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Bad Medicine: 1939

Bad Medicine: 1939

Summer 1938. "General store interior. Florence County, South Carolina." A variety of unpleasant-looking nostrums from the punishment pharmacopoeia. Who wants saltpeter? From the FSA archive, credited to "Cox, photographer." View full size.


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We kept alum around for canker sores. It tasted awful and really puckered up your mouth, but it was hell on canker sores. If you applied it at bedtime, the sore was gone the next day.

Flavored alcohol is right!

My granny wouldn't allow booze of any kind in her house, but she loved her Geritol.

I made the mistake of mentioning to her that her twice-a-day, self-prescribed "remedy" was 24-proof only once, and was told to "go find a switch and make it a good one."


Iron or ferrous sulphate, originally called green vitriol. Used as a dye fixative in the textile industry, also to blacken leather and as a constituent of ink, it is used medically to treat iron deficiency anemia. One of the side effects is constipation, which brings us back to my earlier comment on senna...

Medicine or flavored liquor?

Wampole's Preparation:

alcohol 12%
cod liver oil
fluid extract of wild cherry
compound syrup of hypophosphites

Another Alum Use

An alum douche can be used by ladies to "tighten up" their private parts according to a pharmacist I worked with at Walgreens. We sold a fair amount of it too at the Westside Chicago store I worked at.

Truth in Labelling

I hope The Dill Company learned their lesson and stopped watering down the spirit of turpentine with kerosene by the time this picture was taken. Back in 1915, they were doing just that.


Add 1 Tbsp of SHORPY into 1 cup (or more) of choice beverage and drink slowly 3 or more times a day - or as needed.

Delayed reaction

Two very old gents in their 90's sitting on a park bench talking about their time serving in WW2. One says to the other, "Remember that stuff they used to put in our food so we wouldn't think about women?" The second guy says "Yeah, I think it was called salt peter." The first says "Right, that's it. Anyway, I think it's finally beginning to kick in."

"Try Me" brand drugs

I think I remember those from Alice in Wonderland.

Incomplete inventory

How can a kid make gunpowder if you don't sell the powdered charcoal, too?


I kinda miss it. We used to buy it (Potassium Nitrate), mix it with icing sugar, pack it into a paper vessel and light 'er up! Great smoke bomb. Probably not so safe.

Use as Directed

Thank heaven they had bottled Shorpy in those days to comfort them!

Uses of alum

Alum has been shown to be an effective agent in the formulation of Warner Brothers cartoon gags.

The Family Laxative

And how does senna work? Sennosides derived from the leaves of the senna plant irritate the lining of the bowel, causing a laxative effect. Sometimes the more you read, the less you want to know.

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