide to Historic, Embossed Medical Bottles. Caldwell, NJ: The Blackburn Press.

Nostrums and Quackery. 1912, 1921, 1936. In 3 vols. Chicago: Press of American Medical Association.

“Root.” 2015. Online at www.jjon.org/joyce-s-environs/root; accessed February 18, 2015.

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